School of Choice
Understanding Charter Schools
Written by Jessica Pilkins
It used to be that parents and students had two education choices: free public school or expensive private school. Things are much different in 2012. Options have increased over the years to include magnet, specialized, preparatory and charter schools. While all of these are important and viable options, in this article we will focus on what charter schools are and how they function. The number and popularity of charter schools has been on the rise around the country during the last two decades. These schools of choice offer another option to the traditional public school model. Charter schools are actively working to solidify themselves as an equal and important education choice.
Charter schools were created as a way to give parents an educational choice that was different from their standard districted public school. The idea of charter schools originated in the 1970s and really took off in the 1980s. It can be credited to educator Ray Budde and American Federation of Teachers past president Albert Shanker, who both were instrumental in helping move the charter school concept along. In the late 80s, schools within schools were being seen in Philadelphia, which were called charters. These experiments were successful and other places tried this approach themselves. Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law in 1991. The number of states passing charter school laws and charter school openings continued to increase. At the onset of the charter school movement, also referred to as the small schools movement, the intent was to offer a different type of curriculum, which would increase student achievement while exploring the best practices for education with few outside restrictions.
Charter schools are free public schools that are part of the local district but have more authority to make decisions. The beginning concept was that charter schools would do more with less. One of the big differences is that charter schools have the autonomy to choose the curriculum they teach and what teachers they want to hire or let go. This gives the schools flexibility to change things should something or someone not work out. Typically charter schools require parents to be actively involved in their children’s school. “A charter school is similar to a public school in that we have all the same legal, professional and ethical requirements as a traditional school,” explained Justin Matthews, principal of Imagine School at North Port. “The major difference is charter schools have autonomy over their delivery of curriculum, their hiring and some autonomy over their practices that can separate how they do business from a public school. The main difference is the hiring practices and how you build your school’s climate and culture.”
Charter schools can be created by a group of parents or teachers, a business or a municipality, who must then submit an application for a charter to the school district. Applications must provide a detailed curriculum, contain the goals and objectives for improving student learning and contain a financial plan. The school district must approve or deny the charter application. Charters are granted contracts that are good for three – five years. After this time, a district can decide to extend or cancel the contract based on school performance. Public charter schools have open admission enrollment. If there are not enough spaces for students applying, then the school holds a lottery where students are picked at random for available spots.
With this independence and founding ideology of doing more with less, public charter schools receive less local funding from districts. Charters receive 95% of the per-pupil funding that traditional public schools receive, but because they are privately run, they are in charge of their own building and construction costs. Traditional schools receive capital millage funding, which is part of taxpayers’ dollars that go towards the building of facilities. Most counties in Florida do not share their capital millage funds with district charter schools. Sarasota County is one of the few that does share a portion. This has turned into an important issue over the last few years, with charter schools finding it harder to find building space and being able to afford it. “It was hard to find facilities; we didn’t know at the beginning what we know now,” explained Vickie Marble, principal at The Student Leadership Academy of Venice. She said that in the late 1990s there was an explosion of growth for charter schools throughout the state. More parents wanted the choice of charter schools for their children. “It takes money to have a high quality program. Sarasota County has been wonderful to its charter schools; I think that’s why it has so many high quality charter schools,” said Vickie.
There was much state legislative discussion earlier this year about sharing revenue with charter schools. While no changes were made, the discussion called for a K-12 Public School Facility Funding Task Force that will include members of the school district and school board who will examine and give recommendations on the funding needs, existing funding and revenue resources, long-term debt, class size requirements and facilities utilization.
Currently there are 11 charter schools in Sarasota County. Florida has over 500 charter schools. As of 2005, there were some 3,400 charter schools operating in the United States. The states with the most charter schools are California, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Michigan. To learn more about charter schools, visit www.floridacharterschools.org. For more information on Sarasota County charter schools, visit www.sarasotacountyschools.net.
Imagine School at North Port
Imagine School at North Port is a Florida charter school, a public school of choice, serving grades kindergarten through 10th for the 2012-2013 school year. With prestigious recognition as a Project CHILD National Demonstration Site since 2009, the elementary campus offers students a unique approach to learning which provides targeted instruction to account for various learning modalities, gifted instruction, intervention and remediation, as well as cross curricular learning. The Project CHILD instructional delivery model naturally provides for three-year looping cycles, which research has proven to positively affect classroom behavior and the teacher-student relationship needed for effective teaching and learning.
In grades 6-8, Imagine School at North Port uses a student-centered proprietary curriculum, which emphasizes teacher collaboration in support of student learning, challenging and vibrant thematic units of study, and strong positive character and service learning development through the school’s daily advisory program. Middle school students’ advancement opportunities include the ability to earn high school credits in the following courses: Algebra 1 Honors, Geometry 1 Honors, Spanish 1 and Speech 1. In addition to the advancement opportunities, students can elect to take courses in the areas of Fine Arts, Science and Technology, Media and Communications, and Health and Fitness.
Imagine High School will expand its campus up to and including sophomores this August. Among the courses available for students to take are Honors and Advanced Placement classes. Students electing to take an AP course are able to earn college credits by successfully completing the course as well as passing the AP final exams. Dual Enrollment is also available through State College of Florida. Students will be able to take courses on the Imagine School campus or at SCF. Like North Port High School, Imagine students can begin Dual Enrollment starting with their sophomore year but are required to receive a certain score on the ACT to enroll, which Imagine offers to their students at no cost. According to Sarasota County Schools’ contract with SCF, students can accumulate up to 30 college credits at their high school. However, students are able to take additional classes on the SCF campus. Students can potentially graduate from high school with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, all at no cost. Online classes through Florida Virtual School are also available to high school students, which is now a requirement for graduation. When taking an online course, students have the support of an online teacher, an assigned on-site advisor and the school’s guidance counselor to support them as they progress through learning modules.
Freshmen and sophomore students take the ACT Explore and Plan assessments which help students understand their knowledge, skills, interests and plans and provides a prediction of how they will score on the ACT. These assessments will help students plan their high school coursework as well as post-secondary education and career plans. Students should also be able to meet the requirements for a Bright Futures Scholarship upon graduation, which is a great way to pay for college. Prospective new students may apply for a spot by filling out an application.
In addition to strong core academics, students can elect to take courses in the areas of Fine Arts, Science and Technology, Media and Communication, Personal Fitness and Weight Training, Humanities and Foreign Languages. There are also several extracurricular clubs in which students can participate and enrich their high school experience, which will set students apart as they apply to colleges and places of employment. In addition to these opportunities, Imagine School at North Port has an athletic program that allows students in grades 5-10 to participate in various competitive sports. Imagine School at North Port participates in the Florida Sun Coast Junior High Sports League, which allows for 5th grade students to participate in the following sports: Boys’ Flag Football, Girls’ Volleyball, Cross Country, Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Competitive and Game Cheerleading. Imagine is also a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which provides opportunities for their high school students (as well as qualifying middle school students) to compete against other Florida high school athletic teams participating in FHSAA. Fall high school sports starting dates are the following:
Football: Aug 6 Competitive Cheerleading (coed): Sept. 4
Golf (coed): Aug. 6 Girls’ Soccer: Oct. 8
Girls’ Volleyball: Aug. 9 Boys’ Soccer: Oct. 15
Cross Country (coed): Aug. 13 Wrestling (coed): Oct. 22
Students who are interested in participating in Imagine’s athletic program must meet all of the FHSAA and/or Florida Sun Coast Junior High Sports League academic requirements as well as a current physical, parent consent and release form, transportation form and Imagine Sports Constitution.
To learn more about Imagine School at North Port and the opportunities it offers, call (941) 426-2050 or visit www.imagineschoolatnorthport.com.