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SPC planning charter school

The "collegiate academy" would reward graduates with a high school diploma and an associate's degree, free.

Published August 27, 2003

PINELLAS PARK - St. Petersburg College is planning a new charter school that would graduate students with a standard high school diploma and a two-year associate's degree - all at no cost.

The proposed "collegiate academy" would begin accepting students as early as April, and classes would start in August 2004. College administrators predicted Tuesday the school would be so popular they would have to hold a lottery to admit students.

Initial enrollment would be about 150, but college officials expect it to grow to about 300 after three years.

The target market: bright, ultra-serious students who don't need a high school experience filled with sports, dances and a stint on the yearbook.

The school also would be open to less gifted students who compensate by working hard.

"They will vote with their feet; we will have more applicants than we can handle," said David Moore, who heads the college's existing "dual enrollment" programs, which already offer college courses to high school students on a smaller scale.

The proposal is headed for the Pinellas School Board. But final approval rests with the Florida Department of Education, which is strongly inclined to approve charter schools as part of a push for greater school choice by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run, and typically fill a need not met by the public school system. The new school would be required to comply with provisions of the new choice plan.

The college's board of trustees voted 5-0 Tuesday to send the proposal to the School Board. Before voting, however, some members raised questions about the need for such a school in Pinellas. They also pressed college president Carl Kuttler about his ever-expanding vision for the college's role in the community - a phenomenon they called "mission creep."

Among the projects on the school's plate are a new campus in downtown St. Petersburg, joint projects with the city and county, and settling into a new identity as a school with four-year students after years as a "junior" college.

"In business you can diversify and diversify and finally you go bankrupt," trustee W. Richard Johnston told Kuttler. "Where is St. Petersburg College's breaking point? We keep adding and adding and adding."

The president was needled gently by trustees who suggested he would one day lord over a school that covered kindergarten through college.

Kuttler responded, saying he often hears about the need for more educational programs from business leaders. He added: "I would hope that this institution is carrying the heaviest load possible for students in this county, because if we don't, someone's getting left behind."

The typical student at SPC's "collegiate academy" wouldenter as a high school sophomore, after taking the College Placement Test.

The student would not be expected to pass the test, but it would be a benchmark from which to start working. By junior or senior year, many will be expected to pass the test and begin taking college level courses, some of which also would fulfill the state's requirements for high school graduation.

Students still would have to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

At the end of the program, the student would get a public high school diploma and two years of college credit, free of charge.

Among the benefits to the college: more bright students on campus.

Kuttler told trustees the college is suffering through a drain of bright students going to bigger schools because of Florida's Bright Futures scholarships.

With the new charter school, "we would be attracting to the college a very serious type of student, and any time you can get a high-performing student in your school, everyone benefits," said Don Sullivan, an SPC administrator and former state senator who will try to sell Pinellas School Board members on the proposal.

"I believe I would be very receptive to learning more about it," said School Board chairwoman Linda Lerner, a onetime doubter of charter schools who has come to believe they have a role in education.

She said the small enrollment would ease concerns that the charter school would cut into district programs.

Similar charter high schools run by Okaloosa-Walton Community College, Broward Community College and Polk Community College reportedly have been successful.

St. Petersburg College's program would be offered on the northwest part of the school's St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus at 6605 Fifth Avenue N.

[Last modified August 27, 2003, 02:32:16]

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