Charter school plan seen in a new light

Imagine Schools works with school officials for approval of a K-6 school in Land O'Lakes.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 13, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Just a year ago, the Pasco School Board fought all the way to the State Board of Education to deny a charter to Imagine Schools, a Virginia-based private company with about a dozen schools in Florida.

The company's financial proposal looked too ambitious - it expected more students to enroll in the first year than other county charter schools had after several years. It didn't have a specific location. It didn't offer any letters of support from the community.

What a difference a year makes.

Imagine Schools now sits poised to win approval to open a K-6 school near the bustling U.S. 41 and State Road 54 intersection, the first charter school in Land O'Lakes. The School Board is set to act Tuesday on the administration's recommendation to allow the school it once tried so hard to keep out of the county.

"They worked with the district from about February forward, and submitted a much better application that met all the criteria," said Nancy Scowcroft, the district's charter school supervisor.

In addition to finding a home in Land O'Lakes, Imagine Schools cut the size of its anticipated enrollment by almost half. It also has worked out curriculum concerns that the district raised back in September, when the board gave the administration permission to enter contract talks with the group.

Imagine plans to implement the Project Child curriculum, which relies on computers and hands-on activities in the classroom. Scowcroft said Project Child has led schools to positive results for children, but that the Pasco school district abandoned it some time ago because it was expensive and time consuming.

"That sets it apart from anything we do here in the district," she said.

Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she had no problem with allowing Imagine Schools to move ahead with its plans for Pasco, despite last year's denial. Charter schools play an important role in making sure that all students can find the education program that best suits their needs, Starkey said.

"I actually am a fan of charter schools that are run properly and done for the right reasons," she said.

Having the company go through the county's rigorous approval process made it more likely that Imagine will meet those goals, Starkey added.

"I do believe in strong accountability and transparency," she said. "I'm sure they must have dotted their i's and crossed their t's."

Officials from Imagine Schools were in a meeting and not available for comment.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.