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Fine arts charter school on track

The School Board is expected to sign the contract next week for Dayspring Academy - the first school of its kind in Pasco.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


The Pasco County School Board is expected to sign a contract Tuesday allowing the county's first charter school to open next month.

Although the three-year contract officially creates Dayspring Academy for Education and the Arts as a public school, the charter school already has enrolled about 120 elementary-age students and hired an administrator, six teachers and eight support personnel.

The school will operate out of a new performing arts center at Calvary Chapel Worship Center on Trouble Creek Road, but by law it will offer a non-sectarian curriculum.

Charter schools are publicly financed, non-profit schools that operate under the auspices of local school boards. Charter schools receive the same per-pupil funding that traditional schools do, but local school boards have little say over their curriculum and teaching practices. There are about 80 charter schools in Florida, but none in Pasco.

"Everything appears to be right on track," said John Legg, president of the school's board of directors. "We're not trying to be just another school, because we want to have our own unique flair. We want to reflect what the community wants."

Dayspring's "flair" will emphasize the fine arts, offering students specialized instruction in dance, music and art. The school is planning two theatrical productions a year, and its organizers hope to build ties with Richey Suncoast Theatre, Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

When not teaching the arts, Dayspring teachers will use the "Core Knowledge" curriculum, modeled after the work of educator E.D. Hirsch, who says children's literacy problems stem from their lack of knowledge about common culture. Hirsch argues that schools must return to a facts-oriented curriculum that systematically teaches children what they need to know. About 130 Florida schools use Hirsch's curriculum.

The contract between Dayspring and the School Board gives district administrators a large role in monitoring the school's finances, business operations and student progress, but not in its teaching practices.

The district will collect student information and help Dayspring track its academic progress. Dayspring has agreed to submit quarterly financial reports to the district and undergo an annual audit. All of the school's meetings will be open to the public, as will its records, just like any other public school.

The school has agreed to adopt the district's Code of Student Conduct and will align its school year with the district's. The school has agreed to hire only certified teachers for classroom instruction.

Dayspring students will have to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, just like students at other schools, and Dayspring teachers will have to use a grading system similar to those employed in Pasco's other elementary schools.

If the school fails, for safety, academic or financial reasons, the district can either take over the operation of the school or close it and assign the students to other elementary schools. Any debts incurred by Dayspring, however, will remain the responsibility of Dayspring.

"We'll help them with the technical stuff, but we won't help them with curriculum, hiring or how they run their days," said Dick Tauber, the district administrator who oversees charter school applications. "It's still one of our schools, so we don't want to see it fail. We want to give them the flexibility they need, yet still keep everyone safe."

In return, the school will receive about $420,000 from the school district this school year in monthly checks of $41,000. The school will pay its six teachers $27,000 to $31,400 a year and is scheduled to open for classes the week of Aug. 21.

"Our parents are very excited about the fine arts and want a program that will feed that area," said Suzanne Chase, Dayspring's administrator and one of the school's founding members. "I'm very confident in our program. It's exciting. It's new. We've put a lot of pressure on ourselves."

- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, extension 6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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