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    Pinellas' largest charter school okayed

    The School Board gives the go-ahead for the Bay Village Center for Education, which will serve up to 651 students.

    By KELLY RYAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


    LARGO -- With little discussion, Pinellas School Board members on Tuesday approved the county's largest charter school.

    Bay Village Center for Education, which will be in the Pinellas Point area of St. Petersburg, will serve up to 651 middle school students. The school's founders, including St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Larry Williams, hope to open Bay Village in fall 2001.

    "Yes!" cheered board member Susan Latvala after the board voted 5-0 to approve the school. "Make us proud."

    Bay Village founders were thrilled that their school is finally on track after months of difficult negotiations. Bay Village applied to open while the school district was in the middle of trying to end court-ordered busing for desegregation. The initial Bay Village proposal called for 750 students -- and that raised questions about whether such a large charter would make it difficult for other nearby public schools to meet required race ratios.

    The federal judge overseeing Pinellas' desegregation case ordered the district to come up with a formula for controlling the size of charter schools through 2007. Once that was done and approved, district officials were able to work through the final details to seal Bay Village's approval.

    Charter schools are operated by private groups but receive public dollars so are considered public schools. Pinellas has three others: Academie Da Vinci, Whole Child at UPARC and Athenian Academy. Five new groups have have applied to open charters; the School Board will consider their applications Dec. 12.

    One of the keys to Superintendent Howard Hinesley's support for Bay Village was its commitment to coordinate with nearby Bay Point Elementary and Bay Point Middle schools. For instance, Bay Village has agreed to stagger its opening and closing times by 30 minutes so it doesn't conflict with traffic at the other schools.

    The school's proposed site is a vacant shopping center at 2220 62nd Ave. S. The school will offer a traditional academic curriculum with a focus on character development and strong parental involvement.

    Though it was a struggle to get approval, the real work begins now, said Marcia McGhee, one of the school's founders. The board must prepare the site, hire a principal and staff and work out myriad other details.

    "I do know we have a lot of work to do," McGhee said. "We're excited to say the least."

    In other news:

    Doukissa Lowe, a teacher at Coachman Fundamental Middle School, was supposed to be fired for routinely failing to complete paperwork for special-education students and failing to show up for work regularly and on time. Lowe requested a hearing into the matter, so she will be suspended without pay until the matter is resolved.

    The School Board agreed to discipline two teachers. Marilyn George, a teacher at Riviera Middle School, was suspended for 30 days without pay after being charged with retail theft, petit theft and unauthorized obtaining of a driver's license. George, who at the time she was charged was having an adverse reaction to medication, has entered a pretrial intervention program.

    Rosemary Geier-Scalzo, a teacher at Kennedy Middle School, was suspended for three days without pay for encouraging her students to visit two Web sites, one with inappropriate content.

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