Minneola Charter School broke ground this week for the long-awaited 7thand 8thgrade building. Attending the outdoor ceremony were some 160 sixth-graders, teachers, school board members, administrators, officials, and guests, including John Schmid of Schmid Construction; Lucy Hage, president of the South Lake Kiwanis, along with member Richard Chapman; Minneola Fire Chief Jan Otero; and Pam Jones, representative from Congressman Daniel Webster’s office.
“Our families have been asking us to expand for a number of years,” says Sherry Watts, school principal. “Now, it’s actually happening. We’re paying for it through donations and money from our reserves. We really think of it as a community project. At last, we’re able to give back.”
Construction on the $3 million, 30,532-square-foot building is expected to be completed in fall 2019, when current sixth graders will be entering the new building for seventh grade.
“Some of these students have been with us since kindergarten,” Ms. Watts says of the pre-K to 6thgrade elementary school. “Schmid Construction helped us with a recent renovation of our current sixth grade building, and they were outstanding. We will never use anyone else.”
She added: “Our plans and goals include eventually expanding to a high school and a performing arts center because we own the 24 acres next to us. Our school tries to offer a variety of electives and our middle grades have expanded into a very arts-focused school.”
Classes for visual arts, performing arts, theatre, dance, a show band, a chorus band, and more are currently offered at the school.
“We even have a 5thand 6thgrade ROTC program,” she says, “which develops leadership skills; and this year, we started a basketball team, which is super exciting.”
Minneola Elementary School has existed for over 50 years and currently has an enrollment of some 1,300 students in all grades. It officially became a charter school in 2002. Ms. Watts is in her sixth year as principal; she previously served as assistant principal at the school.
While there are differences between a charter school and a public school, both types are public schools open to all children. They do not have entrance exams, and cannot charge tuition. A charter school, however, draws up their own “charter” which is a set of rules and performance standards for which they are accountable and must maintain. While they have increased autonomy in return for greater accountability, they still participate in state testing and federal accountability programs. Traditional public schools are governed by a school district, which is run by a democratically-elected school board and must adhere to education standards set by the state education board.