When Kevin Jackson learned about a grassroots effort to convert his daughter’s middle school to a charter, he became newly hopeful about improving student achievement. In recent years, the Manatee County school has mostly been stuck at a “C” letter grade or below.
“I am so excited for my community and for the parents,” he said. Lincoln Middle School “has developed a negative stigma as far as the area. Now we get an opportunity to compete with the best.”
Jackson said the charter school would have more flexibility to create programs tailored to students’ needs. About 44 percent of the school’s population is Latino, he said, and every student is on free and reduced lunch.
“A charter would allow us to venture outside the box to give our Hispanic population different resources,” he said.
If the change takes place, Lincoln will join 22 other schools that also converted to charters with a majority vote from parents and teachers.
Florida law allows parents and teachers to convert any traditional public school to a charter by petition. But that rarely happens. In some places, administrators and teachers have faced retaliation for aiding conversion efforts, even though the law protects them.
In Manatee County, however, at some key officials support the change. Their district is home to one past charter conversion, and it looks like a success. Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication did well as an elementary school, and it’s set to add middle grades this fall.
At Lincoln, the principal, a teacher and parents argue such a change will enable the school to better serve its population while providing more autonomy and accountability.
A call to change
Concerns about Lincoln’s performance prompted teachers and parents to come together to lobby for change. Nearly 70 percent of students perform below grade level.
In March, parents and teachers at the school voted overwhelmingly to convert the school to a charter school. Indeed, 297 parents voted for the charter, with just 51 voting against the measure. And 31 employees voted for the charter, with just three against.
Eddie Hundley, the school’s principal, said the students need guidance.
“If you don’t have the ability to modify and diversify your offerings, you are going to fall short,” he said. “We have a large Latino population. We need to do things to ensure they are able to acquire the language at a more different pace. It is being able to diversify our offerings and meet the needs of our particular clientele instead of trying to have our clientele fit into the framework that is designed for a different kind of school.”
Hundley added a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work at Lincoln.
“Kids that come to us with certain deficiencies or needing additional help, they need a school designed for them,” said Hundley. “That is what triggered looking into this possibility. The district has the colossal task of making up policies and procedures to suit the bulk of the students. We need the autonomy to do things differently.”
The Manatee School Board is scheduled to consider the charter conversion when it meets on Aug 22.
Lincoln Middle School
Lincoln was not always a middle school. It was established in 1948 as Lincoln Memorial High School, a segregated school for black students. When the school integrated in 1969, it became a middle school.
It now serves roughly 500 students in grades sixth through eighth.
Lia Kaiser, a language arts and English as a Second Language resource contact, said converting the school to a charter would allow her more opportunities to help her students.
“It is impossible to expect these students to take a Florida Standards Assessment in English,” at least with the current resources, she said. “The curriculum is still geared at grade level and really difficult for them to obtain that (level). Sometimes our hands are tied and we are not able to do more to help them.”
By contrast, if the school transitions to a charter, it would give Kaiser the freedom to choose the best learning methods to help her students succeed, she said.
“It is hard to do if I am following all the district policies and curriculum,” she said.
If the School Board approves the change, this will be the 13th school in Manatee County to become a charter.
Hundley said there would be several changes to the curriculum if the conversion takes place.
- The school would change the way it teaches history, to better appeal to the students’ heritage.
- It would extend instructional days by one hour. The extra time would provide a CALM hour (College and Career, Arts and Athletics, and Leadership development and Municipalities). This will allow students to learn social skills that will help them in the workplace and give them the opportunity to visit technical colleges and businesses.
- The school would provide dual-language electives. Students would be able to take classes in English and Spanish simultaneously. At the district level, students have to attain a “B” to take classes in both languages.
- Provide bilingual study hall for students who speak English as a second language, rather than requiring them to take a separate remediation course.
Veronik Rodrigues’ daughter, Lalita Garofalo, attends Lincoln.
Rodrigues said a charter school would allow more flexibility for students.
“It gives us the chance to add something else to the curriculum,” she said. “These changes are not just for the school but for the community. I believe we need choices and opportunities to address the needs of the students — not just treat us all as one.”
Manatee School Board member Charlie Kennedy said he supports converting the school to a charter.
“It is an underserved neighborhood,” he said. Hundley “wants to bring some different programs. He is a proven school leader.”
Hundley said he wants to improve the school’s grade. But he doesn’t want the impact to stop there.
“Our life’s work can’t be to attain a ‘C,’” he said. “We need to work to provide an even better level of education for our children. I am confident board members will see that. This process has a safety net involved.”