No charter school conversions on Fla. state board agenda

Last summer, the Florida Board of Education sought changes at three persistently struggling rural North Florida schools.

It seemed likely at least one, Hamilton County’s only high school, would have to become a charter school. Weeks later, the Hamilton school board voted to join other districts challenging a charter-friendly school turnaround law.

Now, though, it looks like a charter conversion may not be in the works. At least not yet.

Hamilton’s revised turnaround plan is on the agenda for the state board’s meeting next week in Jacksonville. The plan calls for bringing in an external operator to help run the school.

That’s one of three options the new law affords for persistently struggling schools. The others are charter conversion or closure. External operators must have a proven track record of improving student achievement. A district can potentially serve as its own external operator — if it creates an independent charter school board to oversee the school.

The board also ordered changes at Hawthorne Middle/High School in southeastern Alachua County. The district has opted to close the school if its academic performance doesn’t improve this school year. The community is rallying to save it.

The state board set one charter school conversion in motion in July, in Gadsden County. And there are hints conversions could soon be in the works in other North Florida school districts. This remains an issue to watch.

Two other aspects of the wide-ranging new education law are also on the state board’s upcoming agenda.

The board will pick up to 25 public schools for whole-school transformation grants. That program allows districts to convert their own low-performing schools into Schools of Hope. And the board will formally designate 643 “Schools of Excellence.” These high-performing schools will get greater autonomy from state law and district regulation. The Gradebook notes many are in affluent areas with high-achieving students.

Charter Schools