Four new charter schools could open their doors in the Collier County School District by 2014, eventually enrolling about 2,400 students and increasing the number of planned and existing charter schools by more than 50 percent.
The schools, proposed by three groups that submitted charter applications to the district by its Aug. 1 deadline, require approval from the school board, which is expected to decide Oct. 9. Leaders with each of the organizations said their schools would diversify the county's academic offerings, giving parents a choice in their children's schooling.
"Parents get to do that in preschool — shop around, pick the preschool that fits their family," said Kelly Lichter, with proposed school Mason Charter Academy. "You pick which one works for you, what you like about it. And then it doesn't happen again until your kids go to college."
Three charter schools — Immokalee Community School, Marco Island Middle School and Marco Island Academy — currently operate in Collier County. Four more — Edison Collegiate High School, Florida High School for Accelerated Learning - Collier County Campus, Gulf Coast Charter Academy South and iGeneration Empowerment Academy of Collier County — were approved in previous years and are eligible to open next year.
Charter schools are public schools operated by private groups based on charters with the school board. They are tuition-free and funded by tax dollars, but have more flexibility with teacher salaries, work days, class-size reduction laws, and in accepting students.
By law, the schools are required to offer instruction or educate students differently than traditional public schools. The four seeking approval this year propose a range of approaches and purposes.
Mason Classical Academy, based on the Hillsdale Model used at a charter school in Hillsdale, Mich., would employ classical teaching methods. Students would learn Latin, earn A's not for effort but for subject mastery, and memorize literary works, multiplication tables and the elements on the periodic table.
"We're going back to the basics, to what schools used to be," said Lichter, a former teacher.
iGeneration Empowerment Academy of Naples' approach blends online and face-to-face instruction — students complete courses online but on a school site with teacher supervision. The education service provider, InterVisual Education Management Services of Florida, won approval last year to start a similar school in Immokalee, which is slated to open next year.
Kin Griffith, with iGeneration, said the model allows teachers more time to focus on student progress and learning.
"They don't spend time making lesson plans because the lessons are all planned out there online," said Griffith, who is working with a group of parents to start the school. "They spend less time grading because the grading is done by technology. They also don't stand in front of the kids and present the lesson five times a day. What they're doing is, they're evaluating student performance based on all the data they're getting."
My Choice Collegiate Academy would allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree.
"Normally, traditional high schools don't provide that opportunity," said Mike D'Angelo, chair of the academy's board of directors and a former teacher and principal. "They'll provide dual enrollment, but nothing very structured to get their AA at same time they get their diploma."
My Choice Accelerated Academy at Collier, also proposed by D'Angelo's group, would provide at-risk and dropout students the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma. D'Angelo's group already won approval this year to start two other schools in Florida.
D'Angelo said at-risk and dropout students often have difficulty finding programs that cater to their needs.
"Once they age out or don't have enough credits and are over 18, the traditional school system doesn't really focus on them anymore," he said.
If approved, the four schools would aim to serve a total of 2,428 students by 2017. Of 43,590 students in Collier schools, 788 are enrolled at charter schools this year, representing 2 percent of the district's student body.
The Collier County School District, which until last year had not approved a charter school in more than 10 years, lags behind many other districts in the state and nation in its number of charter schools and in the percentage of students who attend them.