Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Forum Focuses on Options | Social Development Is Part of Experience at Alternative Schools

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Forum Focuses on Options | Social Development Is Part of Experience at Alternative Schools

Article excerpt

EDUCATION

MANATEE COUNTY -- Charter schools did not exist in Manatee County a couple of decades ago. Neither did "school choice," the system in which families can choose a public school other than the one to which their child is assigned.

Today, 6,400 of the public school district's 49,000 students attend 11 charter schools. Hundreds of others may opt to attend a public school outside the attendance zone in which they reside. And, starting in 2017-18, still others may choose to attend a

public school in another county if they can arrange transportation.

"We give students a lot of options and that's what charters are also giving our students," Cynthia Saunders, deputy superintendent of instructional services for the Manatee County School Board, said Monday during a League of Women Voters forum about charter and alternative schools. "They are part of the K-12 public school system."

For each child they enroll, charter schools qualify for the per- student funding from the state that the public school district would otherwise receive, Saunders said. "They still have to follow the same rules and provisions" as "traditional schools" but have more flexibility in their curriculum, emphasis and methods.

The 40 audience members heard from educators from four nonprofit schools -- two with a focus on the arts and two others with a mission of helping students who otherwise may be likely dropouts.

Manatee School for the Arts, which served 250 sixth- and seventh- graders when it opened in 1998, now has more than 2,100 students enrolled from sixth through 12th grade.

"The growth has been amazing," Assistant Principal Terence Divine said. He noted that the school's graduation rate is 99 percent.

Kimberly Penman, principal of Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communications, said the academy started in 2000 as a "magnet" public school with a belief that "the arts educate the whole child."

About three years ago, Rowlett parents -- concerned about possible funding cutbacks -- "led the process" to get a charter. …

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