In Defense of Imagine Charter Schools


From a Tampa Bay Times story by Lisa Gartner:

It depends on whom you ask.

The Imagine School at St. Petersburg is, according to parent Roderick Dunson, a place he and his wife “prayed to our God that our child would be able to enroll.” It’s a welcoming charter school where his daughter earns all A’s, said Dunson, who also serves on the school’s board.

But if you ask the state, and its drawers full of data, Imagine is a failing school routinely outperformed by neighboring traditional schools.

And if you ask the school district, Imagine needs to go.

The Pinellas School Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to close the K-8 charter’s elementary grades after taking initial steps toward closure in December. Grades 6-8 would remain intact.

“The kids have lost, essentially, an elementary education,” Dot Clark, the district’s coordinator of partnership schools, said at an informal hearing last week. “This is the fifth year of operation and we’re not seeing any results.”

Imagine has received a school grade of F for three of the past four years. (In 2010-11, after receiving extensive support from the School Board, Imagine’s grade was revised to a D.) Less than half of students made learning gains in reading or math last year, and Florida named Imagine the ninth-lowest of the “Low 100” schools in the state.

The neighborhood schools surrounding Imagine aren’t exactly on the honor roll, but only one of the five schools that would absorb Imagine students is an F school, and that school — Maximo Elementary — is seeing more students improve year to year.

The whole point of a charter school is to do better than neighborhood schools, Clark said.

Nobody has beat up on Imagine Schools than has Scathing Purple Musings. But one must put Imagine’s record in perspective as it relates to Florida. Unlike the two biggest for-profit charter schools in the state – Charter Schools USA and Academica – Imagine has set up shop in impoverished areas. Both Charter Schools USA and Academica pad their average in places where they know they will have good test scores ahead of time.

I have no idea how Imagine boss Dennis Bakke sets up his buildings, what curriculum his schools use or what kind of teachers he hires. But whatever his business plan and education template, he’s not been scheduling opponents he can defeat. No matter what Pinellas decides, Imagine gets credit for trying where others don’t.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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