Florida: School Board OKs Spanish language school

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Oct 21 15:08:24 UTC 2006

School Board OKs Spanish language school

The Excelsior Academy initially will target the kindergarten through
fifth-graders with an enrollment of 250 students, then grow to 450
students through eighth grade within five years of opening

By Katherine Lewis

Friday, October 20, 2006

Parents hoping to expose their children to an extensive Spanish language
program may be in luck thanks to a Collier County School Board decision.
Board members voted unanimously Thursday to approve the Excelsior Language
Academy of Colliers charter school application. The school, slated to open
in 2007, will be structured around the Spanish language, said Dee
Whinnery, executive director of student services for the Collier County
School District.

We believe this will add to any childs education, said Alicia
Rodriguez-Bower, vice president of Florida Operations for The Leona Group,
which is the group that would operate the school. It will be a small
school with a small, family atmosphere. But I believe public education
makes a big difference. The Excelsior Academy initially will target the
kindergarten through fifth-grade population with an enrollment of 250
students, according to Whinnery. The school will grow to a population of
450 in kindergarten through eighth grade within five years of opening,
organizers said.

The students will receive at least 45 minutes of Spanish each day, with at
least 15 minutes of that focused on math concepts, Rodriguez-Bower said.
Were offering Spanish to those who are interested. I grew up only speaking
English and then I became a lawyer in Miami. Florida, as a state, is
central to South America, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. The
ability to speak Spanish here is an asset, said Tim Bower, director of
school development for the Leona Group. Collier County currently has two
charter schools Marco Island Charter Middle School, which is operated by a
local board, and the Immokalee Community School, which is operated by the
Redlands Christian Migrant Association.

Excelsior would be operated by The Leona Group, a privately held company
that operates public charter schools in several Midwest states and
Arizona. Charter schools are public schools that are independently
designed and operated. They are open to all students, and are free of
cost. Charter schools also receive per-student funding from state and
local taxes. Students must take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test
and receive a grade from the state based on students performance.

Board Vice Chairman Steven Donovan wanted to know about the schools plan
to find a facility, citing other charter schools that have lost their bids
to build charter schools when they could not find a facility. The
Challenge Foundation Academy, which was going to be built to serve
children in the River Park area of Naples, asked the Collier County School
District in March to withdraw its request for an extension to open the
charter school in 2007. The group also returned the $300,000 in federal
seed money to start the school. Bower said he understood the biggest
challenge facing the school would be to find a facility. He said the
school was looking for land or property in the Golden Gate area.

It is hard to start looking for land to build a school when the charter
application has not been granted, he said. Rodriguez-Bower said finding a
facility is priority No. 1 for the school.  She said school officials hope
to start having meetings with parents and prospective students in January.
In other business, the board had its first reading of a new rule
concerning student travel under federal advisories Thursday.

The policy forbids students and staff to travel out of the country and
overnight to areas that are covered by a red threat. When the threat level
is orange or safer, students are allowed to travel out of the country and
overnight, according to the policy. The Department of Homeland Security
issues travel advisories using a color-coded threat system. The system
goes from green, the lowest threat level, to red, the most severe threat
level. The current threat level is Code Orange, according to the
Department of Homeland Security Web site.

If the board approves the policy, travel will be prohibited to
countries/areas that are on a warning list of the U.S. State Department.
Those countries currently include Israel, Haiti, Colombia, Iran and the
Philippines. Currently, four schools have trips planned out of state that
were approved before the new travel policy was put into place. The Barron
Collier High School band will travel to Beijing over spring break while
the Naples High School band heads to San Francisco. Immokalee High School
will make a trip to Atlanta for the Chik-fil-a Bowl and the Immokalee
Middle School chorus will make a trip to the Music in the Parks festival
in Washington, D.C.

While board members have said those trips will go on, they want to create
rules to ensure students are as safe as possible. The policy also will
require Superintendent Ray Baker to develop and issue an administrative
procedure relating to out-of-state and overnight travel.  The policy will
also require a parent or guardian signature on a form that allows the
student to participate in the trip and will assume the risk of liability
resulting from the travel.

Joe Abalos, executive director of accountability for the district, said
the district conducted a parent phone survey on the issue. Of the more
than 2,000 parents who responded, more than 1,400 agreed or strongly
agreed that students should be allowed to participate in overseas trips,
he said.



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