ACPS earns B rating, approves new charter school

The School Board of Alachua County met for its regular meeting Tuesday evening with less than three weeks before school starts.
The School Board of Alachua County met for its regular meeting Tuesday evening less than three weeks before school starts.
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools

Five days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a profile about “America’s Greatest Math Team” located at Buchholz High School. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the dais received an update from staff on its district grade report. 

The number of students reaching a 3 or above in math for the end-of-year testing fell below the state average by 2%.

As the district ramps up for classes starting Aug. 10, the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) held a regular meeting and touched on its grade report as well as a new charter school in the works by Santa Fe College. 

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Jennifer Wise, chief of teaching and learning, reported on the grades. Overall, the district received a “B” rating with 58% of the total possible points, up from 56% last year but down from 62% in 2018-19. 

Since pre-pandemic reports, 15 schools dropped a grade, 11 stayed steady and four improved, Wise said.

The district is also working with five secondary schools that received an incomplete assessment because they failed to test 95% of their eligible students. Wise said the teams have started the appeal process with the state. 

The graduation rate for 2021-22 hit 88%, one percentage below 2019 but five above 2018.

“I don’t use the pandemic or COVID as an excuse,” Board Member Leanetta McNealy said. “I’m looking to hear and see what are you going to do differently.”

District staff pointed to several changes in the upcoming year, including a new math curriculum aligned with new state standards, an accelerated math pathway and progress monitoring throughout the year. 

Wise said eight new literacy specialists would add another layer of support in lacking schools.

McNealy said she doesn’t want to be in the same spot next year and all personnel would need to perform this school year. 

She also highlighted the bussing issues that hit the district last year. 

“Do we have enough long-term folk,” McNealy asked, referring to both transportation and other staffing areas.

The district held a job fair on July 14, and McNealy said more may be needed. She told staff she expected transportation to run well after the first week of school. 

The grade report represented a preliminary look, Wise said, and staff would continue to dig into the numbers. 

Board Member Leanetta McNealy speaks at Tuesday's meeting.
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools Board Member Leanetta McNealy speaks at Tuesday’s meeting.

SBAC also discussed Santa Fe College’s proposal for a charter school slated to open in 2023. 

According to the application, the charter would grow to a maximum of 275 students over the first several years with a focus on two health sciences and two IT pathways. Graduates from the school would earn an associate’s degree plus two workforce certifications. 

Jen Homard chairs Santa Fe College’s high school dual enrollment program. She told the board that the school would complement the district and not harm current collaboration in career and technical education. 

“We really are not trying to compete with the schools,” Homard said. “A lot of you know, I am through and through Alachua County schools.” 

But Homard said the charter school represents a way for Santa Fe to step in and help. She added that Santa Fe chose pathways that wouldn’t compete with other schools and had no goals to expand past 300 students. 

The charter would also be open to any district student entering ninth grade, and charter students could still participate in extracurricular activities at their local high school. 

“Workforce development is a significant commitment of our institution, and we will continue to work with the district on workforce development-type initiatives,” Santa Fe College President Paul Broadie II said at the meeting. 

He highlighted the SF Achieve program—now with more than 1,000 applicants—that Santa Fe launched in partnership with the district.

SBAC approved the charter application unanimously. Santa Fe College will still need to negotiate a contract with the district before opening next year.

Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County Education Association, mentioned charter schools in the district at the start of the meeting during the union’s monthly update.

She said the union was concerned about charter schools coming and draining resources while providing service below the district’s standards. 

“I really would love to put that out there that we are highly opposed to charter schools siphoning off our funding,” Ward said. 

Ward also mentioned new members joining in the wake of increased hiring by the district. 

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