Fla. district poised to pick charter school network for unprecedented turnaround

A struggling rural North Florida district could soon choose one of the state’s largest charter school networks to lead an unprecedented turnaround effort.

Somerset Academy is the only organization still in the running to operate Jefferson County, Fla.’s public schools. The school board is set to vote on the charter group’s application Tuesday.

Depending on the local board’s vote, the state Board of Education might address the issue when it meets Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs a total of 50 schools serving nearly 17,600 students, according to its website.

The network would run a turnaround effort unlike any Florida has seen. The state Board of Education approved the move in response to more than a decade of academic and financial turmoil in Jefferson County schools.

Florida is home to other charter schools converted from struggling traditional public schools. The Jefferson effort is unique because Somerset will run all public schools in the county. The district currently has a single elementary and a single middle-high school. Somerset has proposed “to open an elementary, middle and high school on one site,” state board documents show.

Last school year, Somerset’s network included 14 schools where more than 75 percent of students were economically disadvantaged, according to school accountability records. Half those schools received A’s or B’s from the state. One received a D, and the rest received C’s.

The school board in Jefferson County was initially considering three charter school operators to combine and take over its two public schools. A fourth operator wanted to throw her hat in the ring.

Ultimately, however, local officials heard presentations from just two of those operators — Somerset and the Lake Wales charter school organization. They also heard from a third organization, Volusia County-based Ed Futures.

Lake Wales did not apply, so according to state Board of Education documents, Somerset was the only remaining organization “with a record of effectiveness with similar student demographics” to Jefferson County’s public schools, where most students are low-income children of color.

Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Lake Wales charter school organization was taken out of the running because it did not apply to run Jefferson County’s schools.


3 Responses to Fla. district poised to pick charter school network for unprecedented turnaround

  1. Billy Townsend March 17, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Can you share that BoE document you referred to at the end? And is it the BoE’s position that Lake Wales Charter does not have a record of effectiveness with low-income children of color. Did I read that correctly?

    • Travis Pillow
      Travis Pillow March 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

      Here’s the document, which is linked in the post above: http://fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/18461/urlt/jefferson.pdf

      The state DOE concluded Lake Wales *did* have a track record serving low-income students successfully, but the organization chose not to submit an application in Jefferson. This is a guess, but I suspect they wanted to focus on their geographic area.

  2. Billy Townsend March 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    Thanks. Appreciate the clarification.