TAMPA, Fla. – When Tay’Shaun Holley stumbled at his neighborhood school, his mom, Crystal Fountain, enrolled him in another district school 20 miles away. But that didn’t lead to solid footing either, and the complications of a single mom juggling three jobs, four kids and grueling commutes began to take its toll. Fountain prayed for help.
Then, a friend called. A neat, new school was opening near Fountain’s home. A charter school.
Fountain researched Collaboratory Preparatory Academy, filled out an application, scheduled a visit. Even before meeting the principal and teachers, she had a feeling: This was the one.
“Honestly, I cried tears of joy,” she said.
Seven months into Tay’Shaun’s first year, the joy continues. The 9-year-old who showed up weary and subdued – and sometimes became frustrated and angry – is now a sunny, outgoing third-grader who’s catching fire academically.
“He’s more engaged. He’s willing to learn,” Fountain said. “I’m very confident my son is going to be successful because of this school.”
More than 280,000 students attend charter schools in Florida, nearly triple the number from a decade ago. There’s probably 280,000 reasons why their parents chose charter schools. But many of them have stories like Fountain and her son.
Tay’Shaun is a model of spunky: beaming smile, carefree dreads. He described the difference between his neighborhood school and his new school this way: “One’s fun. One’s boring.” At the former, “You just sit there. They just give you the answer.”
Fountain had other concerns. In her view, basic communication – between teacher and parent, between teacher and student – was lacking. No remedy emerged for Tay’Shaun’s ADHD. The school as a whole struggled, too, with only a quarter of its students reading at grade level.
Fountain used a district choice program to enroll Tay’Shaun in another school. It was better. Tay’Shaun did better. But not better enough. Meanwhile, the juggling hurt.
Fountain has another son, 14, a daughter, 7, and cares for a 14-year-old niece. Her main business, a residential cleaning service, requires travel throughout Tampa Bay. Fountain had to say no to potential clients because of conflicts with the school schedule. That meant less income to give her kids the other things they need.
“You can’t imagine how stressful it was,” she said.
Then the clouds parted.
Collaboratory Preparatory Academy – CP for short – opened last fall on the fringe of industrial east Tampa. It sits in a trim, yellow building on the same 170-acre oasis that’s home to a bustling parish center and a new Catholic high school. (CP is unaffiliated.) The modest neighborhoods that unfurl nearby are hemmed in by Interstate 4, dotted with union halls – and burdened by some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city.
CP is K-3 for now, with plans to expand a grade a year until it becomes K-8. Ninety-four percent of its 66 students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch. Eighty-five percent are African-American.
That’s not by accident, said principal Heather Jenkins. Continue Reading →