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School spotlight

school choice

The family no one knew was homeless

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – Just when Ruthanne Dumas thought her life couldn’t fall apart any further, she got the biggest scare of it. A steady financial decline had left her and her two youngest daughters, Isabella and Gabriella, homeless. The girls had recently started at a new private school, thanks to education choice scholarships. And then a sudden illness landed Isabella in intensive care. Doctors thought she might have leukemia. “It was horrible,” Ruthanne recalled, her voice trembling. After it turned out to be just a virus and the raw fear and panic had subsided, Isabella’s new principal and teacher arrived. They brought...
charter school

Charter takeover helped students ‘have a chance at life’

TALLAHASSEE -- Three students from rural, impoverished Jefferson County on Tuesday testified before Florida’s House Education Committee about dramatic improvements at their schools since 2017, when the local district relinquished control of its traditional public schools to a charter school operator. Prior to the historic transformation, Jefferson County had been among the state’s lowest-performing districts for about a decade. More than half its high school students had been retained in a grade at least twice. In 2016, just 7 percent of its middle schoolers scored on grade level on state math assessments compared to 26 percent in the next-lowest performing...

Florida Gov. DeSantis vows to end Gardiner waitlist

JACKSONVILLE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday promised to eliminate the wait list for children who have qualified for a state-funded scholarship for students with special needs. DeSantis, flanked by First Lady Casey DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, visited the North Florida School of Special Education where he addressed parents of students awaiting a Gardiner Scholarship, the nation’s largest education savings account program, as well as those families who have benefited from it. “In the budget just released, I’ve allocated enough money to get rid of the waitlist for the Gardiner Scholarship entirely,” DeSantis told the crowd of...

Once bullied, now safe, happy, and thriving

BELLE GLADE, Fla. – When she’s in class, the look on Armani Powe’s face is solemn, focused. She doesn’t harden her gaze intentionally. It happens naturally. “When it comes to my grades,” she says, “I get really serious.” Armani, 12, turns quiet and a little withdrawn when asked about the bullying she endured in second grade at her neighborhood school. “It makes me all sad just to remember it,” she explains with the distance of several years. She doesn’t mind telling the story, though, because she’s happy, safe, and thriving now at a private school. A Florida Tax Credit Scholarship from Step Up...

First Hope Scholarship brings peace to fifth-grader

LAKE PLACID, Florida -- Jordyn Simmons-Outland is a fifth-grader who was in need of a lifeline. The 10-year-old has a sweet demeanor and a love for the online video game Fortnite. However, his lack of self-confidence made him a target for bullying in his public school since the second grade. Teased about his weight. Tripped and hit. Complaints to teachers and administrators failed to bring relief. In the past year, the physical and emotional abuse had become so bad, he told his grandparents he wished he were dead. He began seeing a therapist. A new state school choice scholarship, the first...
Gardiner scholarship

Gardiner Scholarship ‘a Godsend’ for Lake Mary family

Ashton Fernandez couldn’t contain his excitement. The 7-year-old was ready to decorate his yard with inflatable Christmas decorations with twin sister Audrey, and he bounded around his family’s living room with obvious glee. Diagnosed at an early age with autism spectrum disorder, Ashton communicates almost completely non-verbally. He smiled wide and tugged at Audrey’s arm, imploring her to play until it was time to decorate their sprawling Lake Mary lawn. As he did so, Arlo, a laid-back golden retriever, sauntered through the room, casually taking in the pre-holiday cheer. “Arlo is Ashton’s therapy dog,” said Jennifer Fernandez, Ashton and Audrey’s mother. She is...

Raising the bar at Basilica School of St. Paul

Students at Basilica School of St. Paul were scoring in the lowest 20th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in 2016. Many also had disciplinary problems. There were discussions about closing the PreK-12 school in Daytona Beach. Meanwhile, Ron Pagano, was weighing his next career move as he chose to retire from 36 years in the Volusia County traditional public-school system. And Basilica, which he attended as a young boy, had a special place in his heart. “This is where I needed to be,” Pagano said. “I love being part of the community. I could be the change agent...
catholic school

Catholic schools join specialized program to meet learning needs

The losses were small but concerning. On average each year, two students with learning needs were leaving Lourdes Academy in Daytona Beach. Like many other Catholic schools, Lourdes simply did not have a full-time staff person to help meet the needs of those students. According to principal Stephen Dole, that deficit made it hard for the school to identify the students and the interventions they may need. “When you think of 225 students you have and out of those 25 are struggling, that is a decent number you have to allocate resources to,” he said. When Dole learned of the Program for...