Pinellas school board votes to close LifeSkills charter school

5:45 PM, Jun 15, 2010   |    comments
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Largo, Florida - The Pinellas school board votes 5 to 2 to pull the charter of LifeSkills charter school in South St. Petersburg and close the school.

"They never gave us a chance," says 17-year-old Melanie Hernandez, a student at LifeSkills.

Superintendent Julie Janssen recommended the charter be pulled for LifeSkills. Janssen says the school has low test scores, low graduation rates and poor attendance.

Previous Story: Charter school leaders ask for 2nd chance

Dozens of students, former students, staff and administrators told the Pinellas school board of their success and the teacher's one-on-one work with students.  Some call the school home, others says the teachers and staff are family. Students who were never motivated say they look forward to going to class.

"There's enough passion at the school. We want to give students the best physically, emotionally, academically and socially," says Gerald Foster, math teacher.

The school is an alternative for students to traditional schools. The school works with students one-on-one, students take classes on-line and allows students to work at their own pace. Students can earn a standard diploma allowing them to move on to higher education. LifeSkills has been in South St. Petersburg for five years.

"I think the school can pull it together and do it," says Linda Lerner, school board member. Lerner blames LifeSkills' problems on a lack of communication and responsibility by the school's board and managing company.

Mary Brown, school board member recommends the board extend the school's charter by one year. "It's a new day," says Brown. She adds, "My concern is not the students failing the board, but that the staff and management company White Hat fail the students."

Brown says if the probation is granted, "The school's board has to step up to the table,  White Hat has to step up to the table. The staff has to keep the students instructed do better job at instructing student so get their scores up."

School board member Carol Cook says the low test scores and 40 percent attendance and 12 percent graduation rate cannot be ignored. She leans towards pulling the charter.

School board member Nina Hayden says the staff failed to meet deadlines in submitting a plan to the school board for review.

Janet Clark says she cannot justify any more time and effort. Clark says the scores speak for themselves. A "gut wrenching" decision, Clark says she is not convinced the school should stay open.

Lerner says there is a plan it's a "good" plan the question is can the school accomplish it.

"LifeSkills gets students from four high schools that have the most struggling students," says Lerner. "We have a plan, we have a commitment by the staff," says Lerner. "I support giving them one year," she adds.

Despite pleas from the audience from board members, Lerner and Brown the board voted to close the school.

Isabel Mascarenas

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