By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
BREVARD -- It took three years of effort, but on Oct. 22, the Brevard County School Board approved the charter for the Pineapple Cove Classical Academy, a charter school which promises to offer kingergarten through eighth-grade students a classical curriculum like no other.
"We're going to offer our students a kind of hometown, community feel," said Becky Nagel, director of Pineapple Cove Academy, a popular and successful Palm Bay childcare center that begins teaching Spanish, American Sign Language and literary concepts to children as young as 2.
According to school founder John Moran, early learning is highly effective. Mr. Moran said Pineapple Cove Academy recently earned an "A-plus" rating, with a near-perfect 197 out of 200 assessed children deemed ready for kindergarten on the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener.
"We've had great success with our younger students, and many of our parents expressed an interest in us opening a charter school to offer their children an opportunity to continue working with our concepts," Ms. Nagel said. "We're very excited to finally be approved."
Because of stringent state guidelines for charter schools, the effort took three years, mainly because an applicant only gets one crack per year to have their charter approved.
At the Oct. 22 School Board meeting, two other charter applicants withdrew because of issues with paperwork, which looks at the business plan, finances, lesson plans, the governing board, a method of filling the school with students and an overall educational philosophy, among other points.
"It's a very rigorous process," said Christine Davis, Coordinator of Choice, Charter and Strategic Planning for the School Board. "The applicants have to follow state guidelines. It's in all of our interests to have strong charter schools that know what they're doing. We want them to be successful.
"After all, they're teaching our youngsters, and most of the students are going to come back into our public schools at some point," she continued. "So, the process is stringent. We feel that Pineapple Cove Classical Academy will be successful. They have a good plan, and they have a good feeder system already in the Pineapple Cove Academy. We wish them well."
When Pineapple Cove Classical Academy opens for business in the fall of 2014, it will begin with K-5 students and will become the 11th charter school, operating in Brevard. The hoped-for enrollment of 500 students will add to the 3,773 students currently enrolled in Space Coast charter schools, the oldest of which date to 1998.
Currently, the highest grade a student can go into a charter school locally is eighth grade. Brevard Public Schools serve 70,176 students.
"It's very difficult for a charter school to stretch into high school," Ms. Davis explained. "The charter schools have to offer and meet the same standards of all our regular schools. They have to meet the testing and core guidelines. When students reach the older grades in high school, it becomes very expensive to meet those graduation requirements. It's an awful lot of paperwork and very expensive, especially when you have a limited amount of students. That's why most charter schools don't extend to high school.
But, that's another reason why the process is so strict, Ms. Davis continued.
"We're going to get the students back into public schools at some point," she said. "I like to say that a charter school is a public school in Brevard County, but it is not a Brevard County Public School."
Ms. Davis explained there are many reasons parents may feel better about sending their child to a charter school, including different teaching methods, teaching philosophies and visions. It is that difference that Pineapple Cove Classical Academy staff hopes will appeal to parents.
"One of the things we're going to do is have the entire student body gather first thing in the morning around the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance," said Ms. Nagel, who taught six years at Jupiter Elementary before joining the Pineapple Cove Academy. "And, we're going to have a mentoring program, in which the older children will help the younger students. We'll be offering a more classical liberal arts education that stresses reading and learning Latin, which forms the basis of much of our own language. We'll stress academics, but also citizenship. We're not going to tell our students about the Constitution. We're going to give them a copy of the Constitution. The school leader will be a headmaster or mistress, not a principal. We believe kids will rise to the challenges we intend to give them."
The first objective for the new school is to find a location. The charter allows the school to open in either Palm Bay or West Melbourne. The group is currently looking for land on which to build a new building or searching for an existing structure that can be modified to serve as a school.
The group also has to begin the daunting task of raising money for the new venture. Charter schools are funded by the state for the students they teach at the same rate as regular public schools. That figure changes based on the special needs of students and other factors. However, the initial operating funds have to come from the charter school.
"We are planning some fundraisers and are trying to get a well-known public figure to come to Brevard to give a speech to help us raise money," Ms. Nagel said. "We're also working very closely with Hillsdale College, a liberal arts college in Michigan. They're helping us with fundraising and searching for grants to help set up the school. It's taken a long time to get to this stage, but now the work is really beginning."
For more information, visit pineapplecoveacademey.com.