Failing Florida International Academy charter school in Opa-locka fights to stay open

08/05/2014 5:38 PM

08/05/2014 7:01 PM

Just weeks before school starts in Miami-Dade County, administrators at an Opa-locka charter school are calling parents with the news: Florida International Academy may be forced to close.

After earning consecutive failing grades, the charter elementary school’s only hope to stay open is to persuade the state to grant it a waiver.

The Miami-Dade School Board will vote Wednesday on whether to terminate its contract with Florida International Academy, which is not affiliated with the university of the same name, unless the state grants a reprieve.

The decision is largely out of the district’s hands. State law calls for charter schools to shut down if they earn back-to-back failing grades. Open four years, Florida International has scored all F’s and one D.

“Many of our students are non-readers,” said Principal Sonia Mitchell. “Parents bring their children here because they’re not making it in their traditional school.”

Only 36 percent of Florida International students passed the state’s standardized reading test in 2104 — up from 22 percent the year the school opened. Fifty-four percent of students made a passing score in math in 2014, up from 32 percent in 2011.

The school, which enrolled about 450 students last year, has filed for a state waiver. If it is granted, Florida International has one year to make improvements or close forever. Under state law, waivers can be granted only once.

“It’s up on me to prove to the state that I can do it,” Mitchell said.

With the school’s future dependent on a waiver, Mitchell said Florida International’s own board is calling an emergency meeting to decide whether to open on the first day of school, Aug. 18. Board member Adrian Freeman declined to comment. Other board members did not return calls for comment, or were unreachable.

Florida International has also run a charter middle school since 1999. That school has consistently improved its grades, but has fallen from an A in 2012 to a C this year.

Miami-Dade schools spokesman John Schuster said two other charter schools have been forced to close this upcoming year. River Cities Charter middle and RAMZ Middle decided to close without seeking a state waiver, Schuster said.

In other business Wednesday, the School Board will consider a proposal by member Raquel Regalado to develop a comprehensive plan to protect students from identity theft.

In July, a former food service who worked at Horace Mann Middle School was sentenced to 81 months in prison after prosecutors said she sold students’ personal information.

“We have to talk about what information they can withhold from the school system and what we can do to protect their information,” Regalado said.

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