Two area officials picked for state panel on charters


Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 9:38 p.m.
Two Alachua County education officials have been named to a new statewide Charter Schools Appeals Commission that will hear pleas from charter schools rejected by local school boards.
Don Lewis, director of charter schools for the Alachua County School Board, and Neil Drake, operator of the One Room School House in Gainesville, will join the 12-member panel that was created last year by Florida lawmakers.
The commission will make recommendations to the state Board of Education, which will accept or reject the charter schools' appeals. The Board of Education will issue binding decisions, which can only be appealed through the courts.
Previously, the Board of Education had no binding authority on such appeals.
Drake and Lewis currently serve on a statewide accountability commission for charter schools.
"Neither he nor I want poor quality charter schools operating in any district," said Lewis, who has worked for the Alachua County School Board for 32 years and became director of charter schools in 1996. "We're going to see how other districts are developing their charters, and the grounds for denial and what's being defined as a good cause for approval."
Drake said the commission will be fair-minded.
"The people I know who are on it wouldn't think of voting against a quality charter applicant just because the school board didn't want it, or doesn't like the idea of charter schools," Drake said. "They also wouldn't consider voting for a faulty applicant who had some sort of flaw in their application or didn't have experience and solid financial status."
Alachua County has 10 charter schools, with two more expected to open in the fall, putting the county at the state cap of 12. Recently, the state board approved raising that cap to 15 so that three charter high schools can apply to open next year in the district.
Drake, who opened his charter school in 1997, sits on the boards of two other Alachua County charter schools and has received state grants to help other schools open and expand.
Drake said he recently bought a parcel of property near his school at 4180 NE 15th Street for a new building that will house Hoggetowne Middle School and Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, charter schools slated to open this fall.
Hoggetowne will serve students who have been home-schooled or have attended one of the district's elementary charter schools, but would be open to any student eligible for public school in the county.
Martin Luther King Academy will serve 60 to 80 low socioeconomic, high achieving students in the first through fifth grades who cannot now be served at the One Room School House.
"We'll have a little community of charter schools out here," said Drake, who plans to add two classrooms to his school in the coming year to provide space for students in a pre-kindergarten charter school that he plans to apply to open by 2004.

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