3 F's for elementary school force Sweetwater Academy to close

Sweetwater Branch Academy, shown in this July 25, 2012 file photo, has closed.

Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.

Sweetwater Branch Academy, a charter elementary and middle school in northeast Gainesville, has closed due to poor school grades and financial trouble.

The Sweetwater Branch elementary school had been operating for three years and received a grade of F each year, forcing its closure.

A state law requires a school to close if it receives two F’s in a row unless the Board of Education grants permission for the school to remain open.

Sweetwater Branch Elementary successfully petitioned the state last year but had agreed to close on its own if it received a third F, said Diana Lagotic, director of elementary curriculum for Alachua County Public Schools.

When school grades were released last week, Principal Ugur Baslanti notified Alachua County Public Schools the school would be closing, Lagotic said.

The charter school opened an elementary school in 2010 to feed the middle school.

Sweetwater Branch Academy Middle School was not in danger of closing due to school grades. In fact, its grade of C this year was its lowest since opening in 2008.

However, the school had started to fall behind on its rent, Lagotic said.

Without state funding for the approximately 90 elementary school students, Sweetwater Branch Academy wouldn’t have been able to pay rent on the facility that housed both schools, said Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instructional services and student support for Alachua County Public Schools.

The middle school had about 58 students, Clarke said.

“It’s hard to run a school with only 58 students,” she said.

So Sweetwater Branch Academy’s board of directors voted to close both schools. Baslanti could not be reached for comment.

The school was closed as of July 31 and parents were notified of the closure by mail, Lagotic said.

Students came to the charter school from all over the county, so no overflow in enrollment numbers is expected at the schools closest to Sweetwater Branch Academy — Duval, Metcalfe and Rawlings elementary schools.

Sweetwater’s teachers, since they do not have contracts with Alachua County Public Schools, will not be redistributed within the district, although, Clarke added, they are welcome to apply for openings in the public schools.

No other schools in Alachua County are in danger of closing, Lagotic said.

The last school to close in recent memory was Love to Learn Educational Center.

The Alachua County School Board revoked Love to Learn’s charter in May 2008 due to poor test scores, safety concerns, inadequate instructional time and allegations that the school brought in extra students during full-time equivalency counts to increase the amount of funding it received from the state.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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