Poor FCAT scores force Hoggetowne Middle to shut doors
Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.
Hoggetowne Middle, a Gainesville charter school for the performing arts established in 2003, will not reopen in the fall, Principal Nelda Lopez announced in an email to parents Wednesday.
"It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to notify you that on July 15, 2014 Hoggetowne Middle School will be closing," Lopez wrote. "Thank you for all the great years and I wish you the best for your child and your family. It has been a pleasure to serve all of you."
Lopez could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but school administrators had met with the Alachua County Public School district after preliminary FCAT results released earlier this summer showed Hoggetowne Middle was almost certainly destined for an F, based on the state's school-grading system.
Alachua County Public Schools were closed Thursday and the district spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
Hoggetowne Middle received an F in 2013. Per state law, a school that receives two Fs in a row must close.
School grades for 2014 haven't been released, but since student test scores had not improved significantly, parents believe Lopez opted to voluntarily close the school so teachers could apply for new jobs and families would have time to make alternate arrangements.
The problem, said one parent, is that for many Hoggetowne students, there is no other option.
The majority of the students haven't been successful in traditional public schools, like Kristin Jeffers' son, who she said was bullied mercilessly at Stephen Foster Elementary.
Other children, Jeffers said, struggle with extreme anxiety or shyness, lack of social skills, or depression that has already led to self-injury or suicide attempts.
Hoggetowne Middle was recommended to Jeffers by a counselor at Stephen Foster, who said the inclusive environment at the charter school would benefit her son.
"It's where quirky kids go," Jeffers said the counselor told her.
Hoggetowne Middle offered daily elective classes in dance, theater, music and capoeira — a Brazilian martial arts-dance form — which helped students connect better with others. But there was something else about the school that was special, Jeffers said: The teachers and administrators had a way of reaching children who had been swept to the side at other schools.
"It gave those kids self-esteem," she said. "This was so important to our kids ... this was our world. It's disheartening that nobody cares."
Jeffers said she and a group of other parents had planned to pursue avenues for the school to stay open, such as seeking an "alternative" rating from the Florida Department of Education, where the school is measured by student progress rather than standardized test scores.
With the announcement about the closure already out, it seems there's little to be done, but the parents say they're still going to plead their case anyway at the July 15 School Board meeting.
As for the 110 children who will have to attend some form of school in the fall, by law, other local schools must extend their application deadlines to accommodate students after a charter school closes.
There are two other charter schools in Alachua County that cater to middle-schoolers, but one is in Micanopy and the other, the One Room School House, is nearly at its enrollment cap, as its year-round school year begins July 14.
One Room School House founder Neil Drake said the school, which accepts students by lottery, may take a few more Monday if there's room, but, "They should hurry up and apply."
The nearest public schools to Hoggetowne are Howard Bishop Middle and Lincoln Middle, but Jeffers said that's not an option for her son, nor most of his classmates.
As a single mom who works full time, she can't home-school him, either.
Hoggetowne parents are considering their options, she said. "We have to get our kids out from under the tables again."
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.