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Rowlett Elementary continues quest to become a charter school

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 5:24 pm | Updated: 5:34 pm, Fri Aug 2, 2013.

BRADENTON - Parents and staff at a Bradenton elementary school continue on track to convert it into a charter school. If the Manatee County School District accepts its application, Rowlett Elementary will become the first on the Suncoast to make the change.

“We've spent thousands of hours, and I think we've all been very inspired,” says Debra Woithe, Rowlett School Advisory Council Chairwoman. The cramming to complete the application to become a charter school began in June after parents and teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor.

“I just think it's important for kids to be well-rounded. Not just academically. They need the arts,” says Sherry Johnson, a supporter of the switch, which aims not to save a failing school, but rather to protect its magnet programs that draw students from around the county, and raves from their parents.

“We wanted to continue to offer the uniqueness we've done for 13 years,” says Rowlett's principal, Brian Flynn. Parents feared budget problems at the district level threatened this school. To apply to become a charter, it had to make its own budget, account for how to feed and transport students, in addition to spelling out its curriculum to teach them.

“We're not inventing anything new,” says Woithe. “We're just making decisions to make it run as efficiently as possible.”

Besides the expert help on the business plan, the school also got advice from McKeel Academy in Lakeland, which made the same switch from traditional public school to public charter, and reinforced confidence in the decision to convert Rowlett. “The tax dollars can actually better and more efficiently focus on meeting the needs of the students,” says Woithe.

The school district has 60 days to decide on the application. If it rejects it, Rowlett can appeal to the state. If the conversion gets approved, it will operate as a charter school beginning in the fall of next year.

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