By: Sharon Aron Baron
After residents heard two presentations on Monday, several things weren’t adding up when it came to the proposed charter school.
During the meetings, real estate developer Frank Biden and attorney Michael Moskowitz who represents Academica made many promises, but through some digging I discovered what they were saying and what they were doing were completely different things.
Somerset Parkland Academy first sent out brochures to homeowners in Parkland which said schools exceeded capacity and that 5,000 new homes meant students would need to leave Parkland schools. This number wasn’t true as there are only 2,356 new homes being built in the neighborhoods of MiraLago, Parkland Bay, Cascata and Watercrest for residents under 55 said a spokesperson with the city.
The school was first proposed as a K-12, then changed to a K-8. Through a public records request with Broward County Public Schools, Somerset’s application states this school will only be a K-5. The application calls for the school to be an exact replicate of Somerset Academy Charter School in Pembroke Pines, which is another K-5 that holds 600 students. Because the application is for a K-5, they cannot accept students in 6-8 grade and the only way possible for them to do this, is if they combined another school with this school.
The application at Broward Schools makes no mention of the proposed Parkland school. They are applying under a deferred application called “Somerset Beach Academy.” At first, I thought this was a mistake and asked the district if there was any other application in their office for the Parkland school. There was not.
In their mailers and at meetings, they boast they will offer a STEAM curriculum: consisting of science, technology, engineering arts and math, which has impressed parents looking for these options for their children.
“I attended tonight’s info session on Somerset Parkland Academy,” said one parent on a Facebook group. “I was really impressed by their presentation. Their curriculum is STEAM based….something our children desperately need. She [Academica spokesperson] mentioned how incredible it was to watch kindergarteners learn to code! As a mom of twin kindergarteners, can you imagine?”
Somerset Academy’s application to Broward County Public Schools does not mention they are applying to become a STEAM or STEM school. Even their replicate school is not a STEM school. All schools that apply must include this in their application as it is reviewed by experts in math and science to make sure it meets state standards. Moskowitz even mentions on Monday that all of these great things are not set in stone and would require the approval of the school board, however, they can’t approve it if it’s not even in their application.
Biden and Moskowitz have also told parents that Parkland students will get a “limited exclusive enrollment period” of 30-45 prior to general enrollment for all students living within a 2.5 mile radius of the school. At the meetings they hold up maps showing where students who live in that particular area will qualify. Nowhere in the Florida statutes does it allow this nor is this mentioned in the school’s application.
Somerset’s application states:
The School will be open to children in Kindergarten through 5th grade (approximately 5 to 11 years of age) who would qualify to attend a traditional public school in Broward County. An open admissions policy will be implemented wherein the School will be open to any student residing in the County.
I contacted Moskowitz for the state statute supporting their promise and have not heard back.
Resident Craig Levine who moderates the Facebook group “Parkland Unites for Neighborhood Schools” was surprised by the news.
“I’ve think I’ve been told two different things and I’m not sure what to believe. If this was true, I would say that this was really misrepresentation.”
What Moskowitz could be referring to is this section in the statutes regarding transportation. However, it does not give preference for any early registration for Parkland students living within a 2.5 mile radius.
(c) Transportation of charter school students shall be provided by the charter school consistent with the requirements of subpart I.E. of chapter 1006 and s. 1012.45. The governing body of the charter school may provide transportation through an agreement or contract with the district school board, a private provider, or parents. The charter school and the sponsor shall cooperate in making arrangements that ensure that transportation is not a barrier to equal access for all students residing within a reasonable distance of the charter school as determined in its charter.
Biden assured residents that all of Somerset’s teachers will be 100 percent certified. The state law reads that teachers “of record” have to be certified, which means only the teachers listed as having students attached to them. This exempts guidance counselors, principals and librarians from being certified at a charter school. Also, charter school principals are not required to have an educational background. This is in stark contrast to Broward County Public Schools where all of these positions must be filled by certified educators.
According to one source, Somerset Academy schools that tend to do well are those located in affluent neighborhoods. Then they have schools where they don’t receive a grade because they will only put around 25 -30 students in the school so they “nest” them while waiting to figure out a place to put the school. One maneuver charter schools do to remove their low test scores is “move” students into a building that has an A and not tell the parents. The parents see in front of the school that it’s an A school, not realizing their child is actually attending a school that received a D or an F.
They do this by manipulating the state identifying numbers for that school, so when a student is moved from one building to another they’re actually moving that identifier. The students aren’t moving, just the number. These school number are buried on the registration forms parents fill out, and changing them changes the complexion of the school. Typically the grades go up in a newer, more affluent neighborhood school and that old grade would die. This is how charter schools showcase how their grades have improved and parent’s don’t have a clue this is going on.
Charter schools are supposed to be innovative. Without a STEAM or STEM program in their application, there isn’t one innovative program at the proposed Somerset Parkland Academy that brings anything unique to the residents of Parkland.