Charter School Champions of the Year


FLORIDA – November 20, 2014 – Charter schools seem to only be featured in the news when things go wrong. The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) – the state’s leading charter school support and advocacy organization – is trying to change that. Three years ago, FCPCS launched the Charter Schools Champion awards to recognize people who were making a significant impact in their communities, and on the state’s education system, through their work with or at a charter school. This year’s event was held the evening of November 19 during the state charter schools conference hosted by the Florida Department of Education.

“The Charter Schools Champion Awards is an opportunity to recognize an extraordinary group of individuals who work tirelessly within the movement to provide children with a high quality education,” said Robert Haag, FCPCS President. “These are people who break barriers to choice, who are good stewards of public dollars, and who are models of excellence within their field. They do great work every day without fanfare and should to be recognized for it.”

More than 400 people attended the Champion Awards. The evening was possible thanks to the generous support of sponsors:

Platinum Sponsor - Ray Dass Test Prep

Gold Sponsors - Building Hope, Egis Insurance & Risk Advisors

Silver Sponsors - Coventry Health Care, Imagine Schools, Mauldin & Jenkins, and Preferred Meals

Bronze Sponsors - Brown & Brown Insurance, e-Rate Advantage, Hertz Furniture

The 2014 Charter Schools Champion Award recipients are:

School District Superintendent of the Year

Lori White, Superintendent, Sarasota County Schools understands that academic success for all students is paramount, whether they attend a district-run school or a charter school. Superintendent White’s administration has been inclusive and collaborative with charter schools, and is one of few districts in the state that shares their 1 mil voted referendum with charter schools, along with 30% of the district’s capital millage allocation.

Charter School Governing Board Members of the Year

Charter school governing board members carry a great deal of responsibility for the fiscal and academic success of the schools they serve. Jacquelyn Smith, Board Chair, Escambia Charter School, Cantonment, FL and Kelly Lichter, founding board member of Mason Classical Academy in Naples, FL were recognized for their role in the success of the schools they serve.

Jacquelyn Smith has served on the Board of Directors of Escambia Charter School for fourteen years, sticking with the school even through their most turbulent times. She helped Escambia Charter School become SACS Accredited, financially independent, and in 2013, a National Winner of Make A Difference Day.

Kelly Lichter started Mason Classical Academy, a classical charter school that bucks the educational system in almost every way imaginable, from its classical curriculum to its traditional teaching methodology. According to her nomination form, “Mason Classical Academy is a school that says enough is enough! We do not want your Common Core. We do not believe students are test takers and teachers are data analysts. We do not believe that every student needs an ipad to succeed. Rather, we believe that a liberal arts education will train the minds of children to tackle any challenge…” Ms. Lichter recently won a seat on the Collier County school board.

Legislators of the Year

Former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Will Weatherford and Seth McKeel, former Representative, Florida House of Representatives, were honored for working to improve the state’s public education system, and passionately supporting school choice options for families.

“When the Florida Senate appropriated $50 million dollars for charter school facilities capital outlay, Speaker Weatherford directed $25 million dollars from the House supplemental appropriation to increase the total allocation to $75 million dollars for the 2014/2015 Facilities Capital Outlay for charter schools. Seth McKeel worked to hold off further appropriation reductions by the Florida Senate to the Facilities Capital Outlay for charter schools,” explained Mr. Haag.

School District Board member of the Year

Broward County Public Schools board member Patricia "Patty" Good is a leading champion for public education and an advocate for all public school students, teachers, and parents. Mrs. Good attended and graduated from public schools in Miami-Dade County, and just finished a one year term as Chair of the School Board of Broward County, during which the voters of Broward County approved overwhelming an $800 million bond for capital improvements, which included millions for charter school technology. She worked as an administrator for 23 years with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and volunteered on and served as Chair of the City of Pembroke Pines Elementary and Middle Charter School Advisory Board.

School Leaders/Principals of the Year

Ruth Jefferson is the School Administrator at St. Peter’s Preparatory Academy in Gifford, FL. This top-performing “A” school in Indian River County serves at-risk students. She’s known as a passionate educator who is compassionate, supportive, and approachable.

Dr. Bill Jones founded Manatee School For the Arts in 1998 and was instrumental in creating a vibrant school community that infuses the arts in all academic programming. Under his leadership, the school now has achieved academically, and earned the highest graduation rate in Manatee County. He was nominated for this award by parents at his school.

Teachers of the Year

Julie Sear, Middle School Science Teacher at the School of Arts & Sciences in Tallahassee, is a master at designing differentiated lessons that encourage both critical and creative thinking and requires students to manipulate authentic materials, and engage with peers to work through science content. She also makes time in her classes and throughout the day to help students on a one-on-one level. FCAT results over time provide objective evidence of Julie's success. Eighth grade students at School of Arts & Sciences have earned the highest science proficiency rates in Leon County for the last three years.

Areon Atkinson, Athletic Director at Brooks De Bartolo Collegiate High in Tampa is affectionately known as "Coach." Areon has been a dedicated teacher, mentor, coach, equipment manager, athletic director, bus driver...and the list goes on and on. As a PE instructor, Coach teaches more than Physical Education and Health. According to the parents who nominated him, “Coach teaches integrity, tolerance, respect, kindness, compassion, and how to make good choices. These are the life long lessons that make an impact beyond the curriculum.”

Charter School Partners of the Year

“FCPCS is fortunate to work with a select group of companies that tailor their services to fit the needs of charter schools. Part of our My Education Market Place – an online mall for products and services, these vendors provide top-notch customer service and products. We call them our Preferred Partners,” said Devarn Flowers, FCPCS board member.

Ray Dass Test Prep and Pearson were recognized for long-term commitment to the charter school movement and the children we serve.

Charter School Pioneers

In the Florida charter school movement, there are a handful of individuals who had a vision and took a risk to be among the first people to start a unique charter school. Two people were named 2014 charter school Pioneers.

Alan Olkes, Retired COO, Imagine Schools – When Alan retired as Interim Superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools he immediately began to work for choice through charter schools. Alan has been an instrumental part of the success of many charter schools – serving as CEO, Executive VP, Chief Operations Officer, and fearless visionary. He helped pioneer the nation’s first municipal charter school system within the City of Pembroke Pines, Florida. He also helped Chancellor Charter Schools expand throughout Florida and Arizona. In 2004, he worked to form Imagine Schools – a company with 70 campuses in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Alan recently retired to spend time his wife Maggie, their children and 13 grandchildren, however, he remains an incredible resource for those that need expert advice about charter schools.

Maggie Fresen-Zulueta, Vice President, Academica - Maggie has been a pioneer in the charter school industry in the state of Florida since 1997. Using her expertise in budgeting, contract development, and grant writing she has helped many charter schools become among the state’s most academically and financially successful. An advocate on a state and national level for high quality charter schools, Maggie has been instrumental in bringing high quality public charter schools to high need minority communities throughout our state.

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The 2014 Charter School Champions: (standing, left to right) Alan Olkes, Lisa Ivory, Dr. Bill Jones, Ray Dass, Jody Perry (on behalf of Patty Good), Maggie Fresen Zulueta, Areon "Coach" Atkinson, (sitting, left to right) Julie Sear, Ruth Jefferson, Kelly Lichter, Lori White, and Jacquelyn Smith.