Charters, Sarasota schools finding success

Re-posting a story from WTSP-10 (CBS) Tampa -- We often hear about the charter schools that that fail but what about the ones that succeed?

Some charter school supporters say the relationship between school districts and charters can be adversarial, but when both sides work together educators say the schools and the students benefit. Charters schools in Sarasota County and the school district seem to have found a balance.

Step into this classroom and at first it appears the kids are playing except they’re learning the Montessori way.

“Everyone is working at their own level,” says Alison Rini, principal of Island Village Montessori School in Venice.

Students are scattered through the room working on their own assignment. “There is a student practicing telling time, there’s a student working on dividing fractions, there’s a student doing geometry … over there a little girl doing geography,” points out Rini.

Kindergartners and first-graders, engaged, focused and working together.

Rini says, “Some of the fundamental elements of Montessori are student choice, student empowerment and freedom of movement.”

This is Island Village Montessori School one of Sarasota County’s 12 charter schools that are publicly funded but privately run.

“We can set our own curriculum. We’re accountable to the state, our students have to pass year-end students' tests but we can do it our own way,” explains Rini.

And like traditional public schools, charter schools are graded. Island Village Montessori has year after year received an A from the state.

Rini says, “We have strong guided vision, field tested for 100 years.”

She credits the school’s success to dedicated teachers, parents and support from the Sarasota school district.

Rini says unlike other school districts Sarasota shares part of its capital funds with charters. District officials say charter schools receive $749 per student. The state gives charter schools more than $8,371 for each student, the same amount given to all traditional public schools.

“As a charter school it’s like running a small business. We have to do our own payroll, our own HR, our own transportation, food service. We have a lot to spend money on besides academics,” explains Rini.

Like some small businesses, some charter schools fail if they are not well organized, says Rini. “No school is perfect for every kid to me that’s what’s exciting about charter schools, students have a choice.”

Half of Sarasota’s 12 charter schools received an A grade from the state, four are B schools and one a C.