Charter school proposed for FL Air Force base

Charter schools have a reputation for being a growing presence in urban education, but one proposed for Florida stands out for a more novel locale: a military base.

charter schools usa logoCharter Schools USA, with 58 schools in seven states, has applied to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. If approved, it would be the second charter school on a Florida military base and the ninth one nationally.

MacDill, headquarters to U.S. Central Command, has an A-rated elementary school. It’s operated by the local school district and has served the base for 50 years. But with about 500 students, it’s at 93 percent capacity. And in a recent interview with a local newspaper, the district superintendent said it’s possible the school could expand, but she didn’t say how or when.

That’s a concern for a base that serves 13,000 families and expects another 600 to move into new housing within the next year, said local attorney Stephen Mitchell, a member of the MacDill Advisory Education Council, which includes representatives from the community and base.

Another big worry, he said, is that military families, who want their children to remain on base, don’t have a middle school option.

The current school, Tinker Elementary, “is a valuable asset and we don’t anticipate to detract from it,” Mitchell said. “This is about quality of life for military families. Housing and education – we have to take care of that.’’

Richard Page
Richard Page

Plans call for MacDill Charter Academy to accommodate 875 students with a unique design: grades 6, 7 and 8 will have double the seats (about 150) of the K-5 classes. That quickly addresses the greater need for a middle school, said Richard Page, vice president of development for Charter Schools USA.

The academy, like Tinker, will be open to the public, but MacDill families get first priority.  Parents and relatives will have to undergo advanced security screenings to enter the base.

The school will focus on creating programs that meet the needs of military families, many of whom are reassigned to different bases every two years. It will make it easier for parents to get transcripts and enroll their children, and to transition into a new community. There also will be special counselors for children whose moms and dads might be deployed overseas.

Tinker provides such assistance, too, including two on-site, military life consultants, said Terrie Dodson-Caldevilla, communications and marketing manager for the Hillsborough County School District’s choice schools. “We’re meeting the needs as the needs have risen,’’ she said.

Charter Schools USA will help build the school, Page said. The management company operates 42 schools in Florida. The three in the Tampa Bay area earned state grades this year of B, C and F – with the latter going to a 2-year-old school that serves students “who came to us very far behind,’’ Page said.

In Florida, charter schools are authorized by school districts. The local school board is set to review the MacDill application in December. If it wins approval, MacDill Charter Academy could open next August.

The project also involves Air Mobility Command (AMC) East Communities and Clark Realty Capital, two development companies that specialize in providing military housing. AMC was behind a similar charter school project at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.