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County board to consider charter school application

LAND O’ LAKES — An application for a charter school that would target low-income students goes before the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday with a staff recommendation that it be approved.

Learning Lodge Academy wants to open for the 2014-15 school year and plans a program to educate at-risk Title I students in kindergarten through third grade. Title I is a federal program that provides extra funding to schools with a high percentage of students from economically struggling families.

If the board approves the application, as Superintendent Kurt Browning and his staff are recommending, the charter school and the district then would negotiate a contract. The board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“I’m excited, and I’m ready to move forward,” said Kerrie Cuffe, the school’s founder and a math coach at Hudson Elementary School.

Cuffe, who is in her 11th year with the school district, said she has taught at non-Title I schools, but there is something about working with students at Title I schools that she finds especially inspiring, and that’s why she wanted to make it the mission of her charter school.

“I don’t know that I can put my finger on it, but the children are just a different culture of children,” she said. “I realized that’s where my heart is and who I want to be with. I really respect the teachers there, too. I work with very dedicated teachers who have a strong work ethic.”

Learning Lodge Academy projects that its enrollment the first year would be 252 students. The school would add fourth grade its second year and fifth grade its third year. By year four it expects to grow to 464 students.

The school plans to use the Kagan Cooperative Learning model, a system that encourages collaboration among students. In addition, Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” will be incorporated into the education program.

The school district’s New Charter Application Review Committee largely had good things to say about the school’s application, though it did point out a few concerns. For example, the committee’s report said the enrollment projection for the first year is likely too high considering historical data in Pasco County.

Cuffe said she is still hopeful she can reach the enrollment goal, but just in case she made budget calculations that reflect a less-than 100 percent enrollment.

The school plans to locate in the area of Hudson or New Port Richey, but its application said if a site is not secured by March it would request a one-year deferment and open in 2015 instead.

“I want to make sure the school environment is conducive to the Kagan model,” Cuffe said. “I would rather delay it than make a hasty decision or pick a wrong location.”

Charter schools are public schools that are operated privately through agreements with local school boards. They don’t charge tuition because they receive taxpayer funding from the state government.

Pasco County has seven charter schools and an eighth school, Classical Preparatory School, also is scheduled to open for the 2014-15 school year.

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