elizabeth-taylor_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — Elizabeth Taylor spent nearly 40 years as an educator, including two decades as a school principal and administrator.  When she retired, she wanted to continue to make a difference in the lives of the young and in society, but not in a 9-to-5 job.

For some years, the West Palm Beach resident toyed with the idea of opening a charter school and eventually discussed her idea with five other retired principals: Delores Calloway, Julia Bullard, Bettye Lawson, Revia Lee and Pamela Patterson.

The result: LaMensa Academy New Generation Charter School.

The K-3 school opened on Aug. 22 to teach young children to expand their minds and enter into the world of math, science and technology.

But after only a month of operations, LaMensa began fighting to stay open because of low enrollment. The inaugural class totaled six and the number has risen to just 38 after a recent open house.

Efforts by the founders to boost the enrollment have met with some success and may have staved off closure for now.

“No one knew where we were, no one knew who we were, or what we were doing,” said Taylor.

Taylor and Bullard said the low enrollment is due to the fact the founders didn’t tout their own extensive records as educational stalwarts in the community. Together, the six of them have a combined 200 years of experience as teachers, principals and administrators in Palm Beach County and neighboring Martin County.  Each has been so highly regarded that they mentored other principals in South Florida. But their experience didn’t prepare them for marketing their school.  Bullard said the enrollment would have been bigger if the community was aware of who was behind the venture. But, instead of doing promotions, they put all their energies and focus on the school and its curriculum.

The School District of Palm Beach County requires 18 students per teacher, a requirement that LaMensa does not meet. However, the school district is giving the school a reprieve to attract more students. No deadline has been set.

But Taylor said failure to meet any enrollment requirement will not spell the end of their dreams. If the school has to close this year, they will re-open next year after a major push to market themselves and LaMensa better.

Their decision to focus on the sciences and technology was strategic, the founders said. Calloway said they realized 21st century students are practically born with gadgets in their hands, with some being introduced to computers as infants and toddlers. So, to foster this fascination with technology and to prepare children for the world in which they live, they decided to tap into the world of technology through education.

Coincidentally, the school is located at 3970 RCA Blvd., where RCA, one of the world’s largest technology companies, had a factory.

The women plan to work with science and technology companies to complement their academic offering. They chose the name LaMensa because the organization Mensa has members with an intelligence quotient (IQ) higher than 160, Taylor said. They believe that each child who comes through their doors has the capacity for intellectual development and the teachers at LaMensa plan to develop it, she said.

Calloway said the school will prepare students to make a mark in the world.

“Our students may find cures for diseases with our focus on science,” Calloway said.  Now, the six retired principals are hoping they get the chance to educate today’s children and brighten their minds.

“We are determined to make this a success, and they (students) deserve it,” said Taylor. “We hope we’ll make it. But, if we don’t, we’ll come back bigger and stronger next year. We’re going to be bigger and better. We’re inviting people to ‘grow with us.’ ”

For more information on LaMensa Academy, please contact the school at 561-630-7002.

Photo: Academy Co-Founder: Elizabeth Taylor