One hundred thousand of Florida’s high school students drop out each year.
These students are more likely than high school graduates to be unemployed, in poor health, living in poverty, on public assistance and single parents with children who also drop out of high school.
They are also nearly completely missing from the civic lives of their communities, according to the National Dropout Prevention Foundation’s Web site.
In an effort to allow at-risk children to maintain their enrollment in school and give them the tools for educational success, five new “Mavericks’’ charter schools are scheduled to open throughout South Florida in the 2009-2010 school year.
In March, Mavericks in Education Florida, LLC received unanimous approvals from both the Miami-Dade and Pinellas County school boards to open charter public schools, said Mark Thimmig, the company’s CEO and president.
The schools will serve at-risk and dropout students, and will focus heavily on computerized, individualized learning.
The Mavericks students will be able to select from three, four-hour learning sessions, year round, Thimmig said.
“We want to have classes available for everyone, and will work around their schedules. Many of them are parents, others have jobs,” he said.
Thimmig said the public school system is “challenged to be all things to all students at the same time. Sometimes, that can have you nowhere and everywhere, simultaneously. We just need a clean sheet of paper, a fresh start.”
The Maverick schools, currently headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, will use a non-traditional, self-paced computer learning program. The schools will staff each classroom with two teachers and two assistants. Each school will employ one family advocate who is a trained social worker.
Classrooms will be designed with work stations and computers instead of traditional school desks, allowing each student to proceed at his or her own pace. Teachers will be available to assist students as they work through their study programs. The study programs will be on computer terminals connected to centralized servers located elsewhere in the school buildings.
“Traditional schools have a stand and learn model,” said Thimmig, “and we are using an electronic model and incorporating teacher support.”
The model, Thimmig said, is designed to place each student at their appropriate level of learning.
“With this system, the teachers can then better monitor the progress of each student.”
Although the school buildings will not include cafeterias or gymnasiums, healthy snacks, nutrition education and virtual sports in the form of video games on large TV screens are offered.
“Ninety percent of those who enroll will have met the PE [physical education] requirement,” Thimmig said. “We will utilize the Wii games for interactive sports.”
Thimmig also said the school will “offer the students nutritional education, give them guidance. This will provide information that will outlive the traditional PE class.”
All students learn differently, said Tiffanie Pauline, executive director of Charter School Operations for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“This model will work with some students, but not for others,’’ Pauline said, confirming that the school district approved the Mavericks. “The charter school will be accountable for each student’s academic performance and will be evaluated annually on achieving its academic goals as well as other goals agreed upon in its charter.”
The Mavericks incorporated in Florida in 2007, Thimmig said.
“We spent about 18 months researching and developing the school’s programs, and then locating and securing the desired locations,” he said.
The first school, a 12,000-square-foot two-story building located at 16150 NE 17th Avenue in North Miami Beach, is slated to open in August. The second, a 12,000-square-foot, single-story building at 1100 N. Main Street in downtown Kissimmee, is slated to follow.
Subsequent locations include central and south Miami-Dade, as well as Pinellas County.
“We have not yet completed our site assessments,” said Thimmig. “We will be naming the locations within 60 days.”
The proposed buildings – including old bank buildings and office buildings that are being renovated into Mavericks schools – can house 175 students, ages 15 – 21, at one time, with a maximum enrollment of 400 students in 2009, and 500 in 2010.
All of the buildings are leased, Thimmig said, and delivered according to Mavericks’ requirements.
“Many owners of real estate want to lease to schools. They have the space and feel that housing an educational facility is giving back, enhancing the community,” he said. “It’s something they want to do.”
According to Thimmig, each of the schools will spend $5,800 to $6,000 per student, annually, in operational costs.
Charter schools are non-profit organizations that have a contract or charter to provide the same tuition-free educational services to students as district public schools. Nearly one in 11 of Florida’s public schools is a charter.
Charter schools are funded by the state in the same way as public schools in the school district, Pauline said. They receive operating funds from the Florida Education Finance Program based on the number of full-time students enrolled.
“This includes gross state and local funds, discretionary lottery funds, and funds from the school district’s current operating discretionary millage levy,” Pauline added.
Although the Mavericks’ application, with its stated mission, was approved by the Miami-Dade School Board, there is no data supporting that charter schools are easing the drop-out rate, Pauline said.
“On average, generally, charter schools perform similar to traditional public schools,” she said.
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Mark Thimmig, CEO and president of Mavericks in Education Florida, LLC.
IF YOU GO
For more information about the Mavericks charter schools or to pre-enroll in the 2009-2010 school year, visit www.maverickshigh.com or www.weareallaboutthekids.com. You can also call the Mavericks High Customer Call Center – 866-733-9409.