Sweetwater charter elementary faces possible state shut-down

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A Gainesville charter elementary faces threats of closure from the state after two consecutive years of F-grades and low FCAT scores.

Sweetwater Branch Academy Elementary School, a Title I charter school, has received poor ratings since it opened in 2010. The Florida State Board of Education will meet Tuesday to decide the school’s fate.

Florida law mandates closure of any charter school that receives two consecutive F grades unless the board grants the school a waiver.

The school submitted a waiver request including facts and figures showing the school’s progress and data comparing it to other local schools.

The school saw a 33-percent jump in scores between 2010 and 2011. Last year, it fell 11 point short of a passing grade.

Sweetwater administration is confident the school will receive the waiver.

“We deserve it and we’re confident that state board members will see that when they look at data,” said Principal Ugur Baslanti.

Joanne McFarland, who teaches second grade at the school, described the environment as “like a family.” She said the school has seen gains in its two years and that FCAT scoring should be revamped.

“You should not have to be given an F grade if you’ve made significant gains because you’re not going to go from 17 percent to passing. It’s just not going to happen in a year,” she said. “Obviously the kids that we get are very low and they need to be worked with over the course of years.”

Jasmine Hill’s 6-year-old son attends the charter school. She said while she was initially skeptical of the F grades, she ultimately decided Sweetwater was best for her son.

“I think it’s an excellent school,” she said. “He’s learning, and I like the climate. I like the teachers. They’re actually involved, they know him by name, they know his character and everything else, and that’s what’s important for me.”

Kelly Price wrote this story for online.

About Kelly Price

Kelly is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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