Historic Visible Men Academy to mold young Manatee students

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- A historic new charter school will open this fall to teach boys to become responsible young men by offering an environment geared toward the way they learn.

The Manatee County School District has approved the Visible Men Academy's charter application for boys entering kindergarten through second grade in the inaugural year. It will later expand up to eighth-graders.

The Visible Men Academy, 1003 63rd Ave. E., describes itself as an all-boys charter school whose mission will be to provide outstanding academic, character and social education in a nurturing school environment.

"We believe in communities, we believe in strengthening communities and we believe education is one of the most important paths in strengthening community," founder Neil Phillips said. "We thought we could provide a choice that would interest family and children, especially those that share our beliefs."

This is the second single-gender school approved in the county and the first one for boys. The school targets boys from low-income households.

Last year the school board approved a 5-year charter for the Just for Girls school on 21st Street East.

National Education Association studies show boys in a single-gender environment are more likely to be successful in school and to pursue a large variety of interests and activities.

The Florida per-student allotment granted to Visible Men Academy is nearly $3,600. Predicted school expenditures for the 2013-2014 school year are slightly more than $1 million for an estimated 162 students or $6,172 per student.

Because public charter schools receive state education funds, tuition is free. Florida charter schools must file annual reports to the school district where they are located and school districts evaluate charter school performance.

School Board officials have high hopes for the school.

"In terms of young men, we know that they are facing some of the greatest challenges," said Verdya Bradley, district associate director for innovative programs and parental options. "So to have a school that targets the population, let's hope for the best."

Phillips, who graduated from Landon School for Boys in Bethesda, Md., and later was assistant headmaster there, contends students are more likely to be successful in a learning environment geared toward the way boys learn.

"We feel like a lot of the conversations that explore success and manhood, we think happen best in anall-boy environment,"Phillips said.

Phillips brings 25 years experience as an educator, entrepreneur, coach and youth advocate. His most recent position was interim upper school head master at the Out-of Door Academy in Sarasota.

The curriculum will focus on academia in addition to incorporating character development and social education. Another fundamental component of the curriculum will be the study of success stories with contemporary male role models as examples.

The success portion of the curriculum, according to the school charter, is based on the principles of: strong character, personal presence, healthy relationships, dreaming, health, achievement attitude, work ethic, citizenship, spiritual development and leadership.

"As valuable as we know strong character traits are we spend far too little time teaching them in school environments," Phillips said.

Phillips said happiness and community contributionall come from havingstrong character.

Manatee County School District officials believe the new charter school has laid out a good plan.

I think their plan was exceptional, thus approved," Bradley said. "I think if they can do all they have set out to do they will be a great school, but we expect that from all our schools."

Visible Men Academy plans to be a fully operational kindergarten-through-eighth-grade center by the 2014-1015 school year, when campus construction is complete.

The educational experience at Visible Men Academy will also be expanded with a longer school day and year. School hours will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for kindergarten through third grade students and 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. for fourth through eighth grade. The school year will also be three weeks longer than Manatee County's school calendar.

Students will also be required to attend a Saturday enrichment session once a month

The non-denominational school will expand on property leased from the Community Church of God. Expansion plans include upgrading the school's main building and classrooms, erecting new fencing along 63rd Avenue East, adding three portable school buildings and constructing a playground and other outdoor area improvements.

The church and school will co-exist on the property owned by Community Church of God.

The school will have three main sources of funding: state funding, a Charter School Program grant and one from Charter School Growth Fund. a foundation that supports charter schools nationwide, especially those serving lower-income families.

To date we have a number of students and families that have applied, and it's our hope the word will continue to spread," Phillips said.

The Manatee County School Board approved the contract with the school along with its charter at the March 25 school board meeting. The charter will have to be renewed in five years.

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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