BRADENTON — Some Johnson Middle School parents voiced frustration to the Manatee County school board Monday night about not getting enough answers regarding the district’s plan to teach students from a new therapeutic group home in a portable building on the International Baccalaureate school’s campus.
Johnson Middle School Advisory Council Chair Brian Kendzior told board members that he and other parents learned about the proposal last week during a SAC meeting. But when they asked for details, they didn’t get much.
“There is much discussion amongst our parents about this unit,” said Kendzior, whose daughter is in sixth grade at Johnson. “I feel we have been kind of shut in the dark and need to be brought into the light. I fear that if a decision is made irrationally that our students in our the IB school program could suffer.”
He and Kasey Sudbury were two of three parents who addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting.
“This has been Facebooked, and e-mailed and Twittered among parents because there was not enough discussion about it,” said Sudburry, whose daughter is in the seventh grade at Johnson.
The students will come from a new facility on 37th Avenue East called Manatee Palms Group Homes, which is managed by Manatee Palms Youth Services.
Parents Monday night were concerned the students were from the Manatee Palms Youth Services’ separate local 60-bed psychiatric facility that treats children and adolescents ages 6 to 17. But district leaders said that is not the case.
The youths include Florida Department of Children and Families’ foster-care children and special needs students being moved, or ones who have been moved into the residential group home, which is a former Manatee adolescent treatment center that closed in the summer of 2009. The old center had serviced children with substance abuse and mental health problems, but it has no connection with the new Manatee Palms Group Homes, said Verdya Bradley, associate director of innovative programs for the Manatee County School District.
Because Manatee Palms Group Homes is a residential facility, by law the district must provide an educational program to the children, who Bradley said are from across the state.
Eventually, Manatee Palms Group Homes will provide living facilities for up to 60 children.
“They have completed one wing of the facility and students are entering the home as we speak,” Bradley said today. “We’re treating it as if it were any house in that neighborhood.”
“We wanted to provide an opportunity to one, get to know the children, and two, ensure that we would make an appropriate placement decision,” Bradley said.
Johnson Middle Principal Omar Edwards said district officials approached him last week about the center, which he said would serve third- through 12th-grade students with behavioral problems. He said the students are being transitioned back into the educational system.
“They’re asking us to provide educational services,” Superintendent Tim McGonegal said. “They don’t have a place, so one option we explored was using a portable behind the school.”
Other district sites are also being considered, McGonegal said.
The center would operate 3-6 p.m., and the children would be separated from Johnson students. Ultimately, the district would want Manatee Group Home to transport the students back and forth.
The board did not discuss the matter, but asked McGonegal to keep it and Johnson’s SAC informed.
In other matters Monday, board members:
n Authorized a school construction bond to help finance construction of the Manatee High School Davis Building replacement. District officials say the move could save the district as much as $13.7 million in principal and interest costs.
Despite several renovations in recent years, issues of space, leaks and mold plagued the original Davis building before its January demolition. The district is constructing a near replica, with an anticipated completion date of May 2011.
n Dismissed a case against Ava White-Smith, a school bus driver who failed to report she witnessed a group of middle school girls drinking on the bus earlier this year. She resigned after an administrative law judge recommended she be fired.
n Appointed four new assistant principals. They are: Wende Pendleton-Wicks, 43, at Johnson Middle School. She is a former math teacher at Lee Middle School; Lorie Kitchi, 33, at Manatee High School. She is a former technology specialist, AP English and reading teacher at Manatee High; Scott Cooper, 38, at Bayshore High School. He is a former social studies teacher at Manatee High; and Simone Cooper, 33, at Sugg Middle School. She is a former business education teacher in Hillsborough County.
n Honored a group of Southeast High School students and alums who won the Formula One In Schools World Championship in Singapore last month. Formula One In Schools is an international competition in which teams of students use computer-aided design software to create identical race cars.