Rowlett Academy to make pitch for new charter middle school

In this file photo, Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication students participate in the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration.
In this file photo, Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication students participate in the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration.

Leaders at Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication may be able to keep their elementary students a little longer if the Manatee County School Board approves allowing the charter to open a middle school.

District staff are recommending the school board approve the middle school charter application on Tuesday. If approved, Rowlett could begin enrolling middle school students in the fall of 2017.

“We’re pleased they’re recommending us,” said Brian Flynn, the retired elementary school principal who now works as a consultant for the charter school board. In his role as consultant, Flynn has been helping the new administration at the elementary school and working on bringing the middle school to life.

The plan to open a charter has been in the works for more than a year at Rowlett. A former district elementary magnet school, Rowlett parents and staff initiated the process to become a public charter school. After gaining approval from the board, the school officially became a charter for the start of the 2014-15 year.

Rowlett focuses on performing arts, visual arts and communication, according to officials. Classes include art, dance, drama, music, strings, physical education, puppetry, film and TV production, dual-language instruction and technology. The elementary school is located at 3500 Ninth St. E., Bradenton.

No other charter application submitted to the Manatee County School Board has been approved since the Rowlett conversion.

The material posted on the school board agenda shows that Rowlett’s middle school application hits the majority of the standards set out by the district.

There’s no official word yet on where the middle school would be housed, but Rowlett has been working on buying property to build. It also is considering rehabbing former district schools, notably Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary.

Orange Ridge would be the first preference, Flynn said, knowing the school would need renovations to make it a suitable middle school setting. Flynn has done a walk-through of the school once, so he said until and unless more people get into the building, he’s not quite sure what the renovation costs would be, but moving into Orange Ridge would help keep the project on schedule.

“Our hope is to open the middle school for the 2017-18 year. That would work in our time frame,” he said.

A charter application does not need to have a location where it’s approved by the board.

Flynn said the middle school ideally would pull from the 130 fifth-grade students who graduate each year. When looking at past years, the fifth-grade students typically scatter to a number of different schools after leaving Rowlett, including traditional public middle schools, some of the private schools in the county and Manatee School for the Arts, a longtime charter school that first enrolls students in the sixth grade.

Although MSA and Rowlett will offer some similar programs, Flynn said Rowlett’s focus on leadership will help differentiate the schools.

“I don’t see it as competition,” he said. “We all want the same things for the kids.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney