Manatee's Prep Academy focuses on the future

MANATEE -- Some of its classes have only one or two students. Its library is still being stocked. Most of its classrooms consist of folding tables and chairs in a former storage business on Cortez Road.

And its owner and founder remains the target of at least four lawsuits from creditors, investors, parents or former staffers at other schools in which he was once involved.

But the 35-student Prep Academy, a private school at 7700 Cortez Road, has invested more than $1.1 million in computers, projectors and other learning tools. It offers dance classes as part of its curriculum, and last year a preschool that drew 11 students. Its owner, Hendrik Lamprecht, says more than 100 families already are enrolled for next year and he plans to invest another $1.4 million into the school.

Lamprecht said he and staff are doing everything possible to distance the school, which opened in 2010, from the numerous other school entities with which he used to be involved. They include the Bradenton Preparatory Academy, the Bradenton Preparatory School, and the Prep Learning Academy.

Several parents whose children are attending the school think the new school is working.

"I really feel if Tyler hadn't found the Prep Academy, he would have become a statistic," says Dianna Evans, whose 14-year-old grandson attends the school. "He would have gotten so far behind that he would have just given up."

"I know it's small but it's working," says Judith Bazata, whose 15-year-old daughter Destiny is a Prep Academy student. "As my daughter says, 'if you don't understand it, they explain it again.' I've never had a problem. The teachers communicate with me."

Sherry Weyhrauch, who enrolled her 3-year-old granddaughter because she was concerned that she wasn't speaking, describes a transformation in her socialization.

"She didn't speak at all. She didn't know how. But now she tells grandma,

'I would like bacon and waffles for breakfast,'" Weyhrauch says. "The progress she has made is amazing."

Lamprecht won't answer direct questions about any of the lawsuits that are pending against him on the advice of his attorney. He will only say that he is the actual owner of -- rather than an investor in -- the academy.

The lawsuits, which were filed in 2010 and 2011, are in varying stages of progress. A claim by one creditor for more than $55,000 is slated to go to trial in July. Another lawsuit filed by 12 former employees seeking back pay of $5,400 to $27,083 apiece hasn't advanced to trial yet. The teachers claimed they were not paid for several months. The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Tommy Meyer, refused to comment on the suit. None of the plaintiffs could be reached for comment.

Another suit filed by an investor who said he hasn't been repaid for a loan also has not advanced, and the attorney in the case has removed himself. The attorney for a fourth lawsuit filed by a parent seeking refund of about $10,000 in tuition could not be located.

A document filed by Lamprecht and his attorney in one of the suits contends he was never liable for debts left unpaid by the owner of the Bradenton Preparatory Academy. A clause in the stock transfer agreement he signed keeps all liability with the previous owner, Lois Gerber, if she is unable to pay the debts owed.

Lamprecht applied last year to open a charter school but withdrew those plans. Verdya Bradley, associate director of innovative programs and parental options for the Manatee School District, said the district has no comment on The Prep Academy because it is a private school and is not applying for a charter.

The new Prep Academy, started in 2010, attracts a diverse mix of international students from Japan, Hungary and Russia. It also attracts American students who felt underserved or left out at other schools.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.