Lauderhill gets new K-8 charter school

It is not the most ideal location for a school, but Lauderhill has granted approval for a new K-8 charter school within a light industrial zoning distinct.

City staff had recommended denying Eagles Nest Community Charter Schools' special exception request, but officials voted unanimously in favor of allowing the school to operate in a building that has been used by two schools earlier, without much success. Raising Individual Student Excellence (RISE) Education Schools, which is shutting down because of poor performance, will sublease the space to the new school.

Christine Mentis, school principal, wore a smile on her face as she came out of the meeting. "We have an elementary school in Coral Springs, but most of our students are from Lauderhill and surrounding areas. With the new K-8 school, we will be able to serve the community even better. Our focus is on getting our kids to be college ready upon completion of high school."

The original idea was for the new school to use about 17,000 square feet of the 32,000-square-foot building and let iSuccess Academies of Southeast Florida use 11,200 square feet for a charter school for grades 9 to 12. The City Commission however wasn't comfortable with the idea of having an elementary and high school function in the same building. The commission voted 3-2 in favor of the applicant, but a special exception use request requires at least a 4-1 vote to pass.

City Manager Charles Faranda explained why staff had recommended denying permission for the school. "It is an industrial area, and we hope the space will be used for industrial purposes," he said. "There are also safety issues involved. Trucks, delivery people and kids; we don't think it is a good mix. The Smart School had the intention to be an "A" school, but it did not happen. I don't think the atmosphere is conducive to that."

The special exception will be in force for five years. The original plan was for the City Commission to renew it for subsequent 10-year periods. With Vice Mayor Margaret Bates being opposed to the idea, the Commission decided that subsequent renewals, if any, would be for five-year periods.

"This is an industrial area; it is made for businesses and not schools," Bates said. "I don't like a charter school being in an industrial area, but I understand there is a necessity. The Smart School went in there; it failed. If you are successful, I am not going to ask you to move. However, I don't want the city to miss an opportunity once the economy revitalizes itself."

Commissioner Hayward Benson wanted the city to reconsider approval for the school if grades dropped and the educational institution wasn't able to improve it for three consecutive years. Mayor Richard Kaplan was also in favor of linking approval with performance.

"You are the third school coming in here," Kaplan said. "If we bring someone in with exactly the same result, this is the last time it is going to happen. The only reason I am considering you is your track record. If the trends show that you are failing, I don't want you here."

Commissioners Howard Berger and Ken Thurston were all for granting approval. "The city is not the School Board," said Berger. "I don't think we should be acting as the School Board. We have allowed churches in the industrial area."

"Lauderhill schools did not do well this year," Thurston said. "We have got a few very low-performing schools. We now have an entity coming in with a history of high performance. We don't need to micromanage things. I don't think we should be imposing restrictions as it relates to the performance of the school."

The school is located at 3698 NW 15th St. in Lauderhill. In 1998, the City Commission had granted approval for The Smart School to operate a charter middle school at the site. In 2008, city officials approved an application by RISE to operate an elementary school. After receiving failing grades for a second year, RISE decided to stop operations and let Eagles Nest take over.

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