New charter school beginning enrollment, selection process

New charter school beginning enrollment, selection process
A crowd of legislators, city council members, corporate leaders and Jacksonville Classical Academy board members and staff gathered Jan. 10 to celebrate construction progress at the school.

Construction is advancing at a fast clip on Jacksonville Classical Academy, a new charter K-6 charter school that is situated in historic Mixon Town next to Brooklyn, on the site of the former Forest Park Elementary. The school, which will eventually expand to a K-12, will serve all students of Duval County who sign up and are selected by random lotteries, the next of which will be held Saturday, Feb.1. The school will open in August with 650 students, and board members hope to add a grade each year until the school has 1,000 students.

School staff, led by inaugural Head of School David Withun, Ph.D., are conducting enrollment and informational meetings in different areas of the city early this month, including one near Avondale, as well as others in March in Riverside and beyond. The school will join 24 others founded by Michigan-based Hillsdale College through its Barney Charter School Initiative. It will be publicly funded, tuition-free and use a classical curriculum. Charter schools in general operate with less school district oversight than district schools.

Almost $200 million was spent to clean up the former brownfield site where the school is located, which held a trash incinerator that operated for years on Forest Street. Duval County Schools approved the application for the school unanimously in May. The Jacksonville Classical site is adjacent to the McCoys Creek project, which will open the creek, offer canoeing, add a park and parking. The school also sits next to much development in Brooklyn, including the construction of a world headquarters for Fidelity Information Services (FIS) and a new parking garage for Florida Blue as well as a realignment of the other end of Forest Street.

Superintendent of Schools Diana Green addresses a gathering celebrating the progress of construction on Jacksonville Classical Academy.
Superintendent of Schools Diana Green addresses a gathering celebrating the progress of construction on Jacksonville Classical Academy.

A constellation of legislators, city council members, the superintendent of schools and a former U.S. Ambassador assembled to celebrate the advancing construction in early January. Among them were former Sheriff Nat Glover, who offered the invocation for the Jan. 10 ceremony; Superintendent of Schools Dr. Diana Greene; City councilwomen Ju’Coby Pittman and Randy DeFoor and DeFoor’s husband, Allison, vice president of the Academy board; and former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas and the chairman of the Vestcor Companies, John Rood. Rood is also Academy chairman of the board and addressed the gathering beneath a tent at the site, with heavy construction equipment at work behind him. The Vestcor Family Foundation purchased the land for more than $1 million in early 2020.

“The project you see behind me started 85 days ago,” Rood told the gathering. “I had a lot of sleepless nights (thinking) ‘Are we going to get the school done in time?’ Now, that’s the least of my worries.” The school will open in August as planned, he said.

“Know that the school district will support you,” Green encouraged Academy faculty and staff. “What I ask from this community is that every single school have the same opportunity as Jacksonville Classical Academy. We have 130,000 students. We want to see Jacksonville as a great model of excellence and choice.”

Academy School Operations Manager Kelly Chufo said the school would be using a curriculum based on Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter Initiative, which includes Singapore math, Riggs phonics, two years of Latin and requires students to learn cursive. Students will also wear uniforms. She described it as history- and literature-based and interdisciplinary, addressing Common Core goals but not focusing solely on those goals or on state testing.

Withun moved from Savannah to Jacksonville three months before the ceremony with his wife Vanessa and three children. He is a U.S. Army veteran and earned his masters and doctorate in Humanities at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., according to the school website. He has previously taught history, humanities, and literature at a classical school and composition, humanities, and literature at the college level. His writing has been published in journals and magazines such as Phylon, The Explicator, The Imaginative Conservative, the Journal of Faith and the Academy, and Black Perspectives. He is currently working on his first book, exploring classical influences in the thought of the civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be founding head of Jacksonville Classical Academy,” Withun related. “I’m excited beyond measure to be here right now, celebrating this milestone.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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