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Lack of facility delays opening of county’s first dual-language charter school

Academy leaders have already notified the families of the more than 200 students who had pre-enrolled and registered for the fall

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  • | 3:20 p.m. July 9, 2019
Zickafoose says she'd like a student body comprised evenly of 50% Spanish-dominant students and 50% English-dominant students
Zickafoose says she'd like a student body comprised evenly of 50% Spanish-dominant students and 50% English-dominant students
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Sarasota County’s 12th charter school — and the first to be aimed at ensuring a dual-language Spanish education for district students — will not open for the 2019-2020 academic year, one of the school's founders said.

Dreamers Academy, whose mission is to educate “bilingual, biliterate, and cross-cultural leaders of character,” was officially OK’d by the Sarasota County School Board in a 4-1 vote in February.

The resulting contract between Sarasota County Schools and Dreamers Academy granted the charter school a three-year window to open.

Now, according to founder and future principal Ruby Zickafoose, Dreamers Academy leaders will need to take advantage of that time because of recent challenges in securing property.

“We had some environmental issues at our last site that were unforeseen,” Zickafoose said. “We were trying to rush to find a location to open in August, but we realized we wanted to provide a really safe and secure and positive location for the right population … It’s no small feat to open a school, and nothing to be taken lightly.”

“It’s not something that would have truly impacted the student population, but once we found out about it, we didn’t want to have the school in a place that had any environmental issue,” original founder Geri Chaffee explained. “So we pulled back from that location.”

Zickafoose and Chaffee both declined to comment further on what “environmental issues” merited the academy’s disapproval of the site, but she said it led the founders to appoint a facilities committee to spearhead the continued search.

The committee has reportedly established the following as criteria for determining a suitable academy location:

  • Accessible for an "ideal combination" of Spanish-dominant and English-dominant students
  • A location that could minimize bussing and maximize student ability to walk to school under a 2-mile radius
  • Adequate buildings that will provide immediate access to restrooms and ensure safety
  • Consideration of city zoning vs. county zoning and the speed of their respective rezoning processes

According to Chaffee, if the founders cannot find adequate property in the next year, they may need to rent space for a few years or resort to constructing their own buildings.

Regardless, the founders now plan to open the academy in August 2020 — and Zickafoose says they refuse to be discouraged by their most recent setback.

“We are very eager. We really believe in what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re excited and honored and humbled to bring this to our area. Keep watching for Dreamers Academy.”


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