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New charter school proposed in Lakewood Ranch

If approved, Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy could open in August 2022.

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A new charter school could be making its way to Lakewood Ranch in August 2022 if the School District of Manatee County gives approval.

Southwest Charter Foundation, a nonprofit that runs eight charter schools across the state including Manatee Charter School, is partnering with Charter Schools USA in hopes of opening Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy.

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy would be a K-12 school focused on science and health with a mission of its students becoming lifelong learners. 

Eddie Ruiz, the state director for Charter Schools USA for Florida, said the school’s innovation through curriculum, partnerships and facilities will lead the school to be recognized in the district, state and potentially nationally.

The charter school will implement the WISH framework, which focuses on wellness, innovation, science and health.

Ruiz said the WISH framework will be developed in every aspect of the school.

Incorporating wellness will include having a track in the cafeteria for students and staff. The charter school will partner with a health provider that can offer immunizations and be part of career days.

Innovation will be in mind when constructing the two buildings for K-8 and for the high school. For example, classrooms won’t be traditional classrooms but rather spaces with retractable walls, so rooms can be made into an auditorium, or more space can be added for large group activities. At the elementary level, there will be space for learning communities.

As for science and health, the school plans to develop partnerships with several organizations, such as National Academy Foundation and Brain Health Initiative.

The National Academy Foundation is a network of education, business and community leaders working together to prepare high school students to be college-, career- and future-ready with a focus on STEM curriculum.

“We look for partners that we can build into our curriculum and to the experiences students will have,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy will also provide students opportunities for Advanced Placement courses and to be a part of the Cambridge Assessment International Education program. The Cambridge AICE program provides courses that are rigorous and emphasize higher-order thinking, written and oral skills, problem-solving and other skills.

Participating in these programs gives seniors an opportunity to graduate high school with 45 college credits.

Southwest Charter Foundation and Charter Schools USA chose Lakewood Ranch for its new charter school due to the area’s growing population and Lakewood Ranch’s ability to attract world-class research facilities.

“One of the things about charters and about us specifically is we believe in parental choice,” Ruiz said. “Having opportunities for parents to select the best environment and the best place for their children is crucial to us.”

If approved, the school will open with K-6 at one building and freshmen only at the high school. The following year will add seventh and 10th grades with eighth and 11th grade coming the next year. Lastly, high school seniors will join the campus.

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy is expected to have about 740 students enrolled if the school opens in August 2022. Within five years, the school is projected to have an enrollment of 1,965 students.
Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy is expected to have about 740 students enrolled if the school opens in August 2022. Within five years, the school is projected to have an enrollment of 1,965 students.

The school projects to enroll 740 students in its first year and have 1,965 students by the time all grades are on campus in 2025-26.

The school is tuition-free for students, and anyone can apply. Once the number of applications exceed the capacity for each grade, a lottery system will be used to select students.

Once high school students are selected, each student will be interviewed, so school leaders can find the student’s passion and purpose to help develop a plan for school and the future, Ruiz said.

Ruiz said a location for the school has yet to be determined.

The school district did not say if land acquired in a land swap with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in 2018 — just north of the Lakewood Ranch Post Office — would be used for the project. At the time, the district said the 120 acres it swapped for 145 acres along State Road 64, just west of Dam Road, would be used for a future, 80-acre high school on the north side of 59th Avenue East, just west of Pope Road.

SMR also provided the district with a 40-acre site south of S.R. 64 and east of the Uihlein Road Extension. The thought was the site would be suitable for an elementary school.

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy will have a lower school facility that will be about 41,000 square feet and an upper school facility that will be two floors with about 84,000 square feet.

If the School Board of Manatee County approves the charter, the nonprofits will start looking into land acquisition with the hope of breaking ground this summer.

The board has 90 days from the application date to determine whether it will approve the charter school. Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy’s application was submitted Feb. 1.


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