When Harmony’s Chase Carter learned he was accepted to Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, he began flapping his arms like an eagle.
Carter, who will be in kindergarten next school year, will be a part of the inaugural class of Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy Eagles.
Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy is a new K-12 charter school set to open in August on White Eagle Boulevard. In its first year, the school has accepted 740 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and in ninth grade.
In January, families applied and then waited to hear whether they were accepted or waitlisted, which they learned in February. Once they were accepted or waitlisted, they had until the beginning of March to decide whether they would send their student to the new school in August.
The school had nearly 1,500 applications and has a waitlist for every grade.
Several families are thrilled to be sending their children to the new school in August.
Chase Carter’s mother, Danielle Carter, toured several Lakewood Ranch traditional public schools but felt they couldn’t provide or offer the individualized education and parent involvement she desired.
“I love the fact it’s a smaller setting with high expectations,” Carter said. “School has been in the same standstill setting for so long that I’m glad they’re opening up and having the village idea with the open classroom concept of the teachers coming together versus just having the one teacher in the one room with 20 students. It’s all about team building, building the personalities of these kids and molding and shaping them to be the best they can be.”
The learning villages will include a team of teachers that will have a group of students, or a village, to do communal activities that will provide more opportunities for socialization. The villages will have modular classroom areas with flexible seating and breakout areas.
Teachers will work together to have lessons with flexible grouping based on student needs. Teachers can split students into groups based on how they’re doing on a subject to help students who are struggling, provide a refresher for students or have students move onto the next lesson.
“They’re going to teach the same things, but they just have a little bit different way of doing that in a more customized way,” said Jessica Marchione, the mother of a kindergartner, Colin, who will attend Lakewood Ranch Prep as a first grader next school year. “He’s in a small classroom now. It started out with 16 students and now it’s at 18 or 19, but they all have to be taught the same thing at the same time in the same way. Whereas the charter school, it sounds like there’s going to be a little bit more of an individualized approach.”
Lakewood Ranch’s Laylay Lopez said she looks forward to having her children benefit from the school’s WISH model, which focuses on wellness, innovation, science and health. The model is meant to focus on each individual student as whole, meaning they are excelling academically, emotionally and socially.
The school also will build partnerships with people, organizations and businesses in Lakewood Ranch that can provide a variety of opportunities for students.
“The most important thing is bringing in professionals to let the kids have the opportunity to get to know what the real work world is going to be instead of just reading textbooks,” Lopez said.
When Lopez’s children, Jacob who is in fifth grade, and Grace who is in third grade, go into high school, she likes they will have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses or can be a part of the Cambridge Assessment International Education program, which provides rigorous courses that emphasize higher-order thinking, written and oral skills, problem-solving and other skills.
Lakewood Ranch's Jett Carotti-Goldberg, who is an eighth grader at Sarasota School of Arts and Science, will be taking college level courses as a freshman at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy.
Carotti-Goldberg and his parents, Bree Goldberg and Renato Carotti, met with Bradley Warren, the principal of the lower school, and Cheryl Cendan, the principal of the upper school, for his first counseling session.
Cendan helped Carotti-Goldberg set up a preliminary schedule for his freshman year. He's advancing into three honors courses and one AP course.
"It's going to open up a whole wide world of benefits and opportunities that were so pale when I was growing up," Carotti said about his son being able to take college-level courses. "It's absolutely wonderful that those opportunities are there. To take advantage of those opportunities is up to the child, and I hope that my son does that."
Not only did Cendan focus on the advanced core classes Carotti-Goldberg will take but also the electives he could pursue. Cendan said as a new school, the staff is able to create electives based on students' interests, so she asked Carotti-Goldberg about his interests, potential colleges and dream jobs.
"It was cool because I get to have my opinion," Carotti-Goldberg said. "They're taking input from people so they can figure out what's the common liking of the people so they can be a better school."
Lopez said Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy is opening at a perfect time as Lakewood Ranch continues to see growth in its population and schools in the area near capacity.
Marchione and Lopez’s children currently attend B.D. Gullett Elementary School. As much as they love the school, Gullett Elementary is 360 students over its capacity of 927 students as of November 2021.
“We were already looking at going to a less crowded school when we heard the news about Lakewood Ranch Prep opening,” Marchione said.
Goldberg said her son does better in smaller schools. They are zoned for Lakewood Ranch High School, which is 578 students over its capacity of 1,818 students.
"The local schools here are so inundated and overflowing, (students) feel like more of a number than them actually knowing the students," Carotti said. "What really draws me (to Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy) is the small nature of the school. People already are starting to know (Carotti-Goldberg) by name and are excited to have him there at school."
As a K-12 school, Marchione looks forward to building relationships with teachers and staff as well as other students as Colin continues to go through school.
Carter said attending a school where classes all start at the same time regardless of grade means her son will have more structure to his day. She also won’t have to worry about what changes the family will need to adjust to as he transitions from elementary to middle and finally high school.
“He’s going to know from day one that this is how school runs, this is how they’re doing things, and I think that’s great,” Carter said.
Marchione was nervous to apply for the school with concerns if the school wouldn’t be constructed before the start of the school year, but the principals have ensured her construction will be complete.
Scott Woodrey, the president of Red Apple Development, said the construction should be complete by mid-July to allow time for teachers and staff to settle into the school.
“It’s definitely been exciting to see all the videos of the walls going up and to drive past it to see it,” Marchione said.
As a new school, some parents have concerns about the adjustments teachers will have to make to get accustomed to how the school works and
“We know there’ll be some growing pains with a new set of teachers working together and a new school, but with the two principals having history running charter schools, I have faith they’ll have that well under control,” Marchione said.
Lopez and Carter said as long as the school’s teachers and staff, parents and students work together, they can navigate any challenges that come with being a new school.
“I am going in with an open mind,” Carter said. “I know there’s going to be some quirks and stuff. We’re going to have to figure it out and go on together.”