Downtown Miami's first charter school to open doors Aug. 26
By Catherine Lackner
A dream is set to come to fruition as the downtown Miami Charter School opens Aug. 26 with 350 pupils kindergarten through fifth grade in a nearly completed building, not in portables as had been predicted.
"We expect them to have a temporary certificate of occupancy by Aug. 15," said Matt Gorson, the board member for the Downtown Development Authority who spearheaded the charter school project. "They will be ready to open as scheduled.
"The school will build to its full capacity of 600 students by year two," said Michael Strader, executive vice president for operations at Charter Schools USA, which will run the school for the downtown authority, which sponsored it.
"We've transferred Alicia Rodriguez Bower to be the principal. She has opened a number of charter schools, including the Ryder Elementary Charter School, North County Charter School in Opa-locka and a charter school in Tampa for the University of South Florida. She's got great experience in opening schools."
The school will begin with a staff of 20-25, with 17 teachers, he said. As a public school, tuition is free.
The Miami-Dade Public Schools will pay salaries and operating costs based on how many pupils enroll.
Enrollment has met expectations, Mr. Strader said.
"There's great interest by parents, which has accelerated more recently as the school has taken shape," he said. "It was hard to market it earlier, with no building in place. There do appear to be many parents who work downtown," among the families of the enrollees.
The project, on the downtown authority's drawing board for about two years, has faced many hurdles.
The first two sites chosen - a lot adjacent to Bayside Marketplace and one near Riverside Center, the City of Miami office building - were tossed out for various reasons.
Finally, a county-owned site at 400 NW Second Ave. was chosen. The county wound up swapping the land to the City of Miami for its Hickman Building at Northwest Second Avenue and Northwest Second Street.
"The DDA will sublease this property to a 501c3 charter school entity to be created by, owned and controlled by the DDA," said a letter from Mark Wallace, an attorney with Stack Fernandez Anderson Harris and Wallace, a consultant to the authority, to Patti Allen, former authority executive director. "The DDA and/or the 501c3 entity will enter into a development agreement with Charter Schoolhouse Developers Inc. to build-out the property and will enter into an operation agreement with Charter Schools USA to manage and operate the charter school."
Another factor remains unresolved. The state is considering moving a juvenile courthouse to Northwest Third Street and First Avenue from 3300 NW 27th Ave.
Judge Joe Farina, chief judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit and a driving force for the new courthouse, pledged no one would be released from the courthouse, no detainees would be kept there other than for trials and there would be a buffer zone between the building and the charter school.
He reiterated that the 15-story site would provide "one-stop shopping" for parents and children in the juvenile justice system.
"We're very excited about this school, and we expect it to be a flagship school in the area," Mr. Strader said, "with high achievement levels and significant parental involvement."