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Written by Erik Bojnansky - BT Senior Writer   
September 2012

Aventura parents say they need a charter high school where they can send their kids, but what’s wrong with Krop?

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Aventura parents uneasy about sending their teens to a public high school outside their posh city are invited to a town hall meeting at 7:30 p.m. on September 27.

Aventura Mayor Susan Gottlieb requested the meeting, which will take place in the Aventura Government Center, in response to a group of Aventura parents who want the city to build a charter high school catering to Aventura residents. Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp will host the event.

Frida Lapidot, president of Parents for Aventura Charter High School Association, though, isn’t waiting. She’s pressing on with demands for a new school for Aventura high schoolers and she is willing to influence a November city election to do it. “Many of the candidates are asking for our support,” Lapidot says. “They know if they have our support, they stand a better chance of getting elected.”

So far, Lapidot has collected online signatures on petitionbuzz.com from more than 1900 Aventura residents who support the construction of a charter high school. Considering that fewer than 3000 registered voters in Aventura have bothered to participate in a city election since 2003, Lapidot is confident her group has enough clout to determine who will fill three of the seven city commission seats -- only one of which will be defended by an incumbent, thanks to term-limits -- come the November 6 election.

So far, at least three candidates have declared their support for a charter school: Sergio Gustavo Vuguin (running against Commissioner Teri Holzberg for Seat 1), Enbar Cohen (running for Seat 5), and Ian Llobgregat (also running for Seat 5).

“At the end of the day, the residents want a high school and we’re going to have three commissioners who will fight for it because of the lack of choices,” Lapidot says, adding that her group has yet to endorse any candidate.

AventuraCharterSchool_1Aventura already owns and operates a K-8 charter facility called Aventura City of Excellence School, or ACES. Parents are so enamored with the A-rated school that, in October of last year, they begged the Aventura City Commission to build a charter high school.

City officials have declined to do so. Mayor Susan Gottlieb insists her city invested $12 million to build ACES in 2003 because the public elementary and junior high school options were limited back then. (Aventura is now also served by K-8 Aventura Waterways School.)

Like public schools, charter schools receive state and federal education funds. However, individual charter school sponsors are responsible for any cost overruns, according to John Schuster, chief communications officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Gottlieb contends that the costs for building and operating a charter high school will prove far more expensive a proposition than ACES, especially since Aventura is now 98 percent built out. “If we had to purchase land we do not have and build a high school, the tax rate here would… I can’t even imagine… quadruple or more,” Gottlieb says.

But Lapidot is sure Aventura’s city officials and residents can figure out a way to build a charter high school without raising taxes -- and in less than two years. “There are many other possibilities and opportunities,” she says. “And you know, if people get together to solve the problem -- which is overpopulation in the high school -- we will.”

Lapidot says Michael Krop Senior High, located three miles west of Aventura, is not large enough to accommodate students from North Miami Beach, the Skylake-Highland Lakes area, Ives Estates, and Aventura, a city that has seen its 18-and-under population skyrocket 117 percent between 2000 and 2010.

She points out that the school district already says Krop is at 121 percent of capacity, yet it has no plans to build additional classrooms for Aventura high school students. “Aventura’s population trend is going to make this worse,” she says. (According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Aventura’s overall population is 35,800, up 30 percent from 2000.)

But Karp, Aventura’s representative on the school board, says the idea that Krop is overcrowded has more to do with bureaucratic formulas than any objective measure. With 2733 students, Krop’s population actually has decreased by more than 1000 students compared to four years ago, thanks to the construction of Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High near Florida International University (which mainly serves teenagers living in North Miami, North Miami Beach, and Sunny Isles Beach), and the transfer of some students to “The Annex,” a former Kmart near the California Club Mall that was converted into junior and senior high classrooms.

“I can tell you as an educator, Krop is a good, decent learning environment,” says Karp, a former schoolteacher with a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Miami.

Indeed, Krop is deemed an A school by the Florida Department of Education. It also has raked in 65 Silver Knight Awards, offers 26 advanced placement courses, and has seen its graduating students obtain $80 million in college scholarships. Lapidot agrees that Krop is a great school, but complains it is the only option for Aventura parents who can’t afford to send their children to a private school.

During an Aventura City Commission workshop, Lapidot argued that a quality charter high school with competitive courses will not only provide Aventura residents with more choices, it also will encourage CEOs with children to move into the area, enhancing property values.

Ross Lila Torres, a real estate associate with Beachfront Realty in Aventura, agrees that a charter high school would increase home prices. “One of the basic reasons people move to certain neighborhoods is the viability of schools in the area,” says Torres, a former Aventura resident who signed the online petition for a charter school. “You want to have your children in school close to where you live. You can supervise them better, and the cost of transportation these days -- gas prices only go up.”

Indeed a majority of online petition signers wanted their kids to continue the experience provided at ACES. Others demanded that such a school guarantee admission to Aventura residents (unlike ACES, where students are picked via lottery).

“I wish that there would be a high school to fit at least 500 to 600 students per grade that live in Aventura,” Michelle Serber wrote next to her online signature. “Only those living with Aventura addresses should be able to go.”

Lapidot herself stressed the desirability of a “neighborhood high school” during last October’s commission workshop. “We want our kids to socially network with their neighbors,” she said then. “We want to be a strong community with kids going to the same high school in the same community.”

Presumably, such a community school would reflect the ethnic character of Aventura, which is 59 percent white non-Hispanic (or Anglo), 36 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent black. By contrast, Krop is 42 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent Anglo. During the October workshop, a parent whose kids attended ACES received modest applause for nervously bringing up “the elephant in the room.”

“We hear at Krop and Alonzo Mourning that there are gangs, that there is a lot of violence, that there is a different population of people,” said the parent. “And we are comfortable where our kids are [now] going to school and who they associate with.” The parent then asked Krop High principal Dawn Baglos how she intends to keep “our children safe.”

Baglos replied that the rumors of delinquents wandering the halls at Krop were not true. An occasional fight might break out, she admitted, but students are far more likely to show off their artwork in the halls than attack each other. Baglos added that anyone caught fighting on school grounds is hit with an automatic ten-day suspension.

Lapidot insists the movement is not about keeping Aventura teens segregated from minorities. “Every parent has his or her own motivation,” she says. “The association is about addressing the problems of overpopulation in schools -- and that problem is growing.”

Gottlieb hopes that more Aventura residents will learn what Krop has to offer at the community meeting, but at the very least, “we want everyone’s voice to be heard.”

 

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