Upper Keys charter school gets approval to expand to fourth and fifth grade

skinney@keynoter.comApril 26, 2014 

With a unanimous vote of the Monroe County School Board Tuesday, the marine-oriented Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier can expand to offer fourth and fifth grades.

The change will go into effect with the 2014-15 school year, beginning in August. The public charter school now serves students from kindergarten through third grade.

According to its charter, the school can have a maximum of 116 students and now has 97 students. Principal Jennifer Flores said Ocean Studies is "very excited to be a small grammar school."

"Now that we have fourth and fifth grade, we're starting to plan on how we want to expand as in the placement of the children," she said.

The 97 students are supported by 10 teachers yielding a student-to-teacher ratio of 12 to 1, Flores said. With the expansion, "We don't have to add more teachers but we may choose to depending on the program we develop and the ratios we want to keep."

Ocean Studies at mile marker 92 oceanside opened in August 2011, with an emphasis on the Keys' environmental landscape and independent learning associated with Maria Montessori's teaching techniques.

School District Superintendent Mark Porter noted two primarily technical conditions to the expansion: Revision of the school's charter by Aug. 2 and board approval of the revised charter by Aug. 12.

In the run-up to the start of the school year on Aug. 18, Ocean Studies is holding a lottery for prospective students on April 30. Applications are available online at www.oceanstudiescharterschool.com. Preference is given to siblings of enrolled students and children of school staff.

Last year, Ocean Studies received a $350,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education. The money has been used to purchase textbooks, furniture, digital microscopes and tandem kayaks, among other things.

Charter schools are public schools funded by the state, with the local school district acting as a funding conduit and keeping 5 percent of annual per student allocations.

Charter schools are unlike traditional public schools in that they are not bound by rigorous bureaucratic reporting, curriculum and student progression policies.
Ocean Studies is one of six charters in Monroe County.

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