At a Monday night parent meeting at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, called to review options for a possible charter high school, Franklin County School District officials and ABC School leaders sat alongside one other to answer questions about the county’s high school options.

At a Monday night parent meeting at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, called to review options for a possible charter high school, Franklin County School District officials and ABC School leaders sat alongside one other to answer questions about the county’s high school options.

The meeting, facilitated by Judi Stokowski, a fundraiser for the ABC School, was a calm and detailed back-and-forth, in contrast to the tensions of a decade ago that often flared between the start-up charter school and the mainstream school district.

Beginning with Superintendent Nina Marks, and followed by the Franklin County School’s assistant principal Eric Bidwell, guidance counselor Roderick Robinson and reading coach Kris Bray, the educators reviewed details of the high school’s many offerings, from its partnership with Gulf Coast State College to its certified staff to its range of extracurricular activities.

The Franklin County educators outlined the school’s implementation of a turnaround project promoting support from parents and the community, and its work in courses such as Advanced Placement designed to bolster options available for serving gifted and honors students.

Clearly, the educators had one eye on addressing underlying concerns among some ABC School parents that gave rise to the ABC school board calling the meeting - that the high school’s educational climate, as seen in its school grade, is not as productive as that found in the ABC School’s kindergarten through eighth grades, which have been rated an A for four of the last five years.

Bray stressed the Franklin County Middle School is implementing springboard classes, as is the ABC School, to give students a head start on high school advanced placement courses.

“We’re focusing on building that rigor so when they get to that high school, they will have success,” said Bray.

Bidwell stressed the school was “actively involved with professional development” and that this month’s school opening was widely seen by teachers, parents and students alike “as the best start of school they’ve had in years.

“Everybody knew when it (consolidation) would happen, it was going to take time,” said Bidwell. “These things are coming together.”

Bidwell addressed the loss of the high school’s Spanish teacher, noting that cost savings, as well as the fact the teacher had failed to achieve the required certification, had contributed to the board’s decision. “We all know that it’s not the best situation by any means,” he said, noting that a certified Spanish teacher may be on hand soon to assist with lab work for the students now enrolled in Florida Virtual School.

Karen Ward, an Apalachicola parent who has taught at both the ABC School and high school, said parents need to understand the challenges all area high schools face, before deciding on a costly plan to create a second high school.

“It’s not just our school,” she said. “We often see it as an isolated thing. We’ve got to make those gains. I want them to go into a school that’s ready for them.”

Missy Miller, a member of the ABC School board, outlined the success she is having homeschooling her daughter with Florida Virtual School, providing details of the program. “The communication is really there,” she said. “It’s been a good experience so far.”

ABC School Principal Chimene Johnson and Assistant Principal Elizabeth Kirvin provided an overview of what it would take for the ABC School to embark on a charter high school. Also on hand to answer questions was Michael Kooi, who directs the Florida Department of Education’s office for independent education and parental choice. In the back sat Franklin County School Board Member George Thompson and newly-elected Pam Shiver, although neither of them addressed the meeting.

Kirvin said a change to state rules made it easier for the ABC School to boost its enrollment by up to 15 percent, without needing approval from the school district. She said the school could add up to one grade per year, but that if it were to compete for up to about $400,000 in start-up funds, it would have to secure a new charter for a high school.

She and Johnson reviewed the many requirements required of a new high school, including having teachers each certified in a specific content area, providing remediation for lower performing students, finding a suitable physical facility, hiring Advanced Placement, business and vocational teachers, and spending on a large number of expenses, such as textbooks, computers and instructional supplies.

Kooi noted competition is steep for start-up grants, with 144 applications currently for 45 slots. He also said that while having a charter school increases flexibility with some school rules, it does not eliminate the possibility teachers could seek a union contract.

“They may value that union protection,” he said. “Any group of teachers could form a union.”

In the discussion that followed, ABC parents appeared to be of different minds, with some arguing it was essential to preserve county unity and morale, while others sought answers on how they could be assured their child would be prepared for admission to, and success at, a top college.

“This is their lives, my child can’t be an ‘experiment,’” said Davie Lloyd. “I have to be assured and comfortable.”

Gina Taranto, an ABC School educator, said parents need to be careful not to base their view of the high school on comments alone they hear from others. “There’s plenty of rigor going on there,” she said. “Don’t base your opinion on parents and students; you’re going to get ‘bad mouth.’ “

Tracey Moses, an ABC School teacher who graduated from Apalachicola High School, said she was prepared for college, in part because of parents who encouraged her while she was growing up.

“”I’m a Seahawk, period. I am pro-Franklin County,” she said. “We have to have the community support. We can’t be negative anymore.”

Ward sought answers from ABC School parents, asking what they were most concerned about. “What is it going to take to make your fears go away, and make you feel comfortable?” she asked.

Mike Cates said his biggest fear was that his daughter “would not get what she needed.”

ABC School parent Mark Friedman cautioned that a leap to a new high school could drain resources from the current elementary and middle school. “It will suck energy and talent out of the elementary and maybe make them less prepared for going into high school,” he said.

Kooi told the gathering he was impressed by what he was witnessing. “I’ve been to a lot of districts where this kind of discussion does not happen,” he said. “Whatever you are going to decide to do, in a community like this, it’s going to be so important you support whatever happens.”

Following the meeting, Miller reinforced Kooi’s comments. “Our board said this needs to be a community solution, a county solution,” she said.