The principals of Monroe County's six charter schools on Thursday welcomed to the Keys Adam Miller, executive director of the Florida Department of Education's Office of Independent Education and Parental choice.
The gathering, held at the Grand Key Resort on South Roosevelt Boulevard, was hosted by education advocate John Padget, who serves as a member and vice chair of the Florida State Board of Education.
The meeting was timed to coincide with "National Charter School Week."
"With 13 percent of students in Monroe County choosing to attend one of our six charter schools, our district has become a national example of how to best provide diversified school choice," Padget wrote in an email blast sent out prior to the meeting. "I am excited to host state and district leaders as we continue to provide school options for interested parents and students."
Representing the charter schools were principals Lynn Barras of Key West Montessori Charter School; Elisa Jannes of Sigsbee Charter School; Kelly Mangel of Treasure Village Montessori School; Cory Oliver of Key West Collegiate Academy; Cathy Hoffman of Big Pine Academy; and Jennifer Flores of Ocean Studies Charter.
Also present at the meeting were school board members Andy Griffiths of District 2; Ed Davidson of District 3; and John Dick of District 4. District 1 school board candidate Warren Leamard, and several other charter school board members and supporters also attended.
"We're just here to get together and have a little fun," Padget said at the start of the meeting. "This is an opportunity for everyone to meet everyone else."
Padget has been a vocal supporter of the charter school movement for years, and on Thursday basked in the movement's growth -- especially in the Sunshine State.
"School choice is no longer an experiment," he said. "It is mainstream ... and Florida is one of the leaders in school choice."
Miller then addressed the meeting, mentioning that he's had the opportunity to visit a couple of the county's charter schools during his drive down the Keys.
Miller, who is close to the state education budget talks currently underway in Tallahassee, said he felt there would be "no big changes" to charter school laws coming out of the session.
However, he did stress that capital outlays were likely to be reduced, a development which would "pose some real challenges to charter schools."
Miller also said that the Teacher Salary Allocation, aka "the governor's raise money," which was part of the 2013-14 budget would also be carried over into the 2014-15 fiscal year, and would probably include "another little bump" for the educators.
Echoing Padget's statement regarding charter schools becoming part of the mainstream, he urged the charter school representatives to "embrace scrutiny," which he said would become more intense in the future as a result of charter schools' success in Florida.
"Remember," he reminded them, "your parents can leave any time they want."
He also said that "[the state] expects failing charter schools to be closed down."
Board member Griffiths welcomed the chance to meet with Miller and discuss the future of alternative education possibilities in the district.
"I'm grateful to [Padget] for providing the opportunity for some great dialogue with our charter school partners," he said, following the meeting.