FLORIDA — In 2018, the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative reached an enrollment milestone, with more than 10,000 students attending 21 schools across the country.
The Treasure Coast Classical Academy in Stuart, Florida, is one of four Barney Charter Schools projected to open for the upcoming 2019 – 2020 school year. According to Phil Kilgore, director of the Barney Charter Schools Initiative, three other schools — Northwest Classical Academy in Toledo, Ohio, Treasure Valley Classical Academy in Fruitland, Idaho, and Tallahassee Classical Academy in Florida — will open alongside TCCA later this year.
Typically, charter schools require anywhere from one to four years of planning before opening their doors for students, depending on state requirements, finding locations for the school, and acquiring proper funding.
According to Kilgore, state laws across the Midwest create challenges for prospective charter schools, so the Barney Charter School Initiative has better luck in states like Florida, Texas, and Colorado, where laws and regulations are more friendly to charter schools.
Lynda Daniel, chairman of TCCA’s governing board, said she appreciated the support the Barney Charter School Initiative provides to charter schools as well as the mission. According to the Hillsdale College website, the initiative’s mission is “excellence in knowledge of the world, high moral character and self government, and civic virtue.”
“Once they work with a team to open a school, they agree to provide training and curriculum,” Daniel said. “From BCSI to the local team, everything is mission-focused and very intentional; Hillsdale’s mission informs all decisions.”
The Barney Charter School Initiative provides assistance with principal training and selection as well as training for educators at no cost to the prospective charter school.
TCCA announced Monday that Janine Swearingin had been selected as principal. Swearingin received her Master of Education from National University and has worked in education for more than 20 years.
The school is projected to enroll 650 students in kindergarten through sixth grade this fall through the lottery process. TCCA will add an additional grade each year through the 12th grade in 2025.
John Snyder, a member of the leadership team for TCCA who focuses on community engagement, said he and Daniel are excited to bring another educational option to parents and children in Martin County.
“Martin County has the highest private school enrollment of the 67 counties in the state of Florida, and what that tells us is that, as great as the public schools are, parents are looking for another alternative,” Snyder said. “We can bring this amazing offering here and fill that void.”
According to Snyder, three groups have been integral in the establishment of TCCA: Hillsdale College, the Optima Foundation, and the TCCA Leadership Team and Governing Board. Hillsdale has helped provide the charter school framework and curriculum, and the Optima Foundation has, among other things, helped TCCA comply with state charter school regulations. The TCCA Leadership Team and Governing Board work as a “grassroots effort” to spread the word in the community.
Snyder, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, likens the founding of TCCA to working on an airplane.
“I worked on the C‑130. You see this one plane, but when you get up there, you see that one company made the propellers, another company made the avionics,” Snyder said. “That’s how I feel that TCCA has come together, with subject matter experts in each of the fields.”
Per Florida law, 75 percent of the funding used per student in a public school will be granted to each student who attends TCCA. Snyder said this, along with targeted marketing, will help draw students to TCCA from across the socioeconomic spectrum.
“We use targeted marketing to disadvantaged areas of our community because again, that is part of the American dream — anyone who works hard and puts forward the effort can achieve greatness,” Snyder said. “Education knows no socioeconomic status.”
Though state funding will provide most of the school’s income over time, donations helped to get the project off the ground. Future donations through naming opportunities could provide teachers with better salaries and perhaps even a bussing system, which would further help students and families on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, according to Snyder.
“It has been very rewarding to be a part of this,” Snyder said. “Even if it is just a fingerprint on something that will be here long after I am gone, it is very humbling.”
If TCCA maintains an A, B, or C rating from the state after five years, the charter will then be renewed for 20 years. Snyder said the charter school will encourage other local schools to provide better education to students in Martin County.
“After a couple of years, other school districts will take note, and we will be a very positive force in the community and in the school district,” Snyder said. “When people start to see that a TCCA fourth grader is different from another fourth grader, they will look to the school districts, and parents will start to demand more.”
Snyder said the school is going above and beyond with security measures, as it is one of the first school buildings to be built in the state of Florida since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018. TCCA will have a direct line to the sheriff’s department, as well as other security measures, in the case of an emergency.
While construction on the school building has not yet begun, Daniel said she is hopeful that the school will be built on time.
“We are on an expedited building schedule, and the crew of contractors we are working with know the zoning and codes for public schools as well as environmental laws,” Daniel said. “We are on quite an aggressive schedule.”