Ina A. Colen Academy given the go ahead

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Posted August 3, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

After more than a year of planning, a new K-8 charter school that will emphasize “social emotional” learning as part of its core project-based curriculum has won unanimous approval from the Marion County School Board.

The Ina A. Colen Academy, which is being built by the family that developed On Top of the World, is expected to open in the fall of 2022. The school, which will initially have 215 students and add more each year, will be located on Southwest 80th Avenue south of 38th Street and be part of a new OTOW community called Calesa Township. The 1,500-acre, 5,000-home neighborhood will be a departure for OTOW in that it will welcome residents of all ages, rather than just 55-plus.

In a press release, Robert Colen, nephew of Ina A. Colen and chairman of the new charter school’s governing board, hailed the School Board action, saying, “Today is a great day for Marion County and those of us with the Ina A. Colen Academy. … (W)e have made a substantial step forward in providing a transformational educational experience for our future students.”

Charter schools in Florida are often described as “public schools of choice.” While they are funded with tax dollars and must adhere to state academic and diversity regulatiions, they are given significant leeway to innovate and experiment. Charter schools are governed by their own independent board, which has a charter with the local school board.

Ken Colen, Ina Colen’s son and president of OTOW Communities, said the academy’s instruction will encourage hands-on learning and group engagement. He said the goal will be to teach children “the basics” in the early grades then give them projects in later grades so they can see how what they learned earlier applies to life.

“It’s not that it is terribly original, but we wanted to make it core to our approach,” he said.

Rebecca Rogers, executive director of the Colen Family Charitable Trust, which is building the school, said that “sharp minds and kind hearts” will be an omnipresent theme for students, and will shape “how they relate to one another and even themselves.”

Among the things students will be taught will be how to handle conflict, how to have civil dialogue. “You don’t have to agree, but you can be kind,” Rogers said.

Ina A. Colen was a social studies teacher who, Rogers said, “loved education and cared deeply about her students.”

“A reflection of the Colen family’s values, the academy was founded to honor her memory and carry on her legacy of creating passionate learners capable of making the best decisions for themselves and for the society in which they live,” the press release states.

The Colen Charitable Trust has worked with the Collaborative Educational Network, a consulting firm, to create a curriculum unique to the Colen Academy. “The program will entail high quality standards-based instruction, project-based learning, incorporating social emotional learning and physical health and well-being of students and staff. The program is designed to meet the needs of all types of learners,” the press release states.

The new charter school received a 15-year charter from the School Board, an unusually long lease for a charter school. Ken Colen said they requested the longer lease to allow their unique curriculum to work.

Rogers said the school will expand to a K-8 school over time and would eventually have 1,480 students when built out.

Ken Colen and Rogers both said the social emotional component of the Colen Academy’s approach “will permeate everything we do,” including in the hiring or teachers.

“When our scholars walk through the door – and we call our students scholars – we want them to know we believe in them … and at the end of the day, they will have a strong mind and a kind heart,” Rogers said.

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