New charter high school proposed

A student walks into the Ocali Charter Middle School on April 15. The school wants to start a high school. [Carlos Medina/Ocala Gazette]
The Marion County School Board will hold a public hearing on April 27 to discuss an application to create Ocali Charter High School.

The school hopes to open by August 2022 and is looking at using an existing building on East Silver Springs Boulevard, according to school spokesman Kevin Christian.

The high school proposal comes from Clear Choice Academies, Inc. which established Ocali Charter Middle School in 2014. If approved, it would be the county’s ninth high school.

Originally formed as Francis Marion Charter School, it shared a campus with Francis Marion Military Academy. The middle school, however, was not a feeder to the defunct Francis Marion academy.

The two schools split in 2016 following financial disputes, and the middle school became Ocali Charter Middle School. It moved to the Church of HOPE in a strip mall at 3233 SE Maricamp Road.

Then-principal Mary Pinson was arrested in 2016, accused of stealing school funds and charged with one count of grand theft involving more than $20,000. Pinson was fired. Court records do not show the disposition of the charges.

Teresa “Teecy” Matthews took over as principal. Matthews reinvigorated the school before transitioning to the school’s executive director position. The school eventually moved into storefront space next to the Church of HOPE, where they remain.

The school earned a “C” grade in 2019 the most recent available grade after the state suspended the measure in 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic. School grades are based in part on performance on state assessments, learning gains on state assessments and the proportion of students who passed an end-of-course assessment.

The middle school caters to students who benefit from learning in smaller groups not available at public schools, according to the school’s website.

Now, organizers hope to offer a similar program at the high school level. And with Matthews at the helm, School Board Chair Nancy Thrower is optimistic about the project.

“I know that Teecy Matthews… has a great track record with student improvement and really meeting students’ needs in a smaller setting,” Thrower said. “I feel like the high school that she is proposing will likely fulfill the same need for a niche of students that need a different approach and have certainly benefitted from our middle school.”

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