West Port to end Early College Magnet Program as CF prepares to open Collegiate Academy

Shown in a slow exposure, students leave West Port High School in Ocala, Fla. after the last bell on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

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Posted November 1, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

Since 2006, students at West Port High School have had the unique opportunity to take college classes while still attending their own high school. Now, the school is ending the program in favor of a new style of college-level learning.

The Early College Magnet Program at WPHS allowed students to take college classes either online or in person at the high school as part of a partnership between Marion County Public Schools and the College of Central Florida.

The program will now be phased out with the implementation of the Collegiate Academy, which will expand dual enrollment districtwide to offer associate in science degrees in addition to the previously offered associate in arts degrees.

Starting with the class of 2028, eighth grade students will be eligible to apply to the academy to attend high school for grades nine and 10 and then become a full-time dual enrollment student attending classes at the CF Ocala campus for grades 11 and 12, according to CF.

This change, however, leaves many WPHS students in limbo. The classes of 2025, 2026 and 2027 will be phased out of the Early College program but ineligible to enter the Collegiate Academy, even though many students attend West Port specifically for the magnet program.

At West Port, there are currently 588 students enrolled in the program. Now, no additional students will be able to apply to be part of the school’s program.

For current (WPHS) students enrolled in the Early College Program, ninth and 10th graders may continue and complete the program via online courses offered at WPHS,” wrote MCPS spokesperson Kevin Christian. “11th graders may continue and complete the program on the CF campus in 20242025 with transportation provided and with breakfast and lunch provided by MCPS.

Lisa Lombardo, a parent of a sophomore and senior in the Early College Program at West Port, said that for her children, Early College was a much preferable option compared to regular dual enrollment.

“Dual enrollment compared to Early College is not the same as having teachers on site who are able to facilitate these classes (they are) accredited to do,” she said.

One of the draws of Early College was that students could stay at West Port for four years rather than attending CF for junior and senior year while taking high school classes online, Lombardo said.

“I’m not impressed that that is the option that Marion County schools is giving high school students, that they can take their high school classes online if they’re serious about being committed to earning their associate degree,” she said.

Lombardo’s children are zoned for Forest High School, but instead travel over 25 minutes to West Port every day to be a part of the magnet program. She said she wishes that even though the college is introducing a new program, that the students currently enrolled in Early College would have been able to complete the program rather than being phased out.

Even if it was baked in and it was going to happen, I wish they would have at least considered the impact on students and parents and involve them in the conversation going into it,” she said. “That might have been at least a strategic way to mitigate a little bit of the reaction that’s happening now.”

After these remaining students are phased out, the district will completely switch over to their new program for dual enrollment learning.

The Collegiate Academy will be a unique opportunity for the district, however, with expanded access to fields of study all at no cost to the student or family,” according to CF.

“We are excited about this expansion of dual enrollment to include an even greater number of programs and degrees,” said CF President Jim Henningsen in a press release. “While students have been able to complete courses leading to an associate in arts for many years, students in workforce programs can now benefit by completing high school and college credits at the same time.”

Some of the new programs to be offered for dual enrollment through the academy will include agribusiness, criminal justice, emergency medical services, equine studies, engineering and nursing, among others, according to CF.

Students pursuing limitedaccess programs such as nursing may complete all required prerequisites for a seamless transition into the associate in science program upon high school graduation, according to the press release.

Many of these associate in science degrees could launch a student directly into a career upon completion, said MCPS Superintendent Diane Gullett in the press release.

Traditional dual enrollment options are still available to students in the district, but the Collegiate Academy will also give students the chance to get in-person work experiences with local employers through apprenticeships, shadowing and internships, according to CF.

CF partners with the majority of Florida’s public, four-year universities so that students may transfer to continue their education, in addition to those in the CF Honors program havingguaranteed acceptance into the UCF Burnett Honors College.”

While expanding opportunities to pursue higher education are sure to open many doors for Marion County students, West Port must close the door on a chapter that has served students for 17 years.

“Anything like this that’s going to give students access to higher education, especially for students who may not have considered it…is great, I just don’t know why it had to be an or and not an and,’” Lombardo said.

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