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New Warrington charter readies for its first year

New signage reflects the name of the new Warrington Preparatory A
New signage reflects the name of the new Warrington Preparatory Academy.

After a rocky transition from a publicly run school, the staff at Warrington Preparatory Academyhas spent much of the summer preparing to open its doors for the first time as Escambia County’s newest tuition-free charter school.

The time has been spent sprucing up the campus, and getting students and teachers in place.

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“So we just came through the administrative offices and we’ve ripped up all the carpet here,” said Colleen Reynolds, public relations counselor for Charter Schools USA, operator of the new Warrington Preparatory Academy.

During a mid-summer tour of the school, she describes the facelift the well-worn campus of the former Warrington Middle School is getting in preparation for the new school year.

“We've also painted to change to the new color scheme that Warrington Preparatory Academy is going to be.”

For the walls, that’s a combination of dark blue and white, with school colors accented by a splash of gray.

“We're getting ready to change all the lighting out throughout the whole school to be LED lighting and you'll see the differences. It'll make it much brighter and more cheerful as you're walking through,” Reynolds said. “The goal in here is to make it look like it's a nice professional office where students can come and feel comfortable, basically.”

At this point, the bare, concrete floor is covered with paint supplies and anyone walking through is advised to be careful not to step on anything or bump into the newly painted walls.

The innovation center is where we find the school’s new leader, Dr. Erica Foster, the principal of Warrington Preparatory Academy.

Foster was appointed to the job in early July, and had to hit the ground running. One of her priorities — enrollment.

“We are going to accept the students that are currently enrolled at Warrington Preparatory in the system now, we have about 650 students that are currently enrolled,” said Foster.

These students are a combination of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, who are automatically enrolled because they live in surrounding neighborhoods and are zoned for the school, which was a major stipulation in charter contract negotiations with Escambia County School District officials.

According to Foster, although enrollment is automatic for those students in the school zone, they have the choice of whether or not to attend.

“So we have made contact with all of those families to say, ‘Hey, are you going to be with us this school year and here are some of the things that we need you to do; if not, then we thank you for just being a student at Warrington Middle.’”

As of last week, there were 630 students committed to attend the new charter school.

The new Warrington Preparatory Academy held two job fairs to hire new teachers.
The new Warrington Preparatory Academy held two job fairs to hire new teachers.

Getting sufficient instructional staff in place is another priority. The new charter held two job fairs, which included interviews and on-the-spot hiring. At last check, all but 11 of its 73 teaching positions had been filled.

“With that, we still have some hiring to do, some active hiring,” said Foster. “We're just waiting, trying to see what's the best fit for some of these positions. There are a lot of people that are interested in Warrington Prep, but you have to be a certified teacher and so we want to make sure that we're getting certified teachers in front of our students.

Charter Schools USA is offering incentives for its new teachers, including a base salary of $47,500, with an additional $3,000 for a Master’s Degree or $4,500 for a Ph.D., bonuses of $10,000 to $15,000 for experience and bonuses for performance.

Foster says it will be money well-earned.

“The work at Warrington is going to be a hard work,” she began. “That's one reason why we're so competitive with our pay is because we want our teachers to be dedicated to the job, dedicated to this mission of working with students.”

The academic program at Warrington Preparatory School will feature individualized learning plans, with student accountability encouraged. Additionally, parents will be asked to get more involved in their children’s education by volunteering a minimum of 20 hours during the school year.

Following at least 10 years of failing grades when it was Warrington Middle, the new charter school will have three years to improve academic performance to a passing grade of C or better.

“Charter Schools USA has a long history of doing this,” Reynolds said.

“As a matter of fact, we were very successful in turning around three schools in Indiana. They were chronically failing, a very, very difficult situation. And over the years we were able to. And the situation was different at that point, but we were able to turn those schools back to the public school system, which was part of the plan, because we were able to lift those grades and lift the culture. And, we've had schools in Florida in the same situation where the No. 1 thing you have to do is fix the culture. It's not about the grades, it's about the culture.”

New signage marks the entrance to Warrington Preparatory Academy, Escambia School District's newest charter school.
New signage marks the entrance to Warrington Preparatory Academy, Escambia School District's newest charter school.

It’s also about the learning environment and Principal Foster was happy to show off the recently refreshed eighth-grade wing, which had freshly painted walls and bright lighting reflecting off the shiny waxed floor.

“This is one of the classrooms; it has been cleaned,” she began. “We’re actually going to put in LED lights in here. The walls have been freshly painted. The tables have been sanded and painted. So, we’re going to freshen this up so the students have a real science lab.”

Since the mid-summer tour for WUWF, most of the planned facility improvements have been completed and new signage reflecting the school’s new name has been posted. Also, free school uniforms are being picked up.

“I am so excited about this new opportunity that I get to make a difference in the lives of students. And, I’m ready, literally ready to get started. I want to meet the kids. I want to meet them.”

Foster won’t have to wait long. Orientationwill be held for incoming sixth grade and new students on Monday, Aug. 7 at 1 p.m. Seventh and 8th graders will report for orientation on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 1. The first day of classes is set for Thursday.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.