When newly dubbed Oak Creek Charter School opened its doors to students this year, it had a lot to prove.
The former school, known as Bonita Springs Prep & Fitness, had fallen into disrepair — academically and physically.
It lacked a playground, offered a limited curriculum, and the building was overdue for fresh paint, new flooring, classroom technology and a roof that didn’t leak.
So when the school’s new management team stepped in July 1, they began working at “warp speed” to lift up the school. They changed the school’s name, created a lengthy to-do list and began sharing their plans with the community in an effort to drum up enrollment.
But they were met with resistance because the school carried a reputation of being a place where promises were made and never kept, said Pepar Anspaugh, the COO of FORZA Education Management.
“A lot of people were saying, ‘Yeah, right. We’ve heard this before,’” Anspaugh said. "But all of a sudden, they start seeing changes being made. New playground. New computers. Paint. And then they realized: ‘Maybe this company is different'."
With this new-found support, and investing more than $300,000 into the project, the school is quickly rebounding to the reputation it once held.
Repairing a bad reputation
When the K-8 school opened its doors to kids in 2009, it was under the management of EdVantages, an Ohio-based company that later was renamed Performance Academies. Charter schools are privately run schools that receive money through the public school system.
It, like other “Prep & Fitness” schools in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, was built around the idea of pairing strong academics with daily physical activity.
Here, students would take gym class every day in addition to recess time. This meant each child would spend an hour out of their chairs and dressing out for a P.E. rotation that included activities like martial arts, soccer, tennis and basketball.
Kinsley Brereton practices running kicks during Tae Kwon Do class at Oak Creek Charter School in Bonita Springs. (Photo: Amanda Inscore/The News-Press)
Then three years ago, Performance Academies pulled out of Florida, and the charter school’s governing board, just like the boards of its sister schools in Fort Myers and the Cape, signed on with Celerity Educational Group out of California.
It was around this time that parents began seeing a shift.
The school’s library was closed. Technology was constantly on the fritz. And maintenance issues went unanswered.
“The school always seemed to be in disrepair,” said Christina Jordan, a mother of three. “The classes looked like they were thrown together with thrift store furniture, the paint was peeling off the walls, there was no playground. It was just kind of dirty.”
While she could see that many of the people in the school were wonderful, including her daughter's fourth-grade teacher, the leadership on campus seemed questionable, the school seemed "very run down," and there was little follow-through on promises that were made to parents and students.
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