Santa Fe College readies new charter school 

Main ST Daily News | By Seth Johnson | June 7, 2023

Santa Fe College will start its own charter high school this August, and the first cohort of 75 students has already been selected, coming from schools across Alachua County.  

The Academy of Science and Technology will serve high schoolers who want to pursue Career and Technical Education (CTE), specifically in health sciences and information technology. The students will have the opportunity to graduate with their high school diploma, an associate of science degree and at least two industry certifications—all without debt. 

Santa Fe College already offers dual enrollment to high school students, and Academy of Science and Technology Principal Bill McElroy said the new school will be another option, complementing other high schools with separate pathways. 

“Really, the goal of CTE in general is to give kids options to either step right into the workforce as they leave high school or go on to continue their education,” McElroy said. “I think that’s the beautiful thing about career and technical education, no matter where you’re offering it.”   

Courtesy of Santa Fe CollegeSanta Fe College Academy of Science and Technology logo

The School Board of Alachua County granted unanimous approval for the charter school in July 2022, and McElroy joined the Santa Fe College team the next month, giving him a year head start before the opening bell.  

But Santa Fe College has considered the possibility of a charter school for longer.  

Dr. Jen Homard heads the college’s dual enrollment program, started 50 years ago. She said the program has succeeded in assisting students obtain associate of arts degrees (AA) but has struggled with associate of science degrees (AS).  

In 2020, when Dr. Paul Broadie II stepped into the president role for Santa Fe College, Homard told him that the college should focus on AS degrees—a community need she said.   

“When the state of Florida came forward and said, ‘This is our new focus. We want to start charter schools on the college campuses.’ Dr. Brody said Santa Fe is ready, and so that came into fruition,” Homard said.   

State funds helped to initiate the charter school, but once started, the academy will receive funding based on student population like any other charter school.  

The academy aims to add 75 students each year, hitting a 300-student ceiling. For the first cohort, Santa Fe received 89 applications, and staff randomly drew which students would receive spots. Homard said the other 14 students will remain on a waiting list in case spots open up. 

McElroy said the application process drew him toward the job.  

“No grades, no test scores—it’s important for us to meet kids where they are,” McElroy said. “And so, we have kids coming in at the honors level; we have kids coming in that may not have passed [the Florida Standards Assessment]. That doesn’t really scare us much.”   

Courtesy of Santa Fe CollegeThe Santa Fe College Academy of Science and Technology webpage shows a program overview and has application links.

McElroy said the diversity of students can present a challenge. He said the academy will need to deliberately pick which classes fit for each student, not just throwing everyone into honors programs. But he thinks all 75 students will thrive because of their desire to be at the academy—evidenced by their application.  

Staying with friends at the high school you’re zoned for would be comfortable, McElroy said. These students want to pursue the AS pathways offered, so he expects they’ll work hard at the core curriculum because they enjoy the pathway classes.  

Homard said the college environment will also lead to higher motivation.  

“We want them to feel the expectations are a little higher,” Homard said. “You’re on a college campus. We’re going to treat you a little differently than you may be treated at a high school, for example. So, while you’re afforded all these extra resources, there will be a level of expectation.” 

The academy—currently under construction—will be located in Building G at the Northwest Gainesville campus, with the library, planetarium and police department right around the corner, and Homard said it’ll be locked down just like a normal school.  

Homard said the college will reevaluate the pathways and structure annually. She said there may be room for a few rising 10th graders to join next year even as the academy looks for its second 75-member cohort. She said the academy is also keeping its application portal open in order to keep a robust waiting list.  

“I applaud these students and I applaud these families for—I wouldn’t say taking a chance on us because I know it’s going to be great—but for looking at this alternative and being the very first class. It’s gonna be a really cool thing,” McElroy said. 

Over the summer, McElroy and Homard are looking to build the personnel side with teachers and support staff.  

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