New private school coming to Monticello

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Franklin Academy Inc., a Tallahassee-based private school with a nearly 20-year history, is opening a satellite school in Monticello, possibly as soon as Dec. 15. The Dec. 15 opening day, at least, is the goal of Margaret Franklin, founder and executive director of the academy. Franklin has purchased the building at 425 South Jefferson, next door to the Badcock Store, and is readying it for the opening. She said the Monticello satellite is the academy’s only one at present. Prompting the decision to open a school here, Franklin said, was the desire to eliminate the 26-mile trips for the eight local students enrolled in the school. She said the school will offer K-12 education, as well as adult classes. “We will be looking for teachers in Jefferson County,” Franklin said. “We will be using people who know the area and the students.” She described Franklin Academy as an alternative school for students who are having difficulty learning particular subjects or who aren’t doing well in general in the traditional school setting. A product herself of public education and a believer in the public school system, Franklin said her school wasn’t out to compete with, or replace, public education, but rather to supplement it. “We like to be a helpmate to the public schools,” she said. Her school in fact encouraged students to return to the public school system after eighth grade once they had mastered the basic skills, she said. The students whom her school retained beyond eighth grade were mostly special cases, she said. “We offer classes through 12th grade for the selected few who can’t otherwise make it in the regular system,” Franklin said. She said her school abided by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) standards and followed the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school curriculum, which is described as an individualized and Bible-based program contained in a series of workbooks called PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education). The PACEs are produced and distributed by a Tennessee-based educational products company with Christian underpinnings. The basic subjects covered by the PACEs are English, math, science, social studies, bible, literature, creative writing, spelling and grammar. “We’re a Bible-based program but we’re not Christian based,” Franklin said. “We use Christian booklets but we’re not any one denomination.” Students who are unable to understand the basics of a subject aren’t capable of grasping the higher, more nuanced complexities of a subject, Franklin said. In the traditional school setting, she said, these students who can’t keep up eventually fail. Not so in her school, which allows such students to progress at their own speed, she said. What’s more, her school gives students one-on-one assistance and mentoring when necessary, she said. “We have both extremes,” Franklin said, “the extra slow and the extra bright kids.” The way the process worked, she said, is that new students are given a placement test to assess their ability and determine at what levels they will begin in any one subject. Franklin related that the academy started in the garage of her home when she decided to home school her young son after he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and told he wouldn’t graduate from ninth grade. Franklin said she kept her son at home through the eighth grade and then sent him to Leon High, where he excelled and went on to college. Today, her son was a pharmacist, she said. She said that she formally opened the academy in 1997 with five boys, and today it numbers 88 students, with the facility now housed in the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church on Tuskegee Street. “It’s become a ministry,” Franklin said. She said once the Monticello school was operational, it would accept up to 50 students maximum. The school, she said, did not receive public funding, as it was a private school. “All our funding comes from private donors,” Franklin said, adding that 99 percent of the funding came from the McKay and Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarships. Yet, the FDOE describes the McKay Scholarship Program as a state-funded program that affords parents of students with disabilities the choice of sending their children to a participating private school, another public school in their home district, or a public school in a neighboring district, provided that space is available. State-funded is the operative word. Likewise for the FTE Scholarship Program, created by the Florida Legislature in 2001 to provides state tax credits to entities that contribute to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations, which in turn award scholarships to eligible children of low-income families.