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Ziffer Floats Idea of Charter School As Community School Initiative Fails To Gain Traction

City Commissioner Gil Ziffer
The Village Square

Tallahassee Commissioner Gil Ziffer’s push for a community school ratcheted up a notch Thursday. Ziffer is accusing the Leon County School District, and Superintendent Jackie Pons, of not showing enough support for his community school idea.

Ziffer says he wasn’t invited to the Leon County School District’s unveiling of a health clinic at Rickards High School. He says he’s got concerns about the clinic. Ziffer has been pushing to start a “community school” on the Southside at the old Smith-Wesson school. The concept calls for a school that has both social and health services for area residents. But Ziffer has had a hard time getting the school off the ground. The city didn’t get a grant to hire a coordinator, and the idea has floundered in recent months due to what Ziffer says is “lukewarm” support from the district for the plan.

The district has expressed concerns about costs associated with running such a school, and whether there is additional community support from other agencies. Former state representative and city Commissioner Curtis Richardson noted the district operated a similar program during the administration of former Governor Lawton Chiles, but that the program ended when state financial support ran out and there wasn’t enough money to keep it going. He also warned against “being at odds” with the district.

But Ziffer says he “doesn’t want to make promises that can’t be met,” but argues the issue is important. And he also floated the idea of the city establishing a charter school in order to fulfill the community school concept. Fellow commissioner Scott Maddox appeared to agree on that idea. Maddox is running for school superintendent against current Superintendent Jackie Pons.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum alluded to politics in the fight, and adds “tensions” are hurting the ability for both sides to move forward.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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