A prep school for disadvantaged children in St. Petersburg is expanding to Tampa and beyond.
By Amy Welch
In 1995, St. Petersburg businessman Jeff Fortune, then 52, sold two resorts he owned on St. Pete Beach and joined his wife, Joan, a prominent attorney, in early retirement. Still seeking a challenge, the Fortunes turned their attention to the segment of St. Petersburg's population that was not educated or trained to function in the workplace.
Five years ago, the Fortunes and retired educators Bob and Barbara Anders raised enough money to start a school, Academy Prep, on the premise that the right academic springboard could help the city's most disadvantaged children excel. (Joan Fortune died last year of cancer.)
Today, 80 boys and girls attend Academy Prep, which is modeled after a Jesuit school in New York, in fifth through eighth grades.
The school sits on 2.7 acres of land, largely donated by the Catholic diocese, in a neighborhood where only 25% of ninth-graders finish high school. More than 95% of the school's students are African-Americans, and most are from single-parent homes.
Applicants are evaluated during a summer program after their fourth-grade year. "We typically zero in on kids who ... would probably fall through the cracks if they were left where they were," says Sam Williams, a New York college educator who last year became head of the school.
The school's goal is to prepare the students for a local private or boarding school -- they get a full scholarship to a private high school -- and to instill in them the desire to go to college.
The environment at Academy Prep is structured and demanding. "They must be given order in their lives," says the school's principal, Jesse Williams. When classes end at 3:30 p.m., the students help clean the school, followed by activities until 5 p.m. Students who are not on the honor roll must attend study hall until 7 p.m.
All the school's students qualify for the federal lunch program, the only government aid the school receives.
And all students are on scholarships -- cost per student is $12,000 a year. The school operates six days a week and just a few weeks short of 12 months a year. Academy Prep has a small full-time staff and nine volunteer teachers who live in apartments above the classrooms and receive health insurance and bare-bones stipends.
The school, now financed through the Academy Prep Foundation, has strong support from local corporations and individuals and boasts an endowment of $6 million. The St. Pete model soon will be replicated in the Enterprise Zone in Tampa. Down the line, other Academy Preps are being planned for Clearwater and Sarasota.
IN THE NEWS
Immokalee -- The Career and Service Center of Collier County in Immokalee opened in late May to help develop skilled workers in the mostly rural town. The 28,580-sq.-ft., $2.9-million building was funded through a community facilities loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Division.
Lakeland -- Lakeland-based Publix has stopped paying stockholders' intangible personal property tax -- equal to $1 for every $1,000 in stock. Traditionally, Publix has paid the tax but now says it can't justify the payments. In March, employee-owned Publix had 199 million shares.
Southwest Florida -- Owens-Ames-Kimball Co. of Fort Myers and Naples and Nu-Cape Construction of Cape Coral are merging their commercial construction units. The merged units will be based in Cape Coral and continue to do business under both names.
St. Petersburg -- Florida Power plans to build a 540-megawatt extension to its Hines Energy Complex in Polk County. Though seven power companies bid to build a new plant, Florida Power decided that adding to its existing site "is the most efficient generation resource option to meet its customers' needs."
The University of South Florida is looking for a new leader for its St. Petersburg campus after USF President Judy Genshaft urged Bill Heller in June to give up his position as campus CEO. Heller, who had held the position for more than a decade, had been trying to earn separate accreditation for the St. Petersburg branch from the main Tampa campus. Genshaft insists the move was not designed to stymie the campus's effort to gain independence and maintains that she will continue to pursue separate accreditation for the campus.
Tampa -- The University of South Florida has received a $2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue researching public transportation issues in the Tampa Bay area. USF's National Center for Transit Research provides the public, decision-makers and transportation officials with information designed to help improve public transportation throughout Florida.
Liquidmetal Technologies went public in May, offering 5 million shares priced at $15. The shares are listed on Nasdaq under the ticker LQMT. Liquidmetal develops, manufactures and sells products made from amorphous alloys, or shapeless metals.
Household International intends to add more than 500 workers over the next three years in its consumer lending and mortgage service units; the first 130 new employees will be hired this year. The company's new 60,000-sq.-ft. collections center in Tampa will house most of the new employees, while the company's mortgage facility in Brandon will take on the rest.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce opened its first trade and business development office in Mexico in May. The chamber, Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Port Authority teamed up to open the office in the U.S. World Trade Center in Mexico City. The move is part of an ongoing effort to boost trade between Tampa and Mexico.
Beer wholesaler Pepin Distributing Co. is moving its headquarters from Tampa to the former Persimmon Hill golf course in unincorporated Hillsborough County. The 241,000-sq.-ft., $20-million building is scheduled to be completed by August 2003.
CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection dealt a blow to Charlotte County commissioners in June when it announced it intends to grant IMC Phosphates, a division of Lake Forest, Ill.-based IMC Global, a permit to mine more than 2,000 acres at Horse Creek, a tributary of the Peace River. The site is just upstream from a water plant that serves 100,000 people. Commissioners had spent more than $1 million fighting IMC's mining proposals, fearing the work will pollute the creek and river. Commissioners say they now plan to focus on making sure the phosphate mining creates as
little environmental damage as possible.