White Springs —
It was truly a Super Tuesday in the Town of White Springs on April 24 as the charter school ballots were counted in the auditorium of South Hamilton Elementary School. The majority ruled by a landslide to turn SHE into a charter school after six days of voting.
Ninety-nine percent of the eligible teachers and 87.5 percent of the parents voted YES to convert SHE into a charter school. Out of the 14 teachers who were eligible to vote, 12 voted yes and two abstained from voting, while 100 of 148 parents also voted yes. Only one parent out of the 101 ballots received voted NO. There were a handful of parent ballots that were invalidated, although no specific reason was given.
At 7:01 p.m., CPA Ken Daniels acting as arbitrator, unlocked the ballot boxes, opened the sealed envelopes, and counted each individual vote out loud, as dead silence prevailed throughout the auditorium during the process. Teacher votes were counted first, followed by raucous applause from the audience when they learned the majority ruled by voting yes.
Counting the parents votes was next as the tension mounted in the auditorium. The silence was almost deafening. A total of 75 yes votes were needed and that threshold was met. Daniels continued opening ballots until the box was empty and declared only a few ballots as invalidated. When the process was completed the crowd roared with excitement.
In a tearful acceptance speech, White Springs Charter School Governing Board Member and SHE parent Shauna Adams-Farries expressed her heartfelt joy and appreciation to the parents and teachers of South Hamilton Elementary School for their support in voting yes to convert South Hamilton into a charter school.
“God is good all the time,” said Adams-Farries through sobbing tears after all the ballots were counted.
She said it all started when her daughter cried tears of sorrow when she learned SHE would be closed if Central Hamilton Elementary fails to exit intervene status by the state for its failing grades. SHE, with a student count of 198, would have been closed and all students transferred to the newer CHE.
“I am so proud to stand here crying tears of joy that we have an alternative for all our children here at South Hamilton,” said Adams-Farries.
After thanking the teachers, parents and community members, she said, “This is just the beginning. We have a ways to go, but I can tell you, what a glorious beginning.”
The next step in the process is for the governing board to present the Hamilton County School District with their charter school application, which must be done by Aug. 1, 2012. The school district then has 60 days to review the application and either approve or deny the request. If it is approved then the district and the governing board will work together to come up with an acceptable charter school contract.
Superintendent of Schools Martha Butler said if the application is approved by the school board the rest of the conversion process will take about a year to complete, meaning the charter school could open for the 2013-14 school year.
Should the application be denied, the charter school governing board can appeal to the Florida Department of Education, whose decision is final.
Mayor Helen Miller, who is on the charter school governing board, stated, “Tuesday night’s parent vote of 100 to 1 is a clear signal that parents believe converting SHE into a charter school is in the best interest of their children’s education.”
The charter school governing board consists of Miller, Fred D. Greene, Waylon Bush, Mattie Fouraker, Charles Graham, Shauna Adams-Farries and Rhett Bullard.
“I think the intent of everybody involved is to maintain a school in White Springs for their children, whether it is a public school, a public charter school or simply a charter school,” Rhett Bullard stated by phone.
When asked if SHE would go charter whether or not the school is closed by Hamilton County School Board, Bullard said, “That is a bridge we’ll have to cross when we come to it. It’s a decision of a group of people that we will have to evaluate later.”
Bullard also stated, “If we’ve got A schools in Hamilton County, we need to keep them open.”