JRE Lee Charter School Principal Vera Hirsh talks to the South Miami News

JRE Lee Academy for International Education Charter School at 6521 SW 62 Ave.
JRE Lee Academy for International Education Charter School at 6521 SW 62 Ave.

SMN: How was your first year?
VH: When we first met with the commissioners and all the people involved in opening the school, it was very late in the year, very late. So we opened this school and in spite of all the recruitment efforts we had a very small class but we kept it open because we thought it would help us for the following school year and we did make a promise to south Miami.

We had 13 students for our 6th grade class. I was able to split teachers between our Hialeah and South Miami campus so that teachers went to both campuses and that is how we were able to stay open this year. Two of the three teachers were half time teachers and that was the other way we were able to do it. They were fully certified and willing to work half time. So we looked at what we were able to do in the community for the 2012-2013 year because we really have a nice physical plant. We have this wing of the building and we decided that we would open for the 2012- 2013 school year with kindergarten, first, second, perhaps third grade if we had an interest, and see if we could build sixth and seventh grade to eventually become a K-8 which many members in the community asked us to do. So we have made a quiet effort and we will make a huge effort once the students are out to recruit students. We have had between 50 and 60 parents who have expressed interest and we have had some open houses also. I think that in reality we will have a kind of first and second grade, hoping that the sixth grade will fill in with students who are perhaps looking for a smaller environment and will come to us. Then we will have some sixth graders that will go on to seventh grade, and hopefully get some more seventh graders.

It has been very slow in building but I think that if we are patient this will be a very rich neighborhood school, not big, but a rich neighborhood school with K-8.

SMN: How have your recruitment efforts for South Miami students gone?
VH: We tried very hard to bring people in from South Miami but it has been very difficult. We have gone to preschools and churches. We spoke to the churches we went into in the community. We went to the community center, met with the community health center and with the physician in charge of that. We met with Larkin Hospital, South Miami Hospital so we have really tried. We have done some mail outs, not a lot, it is very expensive, but we will continue to do more.

Two things played out (on recruitment) and I will be really honest, for so many years this has not been a community school. I actually met with some people who went to school here in the 1950s and 60s and then it became an alternative school and I think that reputation frankly has followed this physical plant. This building, in addition to being a school, we have special education offices for the south and south central area, and pre K, and a curriculum office. So we are trying to make a paradigm shift so parents will see that South Miami campus is really going to be focused on the general K-8 population.

What we are aiming for is a broader reach, aiming in the community to attract local kids first but the aura is going to take a couple of years to have that paradigm shift. That is why I believe it is worth hanging in here even if next year we have 75 children and that’s my goal to have 75. The strongest message for us is word of mouth, people being satisfied, or visiting in person. I’m very hopeful that parents (in the new target recruitment Red Bird area and elsewhere) who spoke to me are looking for what they consider a small environment where their children are going to get a lot of attention. We’re getting a mixture (of students) and a diverse interest from all groups which is very good to me. We (also) take in children who have mild kinds of learning disabilities (and we have exceptional students as well). We have not turned any children down.

SMN: If you had the chance to start over, would you have taken the year to plan rather than starting as quickly as you did last year?
I have been asked that and I’m not sure, hindsight is 2020 in everything you do. Ayear is a lot of time to get up and running to just kind of say to a parent, we are going to open in September 2012 rather than August of 2011.

In hindsight had we in May of 2011 known we were going to open in August of 2011 that would have been my major preference. Had we done the leg work with the commission and all that over the summer we would have been able to get a group (started)… but I find that it is one child and parent at a time. Every parent has a story to tell you, every parent has a concern about their children. Whether it is coming into kindergarten or pre-K, it is not what it used to be. Kids now need to think, to read, to write, to compute, do science projects, and vocabulary. So I think that all I can say is in hindsight if I were to recreate the world knowing in May or June would have really helped, but a year is almost too much.

I feel really, really good about what we gave our students. I don’t think our students were short changed. We are going to begin preschool programs and parents might be more willing to bring us their children knowing they will be here for nine more years. The K-8’s in general and throughout the district have received much more support than K-6.


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