A Personal Letter from Beat Kahli on Charter Schools and Avalon Park

Dear Avalon Park Area Residents,

When we started Avalon Park more than 20 years ago, we envisioned a community that would be an international model for neighborhoods. We wanted a place where families could live in quality homes of all sizes and styles. A place where residents could walk to church, the grocery store, schools, restaurants and much more. In essence, we envisioned a place where residents could live, learn, work and play without leaving the community to fulfill their daily needs and joys.

In order to achieve our goal of creating a unique, sustainable community, we put many restrictions in the documents that govern the development of Avalon Park. The restrictions included requirements for public space, bike trails, parks, traffic calming devices and many other “quality of life” measures. We placed self-imposed limitations on what we could build, while always keeping the goal of building the most livable, sustainable and sought after place to live, work, learn and play. We took an area that was originally purchased for homebuilding, and created the Hal Scott Preserve Park, an 8,000+ acre preserve, directly adjacent to Avalon Park. People from all over the nation bought into our vision, and, as a result, Avalon Park was the fastest selling residential community in Central Florida in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

A great education system was, and always will be, a key component of Avalon Park. We strived to not only have great schools, but schools that are a national model of business and education working together. We invested millions of dollars into the area schools, not because of any requirements, but out of our passion and the understanding that great schools equal great communities. We constructed, at our risk, Avalon Middle School, Stone Lakes Elementary School and Avalon Tech Center at a time when Orange County Public Schools did not have the resources to build schools in a timely fashion. We donated the money to construct the Timber Creek Football Stadium and the band’s marching field. We donated the site to construct Avalon Elementary School and entered into a partnership with Avalon Elementary School to contribute the great technology its students enjoy. We believe that teachers should be the most traveled people of all, because they teach our future generations. We sponsored educational trips for all Avalon Elementary teachers to Switzerland, China, South America and South Africa. We donated the land for Avalon Middle School, and our not-for-profit foundation continues to own the fields Avalon Middle School uses for no cost.

Today, we are embarking on a great opportunity to improve Avalon Park’s educational offerings by constructing two charter schools. We support OCPS in its efforts to build additional needed relief for the overcrowded middle school in our area. Unfortunately, this relief is still at least a year and half away, and there are no plans to relieve overcrowding at the elementary or high school levels. As such, we will build two charter schools and open them in three phases in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

We believe charter schools provide an excellent opportunity to bring additional educational options to the residents of Avalon Park. We did not make this decision lightly. Instead, we researched the facts about charter schools and tried to prove or disprove many of the myths surrounding them. Some the key facts we found persuasive are listed below:

a. The charter schools at Avalon Park are 100% choice public schools for parents and families and are being provided at no cost to the students. No student will be forced to attend the charter schools, and no student will need to pay to attend the charter schools.

b. The charter schools will only increase the outstanding public educational opportunities that already exist in the overcrowded public schools in Avalon Park. Charter schools will not take a single dollar away from the existing Avalon Park schools. (The School District will retain 100% of the local property tax dollars).

c. Studies show that charter schools improve the quality of surrounding public schools because of competition that is created for educational excellence – especially in areas with great traditional public schools.

d. Over 90% of the families who have already applied to enroll in our August 2016 Renaissance K-8 School at Avalon Park are from the Avalon/Stoneybrook/Eastwood area. In addition, Renaissance has received registered support for the school from over 2,000 people over the past two weeks.

e. A recent study has shown that home values have actually increased in areas where charter schools are established.

Investing in new community assets and outstanding new public education provides new opportunities for the families of Avalon Park. The new charter schools will bring to Avalon Park:

a. More than 120 new certified, outstanding teachers.

b. Three new community event spaces, including a new state-of-the-art gymnasium.

c. An advanced dual enrollment program for high school students who will be able to graduate with an AA degree from an accredited college at the same time that they graduate from high school, at no cost to the students.

d. Plus, we are working on a new medical technology and simulation program which will provide high school students with high-paying career opportunities in the medical technology and simulation industry following high school graduation and/or matriculation to leading local and national universities.

The awards and accolades earned by our charter school partners, Renaissance, Charter Schools USA, Pinecrest Academy, and Academica, speak for themselves, many of which are highlighted at the end of this e-mail.

Over the past few weeks, there have been many rumors circulating about these schools. Let me take a few moments to set the record straight:

Avalon Park Has Vested Rights. As the developer of Avalon Park, we were required to build a large portion of Avalon Park Blvd, design and engineer the widening of Alafaya Trail, and pay millions of dollars in transportation impact fees. In return, Avalon Park was “vested” with the right to construct a specific number of homes and commercial buildings. The construction of the charter schools is well within these vested rights. However, the charter schools will not generate traffic during peak traffic times, and we will carefully manage the opening and closing times of the schools in order to avoid traffic congestion. By doing so, the traffic generated by the schools will likely be significantly less impactful, and more manageable, than other uses that are approved and vested for Avalon Park.

These schools are not a part of the siting agreement. Many years ago, Orange County and OCPS entered in to an agreement that OCPS must build schools on sites that meet certain minimum size requirements. This is an agreement between OCPS and Orange County which does not apply to us. We have our own agreement with Orange County and the State of Florida called a Development Order. We have fulfilled all of the obligations of this agreement, including creating hundreds of acres of open space and preservation land, 16 miles of bike trails, parks, and other community amenities. OCPS does not have to comply with our agreement, and we don’t have to comply with their agreement. There are 31 charter schools that have been approved by OCPS in recent years; not one of those schools meets the site size requirements of the aforementioned siting agreement between Orange County and OCPS. The largest charter high school sits on a site that is less than a third of the required size of land required by OCPS under the siting agreement, and many of the charter schools are located in retail space within shopping centers.

The two proposed charter schools meet all code requirements. In the approval process, we have not asked for one variance or one change to the requirements of Orange County and/or the Florida Building Code. Orange County staff unanimously approved both locations for the Avalon Park charter academies after an exhaustive analysis and review process, including multiple public meetings at the Orange County Development Review Committee (DRC). There is an additional public meeting before the Board of County Commissioners on February 16th regarding the project due to a School Board appeal of the County’s DRC approval.

Like you, I am very interested in keeping Avalon Park great. We share a significant investment in time and money in this community and would not do anything to harm it. If you would like to support our plans to bring more choices for quality education to Avalon Park or if you have any questions about the project, please feel free to email me at bkioff@avalonparkgroup.com.

Sincerely,

Beat Kahli
President and CEO
Avalon Park Group

ACADEMICA AND RENAISSANCE AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

A. The Renaissance K-8 academy will be part of the Renaissance/CSUSA network of charter academies, which, among other strengths, have had a net proficiency growth in reading, math, writing and science that is 10x higher than the State of Florida average.
B. The Renaissance K-8 academy will seek to receive “Cambridge International School” status, like other high performing Renaissance schools in similar communities. Cambridge is the world’s largest provider of international educational programs. Cambridge programs’ qualifications are recognized and valued by universities and employers around the world. Cambridge helps schools deliver the best education possible by providing comprehensive support, including teacher training, classroom resources, and membership to a global learning community.
C. The Avalon Park middle/high academy will be part of the Academica network of charter schools. Academica serviced schools have been recognized on a state and a national level for their achievements, including:

i. U.S. News and World Report 2015 Best High Schools named the International Studies Charter High as the #1 high school in Florida. Academica serviced high schools represented five out of the top 25 schools on the 2015 list.

ii. Two Academica-serviced schools, Mater Gardens Academy and Doral Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy, were 2014 National Blue Ribbon Award recipients. This represents 22% of all National Blue Ribbon recipients in Florida.

iii. Three Academica-serviced schools, Doral Academy Charter Middle School, International Studies Charter High School, and Mater Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy, were 2015 National Blue Ribbon Award recipients. This represents 33% of all National Blue Ribbon recipients in Florida.