ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — The Escambia County School Board has a decision to make Tuesday afternoon that will either make Warrington Middle School a charter school or shut its doors.

After years of failing grades, receiving a “D” from the Florida Department of Education for the 2021-22 school year, the DOE gave the school an ultimatum, planning to convert the school into a charter school.

During the October school board meeting, Darreyel Laster, the current Dean of Warrington Middle School, announced his proposal to turn the school into Warrington Community School, a grass-roots community lead school.

“By working and serving Warrington and extension its surrounding neighborhoods I’ve concluded that there is a need for a trauma informed and community centered school model not a basic K-8 model to come in from an organization that has no idea who we are,” Laster told the board last month.

Board member Paul Fetsko, who is in favor of postponing the agreement, told the board at its agenda review on Monday he had met with Sen. Doug Broxson and several officials to discuss the Charter USA agreement.

“In my opinion, there was a lack of specificity when it came to deliverables for the money that was being charged,” Fetsko said. “For the review of the facility, it doesn’t seem to me that you need eight months to do it. It could be done timely, one month, two at the most. It doesn’t say what is going to be in the report.”

One of the biggest issues Fetsko said he had a problem with is if the charter came in and made the middle school Kindergarten through eighth grade, which he said Sen. Broxson had no idea about.

“The reason I have a problem with the K-8 model is that we will likely be closing two or three elementary schools that feed into that school,” Fetsko said. “If we are taking approximately 750 elementary students, out of existing elementary students that feed into that we have the possibility of two or three elementary schools being so low in capacity that they are not fiscally able to remain open. That is why I am very OK with a middle school charter and not a K-8. These are the things that have caused me to have some angst, some anxiety and why I wanted to look at something different.”

Another issue Fetsko said he had is the “thorn in their side” NAS Pensacola has about the situation.

“In my mind, this district never responded when something was said about the feeder patterns and the schools that the students who lived on base were assigned to,” Fetsko said. “We heard that we were causing the military to not be able to recruit. I understand that the military has some angst about this, and I believe that it goes back to two CO’s previously. Capt. Martin is the one who originally had a discussion with the previous superintendent about the students on base being assigned to different elementary schools. That did not happen, and I believe it caused a riff.”

Fetsko said one thing that has never been told publicly about the military issue is Escambia County is an open choice district, which means any parent has a right to choose which school their kids go to.

“A lot of the students that live on the base attend Hellen Caro Elementary School or Blue Angel Elementary,” Fetsko said. “Not even Pleasant Grove. So, the choice option has worked well. As an incoming parent on base at Escambia County, they need to be made aware of the choice options. Don’t just look at school grades on the websites and go by that. The military should have the joint connection with us to be saying as realtors should. This is a choice district. You may reside in this attendant zone, but you have the opportunity to choose anywhere you want to take your child. As long as there is capacity.”

Fetsko said there are several other decisions that go into not wanting to be stationed at NAS Pensacola that have not been said, which is “disingenuous.”

“I am as patriotic and loyal as much an ex-Navy person you will find,” Fetsko said. “Every time the Blue Angels fly over my house I could almost stand at attention and salute. Nobody supports more than me. I have four close friends whose military careers led to being stationed back at Pensacola after their initial six or seven years, and they were dismayed at being transferred back, because they were considered ‘plowbacks,’ and ‘plowbacks’ knew that when they come back to Pensacola at the end of their tenure, they are being terminated or discharged from the military. I believe that has a great amount of why some military people do not want to be restationed at Pensacola later in their military tenure. I say that just to make sure that everybody knows there are other circumstances more than just our community and schools that are adjacent to the base that could have bearing on those decisions, but that has not been said and that is a little disingenuous.”   

For board member Kevin Adams, what NAS Pensacola is saying does not fit the picture he is seeing.

“I know that every skipper that I have served for would not like to be blindsided,” Adams said. “I know I can tell this new skipper that the school board does not want to be blindsided. When you look at the facts, top recruiting, most sought after duty station, what they are saying does not fit the picture that I have. We have choice. 750 people choiced out of Warrington Middle. I think there needs to be response from the school district to the CO.”

For board member Laura Edler, the needs of Warrington Middle School need to be met before anybody else.

“We have a need to modify life so that it is better for the children in the Warrington Middle School,” Edler said. “Why are we allowing someone else to come in here with their needs needing to be met, overlooking specifically what our needs are. I have not heard anything about what would happen to the Warrington Middle School all I hear is bringing in all of these extra things, which are not our needs. If I go to the grocery store for a loaf of bread, I don’t need to be walking out with a gallon of milk and leave the loaf of bread there. I still need that loaf of bread. We still need a solution to Warrington Middle School. I don’t believe that it is right, fair or just to have another individual come into our community and discuss their needs, which is a K-8.

Edler said the school board needs to be looking at the issues of the children before anything else.

“The issues that the students at Warrington Middle School are experiencing now are still issues, they have not been addressed. We need to be discussing the issues of these children,” Edler said. “How do we get them to improve? When I look at all of these other things that are being done, it makes me think that people are questioning these young people’s intelligence and their ability to achieve. I don’t believe that is the case. Why aren’t we addressing those needs as to why they are not succeeding. We need to do an assessment of what we believe some of these issues are and how they are being addressed. I have not heard anything from the charter company about how they are going to engage the parents, how are you going to transition the children? All I hear is how they are going to walk through the building and modify the bathrooms. Nothing about the children. Nothing about their parents. When will we begin to address those issues? I am in favor of a Warrington Middle School being revised, to come up to the potential of the students attending. I believe that it can be done. I don’t think we should sit here and settle for what somebody else needs when we know what our needs are.”

Escambia County School Board members will face the decision tonight at 5:30 p.m., whether to go into a contract with Charter USA or not.   

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