Expressions Learning Arts Academy came into being due to the efforts of educators and parents and their desire to create a program of academic excellence enhanced by the arts. This group was able to use the charter school opportunity made available through the Florida Department of Education Office of School Choice. Additional assistance was provided by the School Board of Alachua County Florida and by consultation with two existing charter schools; Academe da Vinci in south Florida and the One Room School House in Gainesville, Florida.
After almost a year of extensive preparation, Expressions was granted a charter from the School Board of Alachua County on May 4, 1999. Classes began on August 23, 1999 with 40 students in two combined classrooms of grades 1-2 and 3-4. Initial financial challenges were met in part through a two year Federal Start-Up grant, state funding, donations, and the fundraising efforts of parents and our community. Curriculum development challenges were met by an inspired staff of teachers dedicated to the creation of a standards-based curriculum, which included a strong arts component. This was done at a time when other schools in our state were needing to limit or exclude arts and other “extra” classes due to budget cuts. An emphasis on standardized testing was becoming the driving force for most classroom curriculums. Our first students, with the support of their families, enthusiastically embraced our vision and thrived academically, artistically, and personally.
Having met and exceeded our first year goals, our staff worked most of the summer of 2000 to improve our program. Since we did not need to focus so much on facility preparation, we were able to use our financial resources for curriculum materials and enhancement in our second year. We were able to expand to serve 55 students in three combined classrooms of grades 1-2, 2-3, and 4-5. Our standardized test scores and our parent, staff, and student satisfaction continued to climb.
In the fall of 2001, our third year began with an expanded student population of 65 children in four classes, including a new kindergarten. We were able to expand our facility to include a second building with an additional classroom and dance room. This year was difficult for education nationwide with budget cuts, security concerns, and the continued academic challenges presented by the increased emphasis on standardized testing. We met these challenges, resulting in another successful year. We had built up sufficient financial reserves to deal with cuts in funding. Our small class size enabled us to meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of our students. Again, our students scored well on state-wide assessments. We were able to further refine our staffing, scheduling, and curriculum concerns. We continued to observe that the inclusion of the arts enhanced our student’s academic performance by increasing communication and collaboration skills and the ability to focus, while giving them positive outlets for personal expression.
Our fourth year saw an expansion of our student number to 75. We added a distinct second grade, eliminating the need for combined classes in grades 1-3. We continued to celebrate our success, while evaluating and assessing our challenges and concerns as we planned for future needs.
In 2003-04, we divided our last combined class, and remodeled our space to add yet another classroom.
We now have over 80 students in six classes grades K-5, with an average class size of 12-16. This class size suits our present facility and our interactive arts program, which features daily classes in drama, music, dance, and visual arts. We will continue to look for ways to increase parent and community involvement, maintain a safe and inspiring educational environment for our students, and further develop the competencies our staff. We are committed to focusing on school improvement; getting better, not bigger.