Friday, February 14, 2014

A Few Words About Cornerstone

by Sue Nielsen

Here at the Belle Isle Sun, we have heard that some residents are unclear on the Sun's stance towards Cornerstone Charter Academy. So I wanted to take a moment to make sure readers have all the facts.

Having a local school in our community benefits families with Cornerstone students as well as those without. The benefits to families with Cornerstone students are clear. A school within our community is easily accessible to parents and students. It also gives parents the peace of mind that their children are safe and nearby.

Besides safety and convenience, a small charter school like Cornerstone brings the benefit of flexibility to respond to the particular interests and needs of our unique community. I appreciate that Cornerstone requires parent involvement and volunteer hours to ensure that the parents are active participants in their children's education progress.

In addition, Cornerstone brings tangible benefits to the many Belle Isle homeowners who do not have children attending the school. A good school within our community attracts younger home buyers and increases property values throughout our city. I’m sure this economic benefit is something we can all appreciate.

I personally have a vested interest in Cornerstone Charter Academy, both as a homeowner and as a grandparent whose grandson may one day attend Cornerstone. I want to ensure the success of our charter school as well as the financial well-being of our city. To that end, here are my thoughts on some of the ways we could improve Cornerstone:

I am opposed to micromanagement of schools by government officials. The proper role of a school board is to set school policy and hire a school administrator who will run the school on a day-to-day basis. I have been told that we have an excellent administrator at Cornerstone. It is now time for our city government to step back and allow her to do her job instead of attempting to micromanage the school from City Hall.

Furthermore, I do not support the idea of our city paying over a half-million dollars per year to a for-profit company to manage Cornerstone Charter Academy when our school’s administration is more than capable of handling this task. I believe that spending taxpayer money intended for the education of Cornerstone students to instead benefit a corporation like Academica is a misuse of your tax dollars.

If you'd like to learn a little more about Academica, please see the below article:

Academica: Florida’s richest charter school management firm

I also echo the sentiments of many Belle Isle residents who take issue with the methods our city government used to procure the school facilities and establish the school. Just as with the Belle Isle Fire Department, many residents felt betrayed by the way our elected city officials pushed this huge financial commitment through without any effort to give residents advance notice that our city was even considering the purchase of a charter school. Openness inspires citizen confidence, and I believe that a little extra effort to notify the public when important issues are coming up before the Council is a vital step towards establishing real transparency in Belle Isle.

But regardless how you feel about the way our charter school was procured and established, it is vital that residents of Belle Isle continue to support Cornerstone. Our city is committed to Cornerstone and we cannot afford for it to fail. While our city officials are fond of stating that the City of Belle Isle is not directly responsible for the $9.6 million dollar debt we incurred to purchase the school facilities, the fact is that failure of the charter school could financially devastate Belle Isle.

Do you still have questions for me about Cornerstone Charter Academy or anything else? Please give me a call at (205) 253-8841 or write me at


  1. Well stated! I am glad we have CCA in our community, too! I just want to be informed and have a say in how our City Government utilizes its funds. There is always room for improvement and this sentiment does not always mean we are "after" someone for not doing his/her job. It simply means we need to continually look at how we can improve the way things are done. The best models for success typically include a continuing cycle of evaluation and modification (based on the evaluations) for positive results. Now that CCA is established, think of what that "more than half a million" for a management company can do if put back into the school and community! If there is another way to do things which may benefit or better serve CCA and Belle Isle, why wouldn't we want to at least explore it?

  2. I is my dream that Mayor Brooks get out of the charter school business. This city has been his playground for too many years were he has micromanaged on fiasco after another including the Nela Isle bridge upgrade cost overruns, his $83K street clook at Conway and Hoffner,,the roundabout fountain at Nela and Lake Drive that is not even level and I could go on..

  3. I believe your comments speak volumes regarding how you feel about the school. This is just one of many things I completely disagree with you.

    1. It is unclear what you disagree with since Sue seems to be PRO charter school in Belle Isle.
      I do not have children -a senior citizen and I am very happy to have CCA in our community. I agree we as tax paying residents should have a VOICE and prior knowledge of what our ELECTED officials plan to do or DO.

  4. Well said Sue. As a parent of a child in cornerstone I am glad we it as an option and you are 100% correct about an A+ school adding value and desirability to the Belle Isle community. Cornerstone is a wonderful school and I believe it gives Belle Isle a sense of community. I also agree that the community members need to be better informed about how the city is spending money and that the school's board is far to heavily paneled with city leaders and not enough educators! Dr Pancoast and her team are doing great things! Let them!

  5. Sue is not being 100 percent honest with everyone. She will destroy our school with the BI sun's agenda. Why would the Sun meet with OC commissioner Pete Clark, Jackie Blake and members of the Conway Community council??? They do not like what we have built and will turn it into their own liberal version....

    1. Okay, Shadow, let's review your "facts."

      First, neither Sue nor I have ever met, spoken to, or even emailed Jackie Blake or the Conway Community Council. Maybe we're out of touch, but neither of us had heard of Jackie Blake or the Conway Community Council before your comment. We have met Pete Clarke on a few occasions, but the subject of CCA never came up.

      Second, what do Pete Clarke, Jackie Blake or the Conway Community Council have to do with Cornerstone? Cornerstone has its own administration and governing board and none of these individuals have any say over Cornerstone's operations.

      Finally, what is a "liberal version" of Cornerstone? Is Cornerstone a conservative school? What does that even mean?

    2. Great job Sue. You have them very concerned at City Hall. Keep up the outstanding reporting. You have my vote.


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