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Tallahassee Classical faces enrollment issues and director resignation

A Tallahassee Classical School teacher speaks to the board of directors during public comment Monday, March 27, 2023.

A Tallahassee Classical School teacher speaks to the board of directors during public comment Monday, March 27, 2023.

The Tallahassee Classical School board of directors discussed a number of concerns for parents and teachers during a special meeting Friday, including the resignation of former principal Cara Wynn and the future of the school.

Former principal Cara Wynn was asked to resign Monday after an emergency meeting of the board of directors. It was the sixth school director to leave since the school opened four years ago. While it was not disclosed why she was forced to resign, board chairman Tim Qualls said a “fresh team spirit and a new approach” was needed at the struggling school.

Cara Wynn, principal of Tallahassee Classical School, was asked to resign on Monday, June 11.  She joined the school as principal in May 2023.Cara Wynn, principal of Tallahassee Classical School, was asked to resign on Monday, June 11.  She joined the school as principal in May 2023.

Cara Wynn, principal of Tallahassee Classical School, was asked to resign on Monday, June 11. She joined the school as principal in May 2023.

“We needed a little encouragement for our teachers, and I heard from an abundance of teachers that the work environment was not team spirit,” Qualls, a Tallahassee attorney, said during Friday’s meeting.

The school is now adjusting its leadership as it comes under the umbrella of Great Hearts Academies in August 2025. Great Hearts is a classic charter company with schools in Arizona, Louisiana and Texas.

For example, Hannah Pitts, former high school counselor at Tallahassee Classical, received approval from the board on Friday to return in the same capacity to help plan and prepare for the transition in supervision for the upcoming school year. Pitts’ contract expired in May and she was not renewed by Wynn as an administrative decision.

In the meantime, the board is still looking for an interim director.

The changes in the school’s leadership and operations come a year after the school received global attention for a controversial art lesson focused on Michelangelo’s “David,” which resulted in an uproar among some parents and the ouster of the art teacher and principal.

The decision to fold the school’s operations into a national charter school operation comes as the school faces increasing challenges, including a lack of leadership stability, declining enrollment and uncertainty about the future of the teachers who remain on board.

“Great Hearts is a proven product,” Qualls said at the meeting. “There’s no perfect recipe, but there are a lot of people raving about it, but it’s unprecedented in Florida.”

Tallahassee Classical would be one of the first Great Hearts schools in Florida in 2025.

Tallahassee Classical School is a tuition-free, public charter school under the umbrella of Leon County Schools. It was founded in 2020 by two local mothers, Jana Sayler, the director of compliance for Ancora Management, and Adrienne Campbell, now deputy secretary at the Department of Juvenile Justice. They both wanted their children to receive a classical education.

Anne Corcoran, an attorney and the wife of New College President Richard Corcoran, served on the charter board in its early days.

Classical education is designed to provide students with a holistic approach to science and liberal arts education. Tallahassee Classical upholds virtues, including kindness, courage, respect and gratitude, and ties them all together in academic lesson plans.

Pitts agreed to be reinstated to her former role to help with planning after being recommended by board member Pamela Griggs at the meeting. Three teachers in attendance expressed their joy for Pitts with silent amen and praise.

“The problem wasn’t working horizontally with teachers and peers, the problem was vertical,” said Vicky Conroy, who has taught at Tallahassee Classical for the past three years after working at other public schools for 12 years.

“Teachers need to feel valued, they need to feel that the things they do and the efforts they put in, that those in authority are grateful for them and I can tell you: Hannah Pitts is one of those people .”

Conroy said Pitts made her feel valued as a teacher and she was happy to be hired back.

A classroom at Tallahassee Classical School. A classroom at Tallahassee Classical School.

A classroom at Tallahassee Classical School.

“I feel very honored and I would love to come back,” Pitts told board members during the meeting from a virtual setting. “I want the school to succeed.”

First challenge: stimulate the number of registrations

The school has seen a downward trend in enrollment, from 424 students at the start of the 2024 school year to 387 students in March. The school has a capacity for approximately 800 students.

That has created a challenge for the board, as the school must admit another 70 students over the next five weeks to remain in compliance with its charter agreement with the Leon County School District. The school must have enough students to generate state funding revenue to cover teacher salaries and other operating costs, according to former board chairman Barney Bishop III.

Although some teachers shared that parents were concerned the school would close due to low enrollment, board member Louis Jean-Baptiste assured them that would not happen.

“TCS remains open. It is our sole responsibility as a board to keep TCS open,” said Jean-Baptiste, also an attorney in Tallahassee.

The board is now putting the burden of increasing enrollment on Pitts, who said she already has ideas about recruiting new students.

The school must also determine expected enrollment for budgeting purposes. Griggs suggested hiring an outside company to query the school’s software to get an accurate enrollment count.

Qualls replied, “we have no money.”

The board will meet regularly on June 20 to discuss a preliminary budget and a new action plan for increasing enrollment.

Alaijah Brown covers children and families for the Tallahassee Democrat. She can be reached at[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter/X:@AlaijahBrown3.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Tallahassee Classical faces enrollment problems after director’s ouster