Gateway Sun

Have you ever wondered how many kids are enrolled at the Gateway Charter schools?

Right around 2,976.

And if you had to guess, how many of those kids would you say live here in Gateway?

1,000? 1,500? At least 750?

The answer: only about 300.

The school enrollment data was provided by niche.com, a website founded by former Carnegie Mellon University students that provides statistics on over 120,000 K-12 schools. The Gateway Charter figure was courtesy of school administrators who disclosed to the Sun that only 10% of their schools’ populations actually live here in Gateway.

In an email, Gateway Charter Principal Sara Abraham told us: “At the Gateway Charter campuses, we provide an excellent educational option to parents in our community. Our proven educational model and our inspiring academic environment draws students from throughout Lee County.”

You don’t say.

Each day over 2,500 kids are being brought to Gateway Charter schools from outside of this community. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a staggering figure and it caught me completely by surprise. I kind of always thought those schools were put here to serve this community.

I guess that means that my kids aren’t going to school with their neighbors, but that’s Florida.

And it also means that most parents of middle and high school students who live in Gateway are avoiding Gateway Charter. Deliberately.

The exact number of middle and high school-aged kids are there in Gateway who attend other schools isn’t known, and would be a challenge to figure out. But I dusted off my abacus to give it a go. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you just want my best-I-could-do answer without reading how I crunched the numbers.

The 2010 U.S. Census said there were 8,401 people living in Gateway at that time, but due to the growth in the area that number is no longer reliable. More recently the Gateway Services Community Development District said there are “over 15,000” people living in the district, but you’d have to remove Pelican Preserve (which is in Fort Myers but still part of the CDD) from the equation. Based on a rough count of the number of homes in both Gateway and Pelican, you could reasonably say that 11,500 people live in this community. Give or take a thousand.

A February 2015 report by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research stated that approximately 9% of the state’s population are middle and high school aged. So we’re looking at….

…..right around 1000 middle and high school-aged kids in this community. Give or take a hundred.

That means there are likely 700-800 local kids whose parents are taking a pass on Gateway Charter Intermediate School and Gateway Charter High School, with the bulk of them presumably sending their kids to public schools.

Geographically it makes little sense for Gateway families to enroll their kids in the Lee County School District. Actually it makes no sense at all, from a convenience standpoint.

Here’s why ….

Our community is located in the LCSD’s “East Zone” as you probably know.

Now, for the sake of this discussion let’s use 7-Eleven’s address at the corner of Gateway Boulevard and Griffin Drive as the geographic center of town.

The four East Zone high schools operated by the LCSD include Dunbar High School (9 miles from 7-Eleven), East Lee County High School (13 miles), Lehigh Senior High School (7 miles) and Riverdale High School (13 miles).

With those kinds of distances, it’s no wonder we see all those school buses dropping kids off at 5:00pm. Growing up, I never heard of anyone who went to a school 13 miles away – let alone students going there droves.

Meanwhile my kids are dropped off at Silverlakes from Gateway Charter (1 mile from 7-Eleven) at 2:45pm from the high school, and 3:40pm from the elementary.

When one of my kids get sick I can be there fast. Accidentally miss the bus? No big deal.

It’s perfect, actually.

And yet, area parents are obviously so unimpressed with Gateway Charter that they’re willing to send their kids to school up to 13 miles away just to avoid the place.

Things may get even worse for Gateway Charter, soon.

You may have heard in the media that the LCSD Board has gotten tremendous push-back from the community of Bonita Springs about building a new high school there. There are those close to the situation who feel that if a deal can’t get done in Bonita soon, a door may be open for Gateway to get a new school built in this community instead. One Bonita city councilman did recently express some optimism for the process there, but it’s been nothing but controversy since day one in Bonita Springs.

LCSD officials have already identified the need for a new school in the East Zone, but it wasn’t going to be built for a few years. They’ve barely even scratched the surface in the planning phase. However, if a community like ours would welcome a new high school – as opposed to those in Bonita who are protesting loudly, almost as though it was a jail that was being built – it might gain enough traction and get the notice of the elected School Board officials. In fact, the district already owns a large plot of land along Griffin Drive.

It all adds up to one thing: Lee County Schools would have a built-in audience, a ready-made consumer base who want a school here. How many of those 700 kids who face long, daily trips to Riverdale and Dunbar would switch? I’d imagine more than a few.

Since I have 3 of the 300 Gateway kids who attend the charter schools (wow – my house makes up 1% of their Gateway-based population) I guess I would have a decision to make as well.

And that decision would be to transfer them to the new school and never look back.

Never mind that Charter Schools USA continues to operate on the cheap in Gateway with 1 principal for 3,000 kids in different 3 schools, located in 2 separate buildings. The C-ratings by the State of Florida is a little harder to look past, but I really like the teachers that my kids have and my kids get A’s and B’s. And I’m over the school not having a football stadium.

But Gateway Charter has gone stale.

It just seems to me like they’re going through the motions. That’s really the best way I can describe the vibe I get.

I hope CSUSA can do something to breathe some life in to the place. I hope someone at Gateway Charter comes up with some good ideas to energize their schools. But if I’m being honest, I hope even more that the School District of Lee County builds a new high school here in time for my kids to attend there.

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By the numbers..

STUDENT COUNTS: GC High – 710 …. GC Middle – 1,070 …. GC Elementary – 1,196

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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