Naples Classical Academy purchases $5 million site for charter school in North Naples

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Naples Daily News | by Laura Layden | January 21, 2021

A new public charter school has secured its site in North Naples.

Naples Classical Academy has closed on its purchase of Fogg’s Nursery, where it will build a K-12 school.

The Optima Foundation, which helps establish and run charter schools in Florida, has partnered with the Phoenix Education Network, another nonprofit, to help start the school.

A 17-acre campus will uproot the longtime nursery on the property — at 10270 Immokalee Road, just east of Collier Boulevard. Construction will begin shortly, with a groundbreaking ceremony slated for Jan. 29.

Rendering of Naples Classical Academy, a new charter school opening in Collier County.

Rendering of Naples Classical Academy, a new charter school opening in Collier County. Courtesy Naples Classical Academy

Clearing and grading have already begun on the site.

“Really one of the reasons we selected this property is because overall it’s a lot less work,” said Erika Donalds, president and founder of The Optima Foundation.

It’s a lot less work from both an environmental perspectiveand a readiness perspective because it won’t require bringing in loads of fill dirt to prepare the site for development, she said.

The land purchase was announced via a press release on Wednesday.

“With the land purchase completed and the school’s financing approved, our plans are moving along right on schedule,” Donalds said. “We’re excited to begin construction and see the campus building emerge over the next few months.”

In a word, Donalds describes the site — and enrollment — as “amazing.” 

According to Collier County land records the sale closed Dec. 30, at a price of $5 million.

Within 12 hours of announcing its chosen location on its Facebook page in September, the school received 100 applications for enrollment next year— and the news generated more than 370 likes. It now has seen nearly 1,000 applications.

“Parents are ready to jump on the opportunity for something different than what they are currently being offered,” Donalds said.

After the first student selection lottery, the school offered spots to 750  — and more than 600 of those students have officially enrolled.

“We are very excited to have already received a tremendous response in applications for our first lottery,” said Matt Mathias, the school’s governing board chairman, in a statement. “There are still some seats available in every grade level for this excellent education opportunity.”

The school is currently enrolling students from kindergarten through 10th grade.

A second lottery will be held Feb. 2. More information about enrollment can be found at naplesclassical.org.

“I think we will probably be at capacity by the third lottery at the least,” Donalds said. “But we will always accept applications and continue to run lotteries. Then those people will be put in random order on the wait list in case the spots become available.” 

Not a first

The charter school will be the third of its kind launched and managed by The Optima Foundation, a Naples-based organization whose mission is to support the establishment and expansion of superior quality schools of choice in Florida.

The other two schools the foundation manages are Treasure Coast Classical Academy and Jacksonville Classical Academy.

Naples Classical Academy will receive academic support from the Barney Charter School Initiative of Hillsdale College in the initial stages of startup and use its curriculum.

The curriculum will be based on systematic, explicit phonics and grammar, classic literature and the Socratic method of instruction. Students will study Spanish beginning in kindergarten and Latin starting in sixth grade.

In addition to four core academic areas, the academy will also offer world languages, western civilization, music and visual arts. The high school curriculum will incorporate government, economics and moral philosophy.

The school’s mission is to “train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”

Despite teacher shortages in Florida and around the country, the school isn’t having a problem filling its positions, Donalds said.

“We are on track with our hiring of teachers and staff members. Lots of interest on that front as well,” she said.

Erika Donalds is a former Collier County School Board member
Erika Donalds is a former Collier County Schools Board Member. File

The school expects to open with 800 students in August. It will add 11th grade in its second year, and 12th grade the year after.

At maximum capacity, enrollment will be capped at about 1,200 students.

School construction is expected to take about six months to complete.

The $20 million-campus will feature a two-story 70,000-square-foot state-of-the-art school building, along with a playground, basketball courts and recreational fields.

A future development phase, including a 14,000-square-foot gymnasium, is also planned.

A public charter school will take the place of Fogg's Nursery in North Naples, photographed on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Nursery owner Stanley Fogg Jr. will move his longtime business elsewhere.

Photo: A public charter school will take the place of Fogg’s Nursery in North Naples, photographed on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Nursery owner Stanley Fogg Jr. will move his longtime business elsewhere.Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY – FLORIDA NETWORK