Bay Haven Charter Academy is 100% a public school, offering an innovative approach to education. Bay Haven officially began when a group of parents and community leaders completed the application process through the state recognized sponsor, which is the Bay District School Board. This group formed a Board of Directors and they are functioning as a "not-for-profit" 501C3 organization. The four original Board members began working in conjunction with a Charter School management company called National Heritage Academies, from Michigan. Public meetings were held and it was realized that there were a great many people who were looking for the charter school option.
In November of 2000 the Board applied to the Bay District Schools for a charter for the school, which, by then had been named Bay Haven Charter Academy. In January of 2001, National Heritage Academies experienced corporate finance difficulties and as a result, opted not to branch out to Florida after all.
In April of 2001 the Board began land donation discussions with (then) Arvida, a St. Joe Company. The Board also contracted with a charter school management company for day–to-day operations, Charter School USA. An attorney, Billy Buzzett, negotiated the charter school contract with Bay District Schools and only one piece remained, hire someone to lead the development of Bay Haven to the rich reputations and academic success we enjoy today.
The Board sought out Dr. Tim Kitts to be the Founding Principal. His wife, Connie suggested him to Bay Haven Board President Scotti Haney and he has proven to be a powerhouse administrator. He immediately began pulling together a phenomenal team of teachers and staff willing to step out on faith and work exceptionally hard to make Bay Haven the educational opportunity it is today.
Dr. Kitts and Mrs. Haney labored hard to locate a facility and found 9000 square feet of space at the back end of an office/warehouse building and began the building of a school. Families gathered like an old-fashioned barn raising and built playgrounds, painted walls, cleaned carpets, put up temporary walls and barrowed desks so that the doors could be opened on August 9, 2001. We then became and remain a family school of the entire community.
Dr. Kitts set the vision of High Expectations/High Achievement and our school has not swayed from that point of focus. The first year's success was measured by parent satisfaction surveys and FCAT results, which were astoundingly high. The applications for the next year and the waiting lists were incredible. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to grow. St. Joe provided $200,000.00 in order for Bay Haven to put 17 portable classrooms on the adjacent parking lot. The City of Panama City granted the school a variance to bring in the portables and the enrollment increased from the inaugural year's enrollment of 225 in grades K-5 to 575 in K-6. Dr. Kitts worked with parents to build a strong and vibrant PTSP (Parent Student Teacher Partnership) under a separate 501C3. They specifically support curriculum and instruction and teacher material needs. Next he worked with yet another group to form the Bay Haven Boosters who are also a separate 501C3 corporation. This group facilitates all extra-curricular activities from middle school sports and cheerleading to band, choir and Math Counts.
During the second year, 2002-2003, BHCA added three more governing board members and the school continued to flourish. The end of the year FCAT scores once again were in the top 10% in many categories and grade levels in the State of Florida. The State Attorney who occupied the connecting facility vacated their leased office space for a new building and Bay Haven took advantage to renovate 35,000 feet of space into classrooms, a cafeteria, small media areas, computer labs and badly needed office space. The 2003-2004 year saw that 800 students were now enrolled in grades K-7. Middle School had established an identity in sports and academics in Bay County, but Choir had finished first in the nation among middle schools while performing in Orlando during the spring of 2004. The band was 140 strong, the school boasted 100 majorettes and cheerleaders and waiting lists were even longer. The big event, during the fall of 2003 came when The St. Joe Company donated 14.5 acres of prime real estate to Bay Haven so that a new facility could be built. Bay Haven had no media center, no gymnasium, inadequate computer labs, cobbled up classroom space for core and special area courses. Bay Haven innovatively worked with Vanguard Bank to create a loan package based upon the collateral of the land and the current used furniture, fixtures and equipment. They secured the services of bond attorney, Nevin Zimmerman, and an underwriter and sold $11.6 million in tax-free bonds to fund the building of their new facility that opened for the fall of 2005.
The school now has 1050 students K – 8 and according to the Commissioner of Education's office ranked 19th in academic performance out of 906 elementary and combination schools in the State of Florida. This ranking was based upon FCAT results for 2009. The middle school finished n the top 10% of all schools in the State of Florida. Bay Haven finished first in Bay County in every FCAT subject tested from math, science, reading and writing in grades 3 through 8.
The key to Bay Haven's success is multi-fold. First, Dr. Kitts' credo is "hire well". When a school hires dedicated, student centered teachers who are empowered to be a part of the decision making process and the teachers are more free from the bureaucratic micro-managing that can take place in districts, you have a positive start. Including parents in the fundraising, leadership and classroom instruction is crucial to a school's success. Parents have assisted in arranging volunteers for classroom reading groups, small group instruction, tutorial, library development and maintenance. Another important aspect of the school's success stems from raising the bar and setting expectations for all students to achieve on an individual basis. Bay Haven has a mix of highly motivated students to students and parents who are seeking the proverbial "silver bullet" fix for the child's academic woes. The school implemented a creative reading development program for students performing at the lower quartile as determined by state standardized assessments and diagnostic assessments. First through fifth grades have three specialists who work with students 45 minutes a day employing commercial products such as Corrective Reading, Reading Mastery and Great Leaps. Students engage in tutorials focusing on homework, math, reading and utilizing the school's Pearson Success Maker computer programs. Middle School students who are struggling are scheduled in 90 minute math and 90 minute reading programs.
Still the school recognizes that a tremendous effort needs to be made to further reading, writing and math development. Advancing teacher education in technology applications, reading, ESOL and writing through coursework and in-service will enrich the academic growth for all students. The school is striving to review the process of an articulated curriculum for grades K through 8. Building a physical building is hard work, but building a lasting structure known as a community education system is a task that has greater long term results for students.
Dr. Kitts has strongly emphasized what he calls the "Three Keys to Success!" Leadership, Teacher Quality and Parental Involvement wrapped in rich communication create a winning school environment. The parents, students, faculty and staff are owners of the school and its success. There is a synergy that fosters higher commitment to excellence. Bay Haven strives to make student centered decisions at every turn.
In 2010 Bay Haven Charter Academy, Inc the governing organization made a monumental decision in response to the demand of parents and community members. They wrote applications to open three new schools. A K-5 elementary, a 6-8 middle school and a 9-12 career high school. This was in response to the fact that the original K-5 and 6-8 schools had waiting lists of over 1000 annually. Bay Haven's governing organization, aka (Inc), had all three applications approved by their sponsor Bay District Schools. The administrative leadership authored and received three Charter School start-up-grants totaling over $1 million for capital equipment purchases. The parent organization loaned what is now known at North Bay Haven $.5 million for start up costs. The school entered into a lease agreement with Central Baptist Church in the heart of Panama City. The former Panama City Christian school facility was available and Bay Haven gratefully opened classes for 678 students in grades K-9 in 2010.
Student clientele now total 1700 + students and includes a preschool center. Both North Bay Haven and the older sister school Bay Haven are always poised to maintain High Expectations/High Achievement for all students.
The results for the 2010/2011 academic year arrived in the summer of 2011. Out of 55 new charter schools in the state of Florida, 8 received a school grade of an A. Both North Bay Haven Elementary and Middle Schools earned an A. The high school grades won't be out until fall. The waiting lists Bay Haven had in 2010 of 1000 students mushroomed to over 2000 after North Bay Haven opened and was fully enrolled with 643 students. The demand is there and the replication of the Bay Haven model is proof positive that the education philosophy and system created for these schools works.