Zenobia Cann, founder, and Theresa Williams, principal, hope to create a school that will prepare students for college with arts-infused curriculum.

Charter school set to open doors in Plant City

ICan Lighthouse Charter Academy, led by Plant City native Theresa Williams, offers an art-infused curriculum that aims to prepare students for college.
May. 19, 2017

When the 2017-2018 school year starts, educator Theresa Williams will have her newest title: principal of ICan Lighthouse Charter Academy, a year-round, tuition-free school that offers an art-infused curriculum.
The school will operate out of the First Baptist Church of Plant City campus, 503 N. Palmer St. In its first year, the school will offer curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade. 

The school is partnered with Lighthouse Academies, a nonprofit network of charter schools that operates 19 schools throughout the nation. The nonprofit seeks to address the achievement gap created by income inequalities by preparing students for college through art-infused programs, according to its website. Academies operate on a 190-day calendar. According to the Lighthouse website, the schedule is “true to our uncompromising focus on preparing every student for college.” 

“I’m prepared to be the complete educator,” Williams said. “I’ve done high school, middle school, college. I’m ready to work with the babies.” 

Williams is “homegrown,” she said. She’s a Plant City native, and has been an area educator for the last 19 years. 

“I’m from Plant City,” Williams said. “I’m raising my family here.” 

Williams graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s College of Education. She then returned to her hometown, teaching at the collegiate level and at Turkey Creek Middle School. Most recently, she served as an assistant principal at Durant High School.

Williams said the opportunity to work at the charter school, which is expected to have between 250 to 326 students and about 20 staff members in its first year, will be unlike anything she’d done before. For example, she said, teachers can create a song or dance to help students memorize a math lesson.

The charter school will operate out of the First Baptist Church of Plant City campus, 503 N. Palmer St.

“I like that it was different from what I was used to,” Williams said. “It’s art-infused, so the teachers are tasked with the skill set to teach art through curriculum, such as dance, art or drama. The teachers are tasked with making the curriculum come alive through aspects of art.” 

New School on the Block 

ICan is the brainchild of founder Zenobia Cann, who serves as the academy’s board chair. 

Cann became familiar with Plant City when she met Pastor Calvin Callins Sr., the pastor of Greater New Hope Anointed Ministries. 

At the time, Cann said, Callins had a prodigy program at W.E. Phillips Learning Academy, another charter school started by Cann in Seffner. Phillips closed in 2014 due to low enrollment, Cann said. 

But she saw a need in Plant City. 

“We wanted to be an extension of the public school system,” Cann said. “The district needed help with overcrowding in the lower grades. We looked at demographics and population, and we found pockets in Plant City.” 

With a need discovered, the school needed a location. Callins introduced Cann to First Baptist Plant City, which is relocating to a larger campus at 3309 James L. Redman Parkway later this year. The church had enough space for the school’s classrooms and activities, which will primarily take place on the first and second floor of the Palmer Street building. 

For Cann, bringing in someone to run the academy who has experience in Plant City was a necessity. 

“That was important for us,” Cann said. “We’re asking the community to entrust us with their little ones. It was imperative that we found someone who knew Plant City. She left and went off to college, but what does she do? She came back.” 

Though the school has a high focus on art in its curriculum, Florida statutes require that charter schools follow state-mandated assessments. In addition to those, Cann said, internal assessments also will be conducted. 

“We’ll do those not only to know where they are, but to celebrate even minute accomplishments,” Cann said. “We want to celebrate every step of the way, every milestone between point A and B.” 

In the next few years, Cann and Williams hope that the school will continue to add grades up to eighth grade. For a long-term vision, they hope that ICan will eventually offer kindergarten through 12th grade. 

At its First Baptist location, Williams and Cann said, the school has room to expand. Enrollment

is open. 

According to the Hillsborough County School District’s website, 40 charter schools operated in the county in the 2016-2017 year, serving 17,883 students that totals 8.3% of the district’s 214,749 students between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Contact Emily Topper at etopper@plantcityobserver.com