A two-in-one charter school with ties to Miami rapper Pitbull and a large charter management company has opened its doors at a new campus west of West Palm Beach.
The two-story campus along Summit Boulevard east of Congress Avenue is the now home to SLAM Palm Beach, a middle school, and its sister school, Somerset Academy Lakes, an elementary school.
Though technically different schools, both are housed in the same building, overseen by the same principal and managed by Academica, a school management company based in Miami.
The schools are starting small, enrolling just 129 students between them in a few grade levels as the school year begins.
But they have plans for big growth at the 65,000-square-foot facility, aiming to add a high school on the campus in future years and eventually enroll up to 2,500 students.
If successful, it could become the first charter school campus in the county to offer kindergarten through high school. (Currently, only one public school does so: Village Academy in Delray Beach.)
Principal Shannine Sadesky said that including all grade levels has proven a big selling point to families at Academica-run schools in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Many parents, she said, enjoy the convenience and ability for students to move from elementary to middle and high schools without the added stress of changing campuses.
“It becomes a family,” she said.
SLAM (short for Sports Leadership and Management) is a sports-themed subsidiary of the Mater Academy charter network. Making ample use of sports terms and imagery, the school incorporates sports into its curriculum, offering students the opportunity to study sports medicine, sports marketing and management, and sports media production.
“If you didn’t make it to be the next big thing in your sport, you can be the accountant for the team,” said Alex Tamargo, a SLAM executive.
Last month, just days after 6-foot-5 sprinter Usain Bolt won his third Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash, students were outside timing themselves running, testing a theory about whether height and speed are correlated.
Founded in 2013 in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, the chain has enjoyed a publicity boost from its affiliation with Miami rapper Pitbull. School officials say Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Pérez, has no management position but acts as an unofficial spokesman for the school and is often seen at the Miami campus.
The first SLAM charter school opened in Miami in 2013, and a second campus opened last year in Las Vegas. The West Palm Beach campus is its third, and SLAM has applied to open another one in the county. The elementary school is the fifth Somerset campus in Palm Beach County.
The campus was constructed quickly after the 6-acre property, once home to soccer fields, was acquired in March by a corporation with ties to Academica.
Academica has grown to become one of the country’s largest charter school management companies and controls more than $100 million in real estate across South Florida. A 2011 Miami Herald investigation of the company found that the schools it operates are technically controlled by independent non-profit boards, but board members typically have close ties to Academica and often are administrators at other company-operated schools.
Jim Pegg, the county school district’s charter school director, called Academica, which manages more than 100 schools, a high-performing company that is “not a problem child.”
“As management companies go, that’s a really good management company,” he said. “They are an example of a successful and well-tuned engine, and I like their focus on kids.”