Tiny Palmetto Bay Academy Wins Major Praise

[This is a reprint of the Miami Herald story located at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami_dade/pinecrest/story/1355066.html.]

Once again, Palmetto Bay shows it is world-class in certain important life issues, including education.  This unconventional school located in Palmetto Bay shows that small and personal can make worlds of difference.




In South Florida some high schools are as big as colleges with thousands of students.

Not the private Palmetto Bay Academy.

A dozen students are currently enrolled, from eighth to 12th grade.

That's the intent of founder Lois Dimos.

“We'll never get more than 18,” said Dimos, who also teaches at the school.

Small is better she believes for kids to get plenty of personal attention. Classes are no more than six students per teacher.

The school also prides itself on other unorthodox methods such as eliminating scheduled bells, timed testing and lectured teaching.

This unconventional style is what Dimos and other staffers believe is the private school's success. Its students score above the state average on the ACT college entrance test.

“The whole approach is different,” Dimos said. “It's like tossing education on its head. We are going with an out-of-the box thinking of how we can redo education.”

Since its beginning in 2000, the school, located at 16637 S. Dixie Hwy., has fine-tuned its curriculum for eighth- to 12th-graders. It is seen as an alternative for students who don't succeed in traditional classrooms.

With small class sizes, one-on-one learning and specialized teaching, Palmetto Bay Academy emphasizes that not all learn the same way.

Its curriculum is primarily student-centered and emphasizes individual goals. The school's method frees students of test anxiety by allowing them unlimited time to test and work on their assignments, Dimos said.

To enforce learning and understanding, students are allowed to retake tests until they've mastered the skills of a subject.

“You're responsible for your own actions,” said senior Paul Shafer. “You can control your own destiny. It's not as structured, but you still get your work done.”

He enjoys the independence that the school provides. Students are given weekly goals and scheduled tests. But it's up to the students to complete their work and prepare for exams. Students can go at their own pace and divide up their work to meet their own personal goals.

After attending a public high school, Shafer said he can focus better at the academy.

He and other students “have to pick up the responsibility and learn how to do it,”Dimos said. “We don't teach in the traditional sense. It's more like a college environment.”

Students at Palmetto Bay Academy cannot receive a failing grade on a test or on a missed assignment. Dimos explains that a student's work is stored in an in-box and doesn't go into an out-box until it is completed. Parents receive weekly progress reports so they can be involved in their children's education.

With a current enrollment of 12, classes are mixed to include students with different skills and at different grade levels.

Students can study different subjects in one classroom. This eliminates boredom for more gifted students and anxiety and insecurity from those students who need extra time to learn a subject. A teacher is close by to help.

“It's customized education,” said teacher Jim Dimos. “With our student ratio, we can give them the attention that they need. We do feel like we are preparing these kids and sending them off into the world.”

Kevin Kline, a parent of former Palmetto Bay Academy student Nathaniel A. Kline, saw his son battle with a learning and a physical disability, as well as impaired motor skills. He struggled in school until he went to the academy and graduated first in his class.

Nathaniel Kline is now at American University in Washington, D.C.

“Lois [Dimos] has a reputation and a skill to find the right education program to help him succeed,” Kline said. “She works with the kids until they get it, nurturing them until they reach their potential.”

The school is accredited by AERO, the Alternative Education Resource Organization. Students receive a standard high school diploma and are prepared for college. Indeed, all of its graduates have gone on college, including Louisiana State, American and the University of Central Florida.

Tuition starts at $18,000 a year per student. There are also book fees, depending on the number and types of courses the student is taking.

The school's style has been compared to home-schooling. That was the initial idea for the school when Dimos began it in 2000.

A graduate of Stanford University, she received a master's degree in education and since 1976 has taught at college and high school level in public and private schools. She also was in the Peace Corps.

While teaching, Dimos saw a need for a schools that helped struggling students who didn't fit in socially or academically.

Her school started with four students learning at her home.

Through word of mouth, Palmetto Bay Academy grew into its current location.

“I feel like I'm doing something that's necessary, there's a niche for this in the community. A real need we responded to,” Dimos said. “It works and is wonderful, because it is intimate and small.”

16637 S. Dixie Hwy. also called U.S. 1