Contract complications could close Jacksonville's Catapult Academy

For-profit learning center's 7 campuses might not reopen, school officials warn

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville for-profit learning center has not been able to reach an agreement with Duval County Public Schools to renew its contract with the district, placing the education of hundreds of local students in jeopardy.

A manager for Catapult Academy recently sent a letter home to families explaining that the center's seven Jacksonville locations, which help students who have dropped out of traditional high school, might not reopen next school year.

“This program means so much to me because it fluctuates with my schedule, because I’m about to start work,” 19-year-old student Johnathan Smalls said.

Smalls' mother, Shirley Smalls, said her son is adamant about completing the program, which awards a high school diploma rather than a GED.

Parents and students said they’re worried about what’s next.

The seven satellite locations are spread across Jacksonville to cover all neighborhoods. 

According to the DCPS website, the district contracts with Catapult Academy to offer flexible schooling options for students who have withdrawn from traditional schooling.

The academy helps the district reach out to students ages 16 to 21 who’ve dropped out, with the goal of helping those students earn their high school diploma. 

“I like the program because I can kind of go through credits and get caught up,” 17-year-old student Damien Caoteo said.

Caoteo's stepfather said the classes have made a difference in Caoteo's education.

“He’s passing all his classes with flying colors,” Harvey said. “He enjoys it here.”

It looked like business as usual on the two campuses News4Jax visited Thursday. And Shirley Smalls hopes it stays that way.

“Whatever situation that they are having right now, I hope they can resolve it for the benefit of the children,” she said. “Because there are a lot of students out here. It is going to hurt him very much.”

A manager with Catapult Academy released a statement Thursday:

"We continue to have discussions with district officials to determine the nature of our partnership going forward. We will keep our students and their families informed about any updates on next steps upon the conclusion of our meetings with the district."

A school district spokesperson sent News4Jax the following statement, which reads, in part:

"We can tell parents that services for the current school year will continue. The school year ends next week. Catapult is also planning to run their normal summer program, which is for students who are very close to graduating. We continue to have conversations with Catapult about the future of the partnership."

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