Bay Haven Charter Academy, Incorporated (BHCA Inc.) operates five tuition-free public charter schools in Bay County and offers an innovative approach to education. Efforts to create its first school, Bay Haven Charter Academy, began in 2000 when a group of parents and community leaders submitted an application to its sponsor, Bay District Schools. Next, the group formed a Board of Directors, established a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, and worked with National Heritage Academies, a charter school management company.
In April of 2001, the Board began land donation discussions with the St. Joe Company; contracted with Charter Schools USA, a charter school management company for day–to-day operations; hired Dr. Tim Kitts as the founding principal; and located a 6,000-square-foot facility on Harrison Avenue in downtown Panama City. Families gathered like an old-fashioned barn raising and built playgrounds, painted walls, cleaned carpets, built temporary walls, and borrowed desks so the school could open on August 9, 2001.
Dr. Kitts established the vision “High Expectations, High Achievement,” and the teachers, students, and parents worked together to see it to fruition. The first year's success was measured by parent satisfaction surveys and Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) results, which were astoundingly high. Word spread and the number of applications for the next school year soared. As a result, St. Joe Company provided $200,000 to place 17 portable classrooms in the adjacent parking lot. Enrollment increased from 225 in grades K-5 the inaugural year, to 575 in K-6 the second year. Dr. Kitts worked with parents to build a strong and vibrant Parent Teacher Student Partnership (PTSP) under a separate 501(c)3 to specifically support curriculum, instruction, and teacher materials. He also formed the Bay Haven Boosters, a 501(c)3 organization to facilitate extracurricular activities from middle school sports and cheerleading to band, choir, and Math Counts.
By the end of the second year, FCAT scores were once again in the top 10% in the state so demand to get into Bay Haven was high. When the State Attorney’s office, which occupied the adjoining facility, moved, BHCA, Inc. renovated the 35,000 feet into classrooms, a cafeteria, small media areas, computer labs, and office space. By 2003, enrollment had grown to 800 students in grades K-8 and the middle school established an identity in academics and sports in Bay County. The middle school choir finished first in the nation while performing in Orlando. The band was 140 strong, the school boasted 100 majorettes and cheerleaders, and waiting lists were even longer.
In 2003, the St. Joe Company donated 14.5 acres so BHCA, Inc. could build a new facility on Highway 389 in Bay County. BHCA, Inc. innovatively worked with Vanguard Bank to create a loan package, secured the services of a bond attorney and an underwriter, and sold $11.6 million in tax-free bonds to fund construction of the new facility.
When the doors opened in 2005, the school had grown to 1,050 students in K-8, and according to the Florida Commissioner of Education, ranked 19th in academic performance among 906 elementary and combination schools (based on 2009 FCAT scores). The middle school finished in the top 10% of all schools in Florida. BHCA finished first in Bay County in every FCAT subject tested, math, science, reading, and writing in grades 3 through 8.
In 2010, with a waiting list of more than 1,000, BHCA Inc. completed applications to open three new schools including an elementary, middle, and high school. The sponsor, Bay District Schools, approved the applications. The administrative leadership authored and received three Charter School start-up-grants totaling over $1 million for capital equipment purchases. BHCA, Inc. entered into a lease agreement with Central Baptist Church, former home to Panama City Christian School. Classes for 678 students in grades K-9 opened in 2010 under the name North Bay Haven Charter and Career Academy.
Both North Bay Haven elementary and middle schools earned an A for their initial two years of operation. The high school earned an A in its first year of eligibility. Waiting lists grew to more than 2,000 students after North Bay Haven opened and was fully enrolled with 643 students.
In May of 2014, the first graduating class of North Bay Haven Charter Career Academy held its ceremony at Hiland Park Baptist Church. Just over 100 students walked the stage, including 12 who started in kindergarten at Bay Haven. Ninety-eight percent of the inaugural class graduated and 85% went to college.
In 2013, BHCA, Inc. purchased 40 acres in Lynn Haven, Florida on Mill Bayou, 4.5 miles from the Bay Haven campus. The organization worked with BB&T Bank to secure $20 million in bonds to construct a 95,000 square foot, two-story education building to house the middle and high schools. The doors opened in 2014. The elementary remained in the leased facility.
In 2016, with funding secured, construction began on North Bay Haven Elementary School. This 63,000 square foot education building reunited North Bay Haven into its K-12 configuration.