(l.-r.) Freedom High Business Academy director Brian Nanns, business teacher Natalie Lozada, marketing teacher Derrick McCoy, accounting teacher Stacey Polhill and Freedom assistant principal of curriculum Matthew Smith . (Photos by Charmaine George) 

From charter schools and private schools to public school magnet programs, there are plenty of options for high school students in New Tampa to find a customized high school curriculum that will prepare them for the next step in their lives that isn’t always the closest school to where they live. 

But now, Freedom High in Tampa Palms is hoping to attract more New Tampa students to choose their local public school with a brand new attractor program that will be the first Business Academy in the Hillsborough County School District. 

Students who finish all of the classes in the Business Academy will graduate with a certification that recognizes them as a program completer. Along the way, each class they take will earn them either an industry certification or college credit. 

Courses in the Academy include a series of classes in accounting, marketing, business principles and entrepreneurship, many that are either Advanced Placement (AP) or Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), which can result in students earning college credit if they pass an exam. 

Freedom’s assistant principal of curriculum Matthew Smith says one reason this program is poised for success is because it actually pays for itself, rather than requiring money to operate. 

That’s because the Florida Department of Education (FDoE) provides a stipend to schools that prepare students to do jobs that are needed in the workforce. So, when students earn industry certifications or college credits, that state-provided stipend goes back to the school, where it is used to enhance those programs. 

“We applied for a state grant to expand into this area because there’s a big shortage in accounting in Florida,” Smith says. “We are planning to transform our regular classrooms into high-tech accounting labs.” 

He says this will include seating where students work together collaboratively and have technology to project to the walls, for example, and that the room will likely feature a live stock market ticker. 

“This could be a game-changer for Freedom,” Smith says. “We’re hoping to retain neighborhood kids so they don’t have to get on a magnet bus and go somewhere else in Hillsborough County for a different program.” 

Smith explains that the Business Academy will be overarching and encompass the school’s Digital Academy, which has been in place for several years and prepares students for careers in game design, web development or related fields. 

“Our Digital Academy labs are already well equipped,” he explains, “with more than $200,000 per year in funding from industry certifications that our students receive.” 

This allows the labs to be continually updated with the latest technology. 

“We are adding AI next year, too,” he says, referring to teaching students about artificial intelligence. 

The Hillsborough County School District’s Chief of Innovation and Strategic Planning Marcos Murillo says these and other career and technical education classes have set the foundation for the Business Academy to be built on, and that it will be unique in the District. While other schools offer entry-level classes in subjects such as accounting and marketing, the Business Academy will be more comprehensive. 

The Business Academy also will encompass the school’s existing Digital Academy

“Freedom will offer more classes in that area than any other school in the District,” Murillo says. “The higher level classes won’t available anywhere else and will allow students to have a more robust transcript to apply for college.” 

Murillo’s job is to innovate at every school throughout the county but, he says, “Freedom is dear to my heart. My daughter graduated from there and my son is there now.” 

Instructors for Freedom’s Business Academy are already in place and are training for new courses that will be offered for the 2024-25 school year. 

For example, Stacey Polhill has worked as an accountant in the private industry and at the school district and has decades of real-world accounting experience. 

“She currently teaches math and accounting honors,” explains Smith, “but next year, she will teach additional accounting classes, such as managerial accounting honors or AICE accounting.” 

Not all classes will be available next year, but classes will be added as the program grows and students in the program need them. 

Other teachers include Brian Nanns, who is the chair of the school’s Career Technical Education Department. He currently serves as director of the Digital Academy, teaching classes such as AP Computer Science Principles, and will be director of the Business Academy, too. 

Social studies teacher Eric Galante has a business degree and is now working to get certified to teach AP and AICE business principles and global business classes. 

Derrick McCoy currently teaches marketing and television production and will expand the marketing classes that will be made available to students. 

Natalie Lozado will teach business ownership and entrepreneurship, which Smith says will teach students how to fully develop a new business, execute their plans, and compete in the marketplace. 

To participate in the Business Academy, all students — even if they currently attend Freedom — must apply through Hillsborough County’s “school choice and magnet application” available online at HillsboroughSchools.org/choice

In addition to the Business Academy, Smith says many students use the choice application to join the Digital Academy, which does not carry the “attractor” designation, or to participate in the school’s popular veterinary science program, where students can graduate high school as a Certified Veterinary Assistant. 

Freedom will appear on the application as an option during the next choice/magnet application period, which is typically in Feb. 

Smith says that if it happens that there is space available in the program, it may be possible for current Freedom students to take some of the classes in the Business Academy. However, seats are reserved for those who are chosen for the attractor program and commit to completing the entire track. 

“I can’t wait to build out the program,” Smith says.

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