Crossroad Academy Charter School
Launched in 1998
Serves 527 students in grades PreK-12
Sixty-four percent of students are black and 32% are Hispanic; 69% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch
The town of Quincy is on the larger end of the rural spectrum, located just over 20 miles from Florida’s capital city of Tallahassee
Crossroad is the only charter school in the county
Model is based on 1) rigorous academic and behavioral expectations; 2) college and career focus; 3) consistent parental engagement; and 4) financial stability
Challenges include 1) staff and teacher recruitment; and 2) authorizer relationship
Millie Forehand didn’t intend to build a school. For 34 years, she’d worked as the executive director of the Community and Economic Development Organization (CEDO) of Gadsden County Inc. As a community development corporation, CEDO’s goal was to provide jobs, housing, and services to the residents of Gadsden County. Under Forehand’s leadership, CEDO built and managed three apartment complexes and acquired three single-family houses to meet the community’s demand for affordable rental housing. It also acquired a commercial office building that provides small rental office space and houses CEDO’s headquarters. Because of her demonstrated commitment to the community and track record of serving some of Gadsden County’s most at-risk populations, the county’s circuit juvenile judge contacted Forehand to see if she would be willing to work with some of the county’s juvenile offenders. As she recalls it, the judge told her that he had recently encountered a significant number of students in court for minor offenses, and was hoping Forehand might be able to offer them some positive opportunities in the community. In response, Forehand pulled together a group of community volunteers to create a juvenile diversion program, called the Juvenile Crossroad Connection. This program focused on working with at-risk young people to keep them out of the judicial system.
By 1992, this diversion program had evolved into an alternative education program serving middle school students who struggled in the county’s public school system. This program, called Crossroad Academy, was small — serving approximately 20 students in its first five years.
In 1996, the Florida legislature enacted a charter school law. Two years later, Forehand opted to transition her small alternative education program into a formal school. In 1998, the Gadsden County School Board approved the charter for Crossroad Academy Charter School.
Initially, Crossroad remained small, serving 30 middle schoolers in its first year and 45 in its second. But word spread in the community that Crossroad was no longer just an alternative program but an option for all students in the community. Forehand sought an amendment to the school’s charter to expand to a K-8 school. In its third year of operation, enrollment at Crossroad surged to 225 students.
Crossroad has continued to grow over the past two decades. Today, the school serves approximately 530 students in grades PreK-12. It provides students with a rigorous educational program that prepares them academically, socially, and culturally to be responsible members of society and outperforms county and statewide averages in reading and math.
In addition to rigorous academics, Crossroad offers top-notch athletics and extracurriculars: Students can participate in programs such as modeling and fashion design, cheerleading, and Future Business Leaders of America. The school is particularly proud of its boys’ basketball team, which made it to the state finals in its first year and won the district championships in both 2018 and 2019.
Crossroad offers its students and families an alternative to the local district school system, filling a gap in a community with a struggling public school district, a lackluster economy, and limited employment opportunities. For more than two decades, under the leadership of Millie Forehand and now her son Dr. Kevin Forehand, Crossroad has built broad public support from community members and leaders. But the past two decades have not been easy. School leaders have struggled to attract and retain top-quality talent, and have weathered a difficult — though improving — relationship with the local district, which serves as the school’s authorizer. Despite the challenges, Crossroad continues to expand its impact on the lives of students in Gadsden County.
Driving west out of Tallahassee along I-10 to US-90, the scenery changes pretty quickly. Tallahassee itself is a relatively small city with seemingly more strip malls than skyscrapers, but it doesn’t take long for those strip malls to disappear. Farmland, interrupted by the occasional warehouse or trucking site, soon comes to dominate the landscape. Though just 20 miles from Tallahassee, Quincy feels much farther. This small, rural community is home to approximately 7,700 people. It’s the largest of the five cities that compose Gadsden County, and is the county seat.
For nearly a century, tobacco dominated the economy of Gadsden County, making it an economic powerhouse in the antebellum South. In 1860, for example, Gadsden County tobacco farms produced 67% of all the tobacco produced in Florida. This tremendous output was accomplished largely on the backs of slaves. Following the Civil War and Emancipation, blacks continued to work on tobacco farms as sharecroppers.
By the late 1800s, shade tobacco — a new kind of tobacco grown under partial shade — came to dominate tobacco cultivation in Gadsden County. By the 1920s, Florida produced more than one-quarter of the nation’s shade tobacco, and more than half of all Gadsden County farmers grew shade. As a result, Quincy and the surrounding communities bustled with economic activity. Gadsden County alone was home to 17 tobacco packing houses and three cigar factories. But by the 1960s, declining consumption, competition from new tobacco-growing regions, and growing worker dissatisfaction began to mark the end of the shade tobacco industry nationwide, a trend that would have a direct, negative impact on Gadsden County’s economy.
In the decades since the fall of the tobacco industry, agriculture has remained dominant. In Quincy, for example, Quincy Farms transitioned from a tobacco-growing business into one of the world’s largest mushroom production facilities. Quincy’s industrial park stands on another former tobacco farm. Plant nurseries and tomato farms have also grown in popularity.
Today, a relatively new industry is spurring economic activity in the county: medical marijuana. Trulieve, a local distributor, is now the largest private employer in Gadsden County, employing nearly 500 people with three facilities in the county.
While this new industry offers some hope to Gadsden, signs of economic downturn and struggle are evident. I-90, the main thoroughfare through the county, is lined with dilapidated buildings and shuttered stores. Quincy’s main square is interspersed with county office buildings, small groups of people dining at a new café offering a seasonal menu of food from local farmers, and vacant storefronts that offer a glimpse into what was.
The county is still struggling to recover from the downturn in the tobacco market. The median household income is $39,830, well below the national average of $57,652. Twenty-three percent of Gadsden County residents live in poverty, more than double the national average of 12%. Just 16% of residents in Gadsden have a bachelor’s degree. And nearly 40 years after the creation of CEDO, residents of Gadsden County still struggle to find affordable housing, making it difficult to attract new families to the area.
Like much of the Deep South, Gadsden County operated a segregated school system until the fall of Jim Crow and the 1954 Brown decision. Prior to Brown, there were two school systems in Gadsden County: one for whites and a collection of semi-autonomous community schools for blacks. White landowners controlled the schools for black children and, as a result, black students were forced to divide their time between school and work in local tobacco fields.
After Brown, Gadsden County struggled to integrate its schools. The Gadsden County School district became a unified school district in 1970. As with many other Southern school districts, white families in Gadsden County resisted integration and pursued private school options instead. Between 1968 and 1972, the white population in Gadsden County public schools diminished, while the white populations increased at private institutions like North Florida Christian School in Tallahassee, Robert F. Munroe Day School in Quincy, and Tallavana Christian School in nearby Havana.
Today, Gadsden County Public Schools is a majority African-American school district that serves a large population of low-income students.
Percent of Students by Race/Ethnicity
Percent of Students by Subgroup
Academically, Gadsden County Public Schools consistently ranks near the bottom of Florida’s 67 county school districts. Between 2009 and 2018, Gadsden County consistently received either a C or D rating from the state. In 2019, just 66% of the district’s seniors graduated.
Recent changes at both the state and local level have affected the school district. At the state level, former Governor Rick Scott signed HB 7029 into law in 2016. This law allows parents to send their children to any public school in the state as long as there is room. This means families are no longer constrained by district or neighborhood boundaries when enrolling their children in school. For parents in Gadsden County, this new legislation presented an opportunity to send their children to higher-performing schools in neighboring counties. Leon County, for example, is a relatively short 25-mile drive down the road, and boasts schools with A and B ratings, making it an attractive option for many Gadsden County families. For Gadsden County Public Schools, however, this legislation resulted in further declines in enrollment.
At the same time, as a result of ongoing enrollment decline, Gadsden County Superintendent Roger Milton made the decision to close or consolidate several of the county’s schools. His plan included closing two elementary schools, merging two other elementary schools, and merging the county’s two high schools into one. All of these changes were implemented beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
The result of years of poor academic results, ongoing enrollment losses, and the much-maligned closure and consolidation of district schools has left many of Gadsden County’s families searching for options. Crossroad, both because it is located within Gadsden County and because of its consistently high academic outcomes, is an attractive one. According to Quincy’s mayor, Angela Sapp, “Crossroad gives parents an opportunity to have a school that is successful that’s not in Tallahassee.”
In its early years, Crossroad’s test scores trailed both the state and county. Since 2006, however, Crossroad’s academic outcomes have surpassed state and county averages. As of the 2018-19 school year, 61% of Crossroad’s students were proficient or higher in math, compared to 47% in Gadsden County and 60% in the state. In reading, 63% of Crossroad’s students were proficient or higher, compared to 38% and 57% in the district and state, respectively. The percent of Crossroad’s economically disadvantaged students and English language learners that pass the reading and math assessments also surpasses district and statewide rates for students in those subgroups. Crossroad does have a notable achievement gap between black and Hispanic students in math, however, at 22 percentage points. This is larger than the black-Hispanic gap in both Gadsden County and at the state level (11 and 5 percentage points, respectively). In ELA, however, Crossroad’s black-Hispanic gap is smaller than either the district or state (3 percentage points compared to 6 and 16 points, respectively).
Percent of Students Scoring Proficient or Higher in Math, by Subgroup
Percent of Students Scoring Proficient or Higher in ELA, by Subgroup
While the gap in math achievement between black and Hispanic students is a point of focus for Crossroad moving forward, students in both subgroups and overall outperform their peers at the district and state levels. Moreover, 90 percent of Crossroad’s seniors graduated in 2019, compared to just 66 percent of the district’s seniors. Leaders, staff, parents, and community members suggest that Crossroad’s success is shaped by the four core elements of its model:
Rigorous academic and behavioral expectations
College and career focus
Consistent parental engagement
School staff members, parents, board members, and community leaders indicate that these elements have helped Crossroad develop a strong program that supports all of its students in achieving academic success.
1. Rigorous academic and behavioral expectations
When asked why Crossroad is so successful, staff, students, and community members commonly respond, “Oh, it’s Ms. Forehand. We know she doesn’t play.” What community members are expressing is that Forehand, the school’s founder, set incredibly high expectations around academics and discipline. She refused to accept anything less than excellence, and this culture continues today under the leadership of her son, Kevin Forehand.
School staff are laser-focused on academic success. Teachers and administrators work together to select a core curriculum for each subject area. The teachers stick closely to this curriculum to ensure vertical alignment between grade levels, though they do have some professional freedom to make adjustments or add materials to meet the needs and interests of their students. Teachers indicate that the school’s curricular materials are all designed and implemented to push students to meet high expectations and excel on statewide assessments.
This includes substantial work to differentiate lessons based on student need. As one teacher explained, “I think the way that we approach teaching here is good for all the children that we serve because we differentiate our instruction. We meet students on their level versus trying to make it one-size-fits-all.”
Teachers applaud the school’s high academic expectations. “I think it’s really helpful for me and for the students that the expectations are so high. Because if you’re not challenged at work, I feel like you’re not happy. But I’m happy, because I’m constantly having to figure out how could I be the best me I can be every day.”
Because of the focus on academic outcomes, teachers, too, are held to high performance expectations. According to Kevin Forehand, “We give teachers here one year of a ‘needs improvement’ rating. If we don’t see any improvement, then we try and find a better fit for them elsewhere.”
In addition to high academic expectations, both students and staff are held to high behavioral expectations. This begins with how they dress for school or work each day. Students wear a uniform that is strictly enforced: “Students know that if they come to school out of uniform we’re going to make them change,” explained Kevin Forehand. Teachers, too, are required to wear school colors each day: black, purple, and white. Many wear shirts embroidered with Crossroad’s name and mascot; others wear “normal” clothes that match the school colors. But the dress code requirements for staff helps set and enforce the dress code expectations for students.
Parents are heavily involved in the day-to-day happenings at Crossroad — another core element of the school’s model discussed in greater detail below. This helps develop and maintain strong home-school relationships and, subsequently, keeps some misbehavior at bay. Teachers don’t hesitate to contact parents when there is an issue (or to share something positive), and students know this. Kevin Forehand explained, “The reason we have such high expectations for student behavior is because we want our school to feel like a real alternative. This culture of high expectations, polite behavior, and uniforms was embedded in our school culture from the beginning. That’s not the case in the district.” Parents and teachers often use similar language to describe the culture of high expectations, explaining that staff “are very strict” and “enforce all the rules.” One parent noted, “The expectations are high compared to other schools we’ve been to, which creates a structure and provides a better and safer learning environment for students.”
2. College and career focus
Crossroad staff strive to create an environment where college is a viable option for their students post-graduation. As one teacher explained, “So few of our students grow up in an environment that tells them that they are going to college or that there is a future beyond high school graduation, especially in Gadsden County. We offer that environment.”
The school embeds a focus on business throughout its curriculum, in order to prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century. Middle school students, for example, take a series of business technology courses in which they become certified in the full suite of Microsoft products. They’ve also created a strong college-going culture. The school’s walls are covered with flags and posters representing colleges and universities from around the country in an effort to create an environment where going to college is the norm. Each year, teachers take high school students on a tour of colleges located outside of Florida.
Because nearly two-thirds of Crossroad’s students are black, as are the vast majority of its teachers and administrators, the school places a great deal of emphasis on the many high-quality Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) available to students. Banners representing HBCUs are prominently featured throughout the school. And last year, teachers took high schoolers to visit the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of four HBCUs all located in downtown Atlanta.
Crossroad has also developed a strong relationship with Florida A&M University (FAMU), a local HBCU located just 21 miles from Crossroad. It’s also the alma mater of Kevin Forehand and a number of other school staff members. The relationship between Crossroad and FAMU directly benefits Crossroad’s high schoolers as they matriculate to college. Crossroad’s seniors are required to apply to at least three colleges before graduation, one of which must be FAMU. In exchange, FAMU staff assist Crossroad students in writing their college essays.
In addition to a focus on traditional four-year institutions, Crossroad has a dual enrollment program with Gadsden Technical Institute. This program offers certifications in career and technical education and STEM fields including automotive service, welding, pharmacy technician, and carpentry. Quincy Mayor Angela Sapp, who also serves as the CTE coordinator for Gadsden Tech, says that students from Crossroad start certification programs as early as the 10th grade, and usually go on to graduate high school with an industry-recognized certification.
The work that Crossroad staff members do to prepare their students for college and career is widely recognized in the community. As one parent noted, “Anyone that goes to Crossroad, they’re going to be ready for the world.” And the results support this assertion. School staff report that all graduates are on one of three pathways when they leave Crossroad: 1) they’ve been accepted to a two- or four-year postsecondary institution; 2) they’re enrolled in the armed forces; or 3) they’re employed in a trade that they studied during high school.
3. Consistent parental engagement
Ongoing engagement with the school is an expectation for all parents who have children attending Crossroad. Parents serve on the board, volunteer in classrooms, lead fundraisers, chaperone trips, and help students develop strong study habits. This high level of parental involvement is driven by a contract that the school requires every parent to sign upon enrollment. This contract has been a core component of the school’s model since day one, and is designed to hold parents accountable to certain expectations throughout the year. The contract requires parents to volunteer a minimum number of hours at school, study with their child for a minimum number of hours per week, and support the school’s extracurricular activities by volunteering and supporting school fundraisers.
Parents say they like the contract, as it clearly spells out what the school wants and expects from them. It also ensures that all parents are involved in aspects of the school’s operations, rather than relying on a few consistent volunteers. One benefit of the contract is that it ensures all adults in a child’s life — parents, teachers, administrators — are on the same page for how to support that child. One parent expressed it this way: “I like the contract because it shows that my child’s education is a team effort.” A school administrator offered a similar thought: “In some districts or in urban schools, parents drop kids off in the morning and expect the school to do the rest. That’s not our model.”
Teachers see value in the contract, too, in particular how it ensures they have ongoing engagement with their students’ families. One teacher explained, “Parent participation has been the most lifesaving thing because if they want to know about their kid’s progress, they don’t wait for report cards. They are actively involved. They show up at meetings, they’re always here for conferences. They volunteer.”
While effective at increasing parental participation and involvement, contracts like the one in place at Crossroad can act as a barrier for some parents who, for any number of reasons, can’t commit to this kind of time at school or at home. In this case, the parent contract has contributed to a perception in the community that Crossroad is elitist, exclusive, and that it chooses its students. One community leader noted, “Crossroad is very selective about the kind of students it accepts.” In reality, Crossroad is a public charter school that is required to accept any student up to its cap. But the high academic outcomes it achieves with its students, especially compared to the district, coupled with potential barriers like the parent contract, have led some to suspect that Crossroad isn’t truly an option for all of Gadsden County’s families.
4. Financial stability
Unlike many charter schools, Crossroad has not had any major financial hurdles to overcome. This is due, in large part, to the school’s parent company, CEDO (the nonprofit economic development corporation founded by Millie Forehand). During Crossroad’s first 10 years, it operated out of the common building of one of CEDO’s subsidiary housing complexes. The school paid the cost of utilities for the space, but it didn’t have to pay rent. Without a monthly rent or mortgage payment, CEDO and Crossroad’s board and staff focused on building the program, hiring qualified staff, and investing in high-quality curriculum development. They also saved a ton of money.
These savings have enabled Crossroad to continue to expand to meet growing community demand. When Crossroad’s enrollment got to the point that it outgrew the space in the CEDO facility, school leadership worked with CEDO and its board to purchase land and built a new facility. It has made several improvements and additions to that facility over the years to accommodate its enrollment and programmatic growth.
Kerwyn Jones-Wilson, who serves as treasurer for CEDO and is the parent coordinator for Crossroad, says that the school’s healthy financial status has allowed the board to make several other improvements in recent years. In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, the board has prioritized new school security features like fencing, protective glass in the school’s lobby, and a video monitoring system. And while Crossroad is reaching capacity in its current facility, they’re in the process of adding onto the building to accommodate a larger enrollment. So far, the board has helped the school purchase and refurbish four portable units that currently serve as the high school wing. Crossroad administrators have plans to purchase more portables in the near future to accommodate the school’s growing high school program. Jones-Wilson says that the board has purchased additional property adjacent to the school in preparation for a new football field and a gym. There are also plans in the works to open satellite PreK campuses in the community to increase PreK enrollment.
The decade that Crossroad spent operating out of its management company’s building rent-free has put Crossroad on very solid financial footing. As a result, Crossroad’s leaders have been able to invest in other things, including school expansion, teacher compensation, and a robust set of extracurricular offerings.
For more than two decades, Crossroad has filled a void in a community with an underperforming school district. Its strong academic outcomes and financial stability have enabled it to expand over the years to meet growing community demand. But despite its success, Crossroad leaders face two key challenges.
1. Staff and teacher recruitment
Teachers, staff, and parents at Crossroad all admit that Gadsden County lives in the shadow of neighboring Leon County, home to the state capital of Tallahassee. Leon County’s school system is larger, closer to a metropolitan area, offers higher-quality options, and pays its teachers higher salaries. Being in direct competition with Leon County makes it difficult for Gadsden County’s schools to recruit top-notch talent.
This largely holds true for Crossroad, as well. Though the school has had consistent leadership between Millie Forehand and then her son, Kevin Forehand, it has struggled to find and keep talent in the classrooms. One major reason for this is that Crossroad’s teachers make less than their peers in either Gadsden County or Leon County schools. One teacher noted that she could “go to the district or to Leon County and easily make $10,000-$20,000 more than I’m making now.”
To help close some of this gap, Crossroad’s board offers teachers a strong benefits package that includes a health plan that costs less than $50 per month (substantially less than that offered by the district), preferential lottery selection for students of faculty, and additional days off for personal activities. CEDO and the local Chamber of Commerce are also working together to address the community’s affordable housing challenge. They’re looking into the possibility of building housing that they can offer to teachers at a discounted rate, in hopes that an attractive benefits package plus housing options will help recruit and retain talent despite lower salaries.
In addition to lower salaries, Crossroad’s rigorous academic model and demanding schedule can make it difficult for staff to stay there long-term. As one teacher put it, “Mr. Forehand has very high expectations and expects you to give 110% every day.” Teachers at Crossroad are expected to communicate with parents on a regular basis and lead extracurricular activities in addition to full teaching schedules. At the secondary level, content teachers teach the same subject in grades 9 through 12, meaning they have multiple grade levels to prep for every day. One teacher noted, “Sometimes when you’re working here you have to make a decision between your personal life and doing more work for school. That’s a tough call sometimes.” Sustainability and work-life balance are challenges for Crossroad’s teachers.
The school has also experienced high rates of teacher turnover. Forehand says that the school’s attrition rate was as high as 50% ten years ago, but is much lower now — around 12% annually. He credits the improvement to stable leadership, most notably at the administrative level, as many administrators have been with Crossroad at least eight years. There’s also a core group of teachers who have been at Crossroad for more than five years now, which has built some consistency and camaraderie among the staff.
Forehand leans on the relationship with his alma mater, FAMU, to help with his recruitment efforts. FAMU supports him in recruiting teachers either directly out of their undergraduate programs or out of the school of education. And while retention has improved in recent years, both recruitment and retention are likely to be challenges with which Crossroad’s leaders will continue to contend.
2. Authorizer relationship
Crossroad has weathered a tough relationship with its authorizer, the Gadsden County Public School Board. Though it was quite contentious early on, things have thankfully improved and today, the two entities share a solid working relationship.
Under Florida’s 1996 charter school law, local school districts were the only entities that could authorize charter schools. So, when Millie Forehand set out to turn her small diversion program into a charter school, the Gadsden County Public School Board was the only option. But the district was in the midst of some real challenges. Enrollment had been declining significantly over a long period of time, and the system’s performance was persistently poor. The prospect of another school opening in the community posed a real threat to the district. Forehand recalls significant pushback from district leaders who feared that the new school would pull both resources and students from the district, further exacerbating their challenges. But the school board opted to authorize the charter school, in large part because it served some of the highest-need students who had struggled in the district’s schools.
The tense relationship meant negotiating with the school district was incredibly tough. Forehand recalls early conflicts over finances, most notably around the administrative fee that the district took from Crossroad and over the costs for food and transportation services.
As a charter school, Crossroad receives money from the state and federal governments to help supplement the cost to feed and transport students. The money is supposed to go to the school providing the services. Forehand recalls discussion between the district and CEDO, the school’s parent company, over who should receive those funds. In the end, she thought the best option was to allow the district to keep all of the money that Crossroad received for food and transportation as long as the district provided those services to Crossroad’s students. This arrangement is still in place today. Though it still remains unclear how much money goes directly to the district for these services, both Millie Forehand and Kevin Forehand say the tradeoff is worth it for the convenience of having the district provide both transportation and food service to Crossroad’s families.
Enough time has elapsed that the tension between the district and Crossroad has softened. Today, the two entities work together to serve Gadsden County’s students to the best of their abilities.
“We want to make a difference, to inspire both staff and students, and to do better than what the district did,” says Millie Forehand when asked what she hopes will be the legacy of Crossroad. Thus far, she’s succeeding. As Gadsden County Public Schools continues to reckon with declining enrollment in a county with a sluggish economy, Crossroad has a waitlist representing hundreds of families across the county who are seeking the high-quality education it has to offer. The future looks bright for Crossroad. It has plans to continue to expand its PreK and high school programs, add a gym, and build a football field — all as part of its mission to support Gadsden County’s young people in achieving strong academic and personal outcomes.