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Can a billionaire’s private school become a model for public education in Florida?

Greene school

w/ @colleen_wright

Billionaire developer Jeff Greene is an unconventional Democrat running an unconventional campaign for Florida governor. So, naturally, his ideas on how to change Florida’s vast public education bureaucracy stem from an unconventional place.

Standing in a former West Palm Beach car dealership that he converted two years ago into a schoolhouse, Greene explains how the future of Florida’s schools lies in shrinking class sizes, replacing letter grades with detailed evaluations and adopting the latest technologies.

After all, he says, those are some of the reasons The Greene School is a model for the rest of the state.

“It’s not that difficult to make changes in education,” Greene says matter-of-factly — even though he was so underwhelmed by the state of Palm Beach County schools two years ago that he went ahead and built his own.

Dissatisfied with the public and private school options for his three sons, Greene and wife Mei Sze opened their own school in 2016, plunging millions of their own dollars into the creation of a campus for gifted kids. At the time they said they hoped it would become a beacon for young professionals pondering a move to South Florida.

Now, Greene — the latest billionaire to adopt education as a passion — hopes it will be a beacon for voters weighing his candidacy.

With families preparing to return their children to school for the year and voters deciding on a candidate to represent their party in the general election, Greene has made education a central tenet of his platform and modeled it around the brick-and-mortar of The Greene School. He’s called the school “an innovative model for what Florida public schools could be if Tallahassee made public education a priority.”

In so doing, he’s dubbed himself an “accidental educator.”

But while education is an all-consuming issue for Democratic voters and candidates, Greene’s decision to promote a private school that vets students with an IQ exam is an awkward one, considering that his own party has spent the last 20 years trying to reverse a tide of legislative bills that have eroded teacher tenure, pushed public money into for-profit management companies and steered several hundred thousand students away from traditional schools.

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