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    Turnout is light at choice centers

    School officials aren't yet fielding a rush of questions on the school choice plan, but they know more will come.

    By KELLY RYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 2, 2002

    Pinellas school officials know that parents have plenty of questions about the new choice plan.

    On Monday, only a few were asked and answered.

    Two Family Education and Information Centers opened to light crowds, with just a combined 30 families stopping by when the doors closed for the day. But school officials were not surprised.

    "The change will not register until it actually affects their families," said Kathy Walker, the director of pupil assignment. "People aren't thinking one year down the road."

    That will have to change fast.

    The choice plan begins in 2003-2004, but parents make their choices this fall. The applications for most schools will be available Sept. 16 and due Dec. 13. Applications for countywide magnet and fundamental schools will be due sometime in October.

    The centers were opened in the heat of summer, during a busy vacation week, to give parents ample time to research their options. Each center features school brochures, application timelines and background information on the choice plan.

    "I'm going to do my homework," said parent Syquita Thompson, whose elementary-age son is forced to ride a bus from St. Petersburg to Seminole. She wanted to get an early start researching Maximo, Campbell Park and Gulfport elementary schools, and she left the center gripping a stack of brochures.

    On Monday, most of the questions were basic. Some parents wanted to confirm that their children will be grandfathered into their zoned elementary, middle and high schools. Others couldn't remember the deadline for turning in applications. Others stocked up on brochures so they can talk over options with their kids.

    Some wanted to know more about the application process for magnet and fundamental schools; some of those questions couldn't be answered because the process is still being developed.

    Eve Julian was one of five parents to visit the Clearwater center. Four years ago, she bought a house "a rock's throw" from Plumb Elementary so her son Alexander could start kindergarten there in fall 2003.

    Julian wanted to pick up an application, but she was disappointed. The applications won't be ready until fall, so she'll have to visit the center again. She also was disappointed that the family's proximity to Plumb doesn't guarantee Alexander a spot at Plumb, although it does help his chances.

    "That's my 100 percent, only choice," Julian said.

    This summer, the centers will be open Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During the fall, the hours will change and extend into some evenings. One center is at PTEC-St. Petersburg, 3420 Eighth Ave. S. The second center is at the old Robinson Challenge school, 1101 Marshall St. in Clearwater.

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