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Choice plan may be a challenge

Parents soon will get a choice about where to send their children to school, but how many choose to leave their own neighborhoods?

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

NEW TAMPA -- They are, in some cases, nationally recognized Blue Ribbon schools. They attract the best and the brightest: The county 2001 Teacher of the Year took a transfer this year to brand-new Freedom High School.

With such excellent schools right here in New Tampa, why travel?

That's one of the challenges the Hillsborough County school district faces as it prepares to roll out its voluntary desegregation plan.

Starting in 2004, with sign-up beginning next year, families will be offered an array of choices to replace the mandatory busing of decades past. Special schools and courses will be created to lure suburban children to more racially diverse schools.

But it is not clear how many families will opt for Hillsborough's voluntary "choice" program.

"This district is predicting that no more than 28 percent of our students will opt for choice," said Bill Person, the district's director of pupil administrative services.

"As a parent you're going to decide what is the right atmosphere for your child. ... We're going to give you a menu," he told about 60 parents, principals and community members attending a New Tampa Community Council education forum last week at Freedom High and Liberty Middle School's joint campus.

Person acknowledged geography and New Tampa's brand-new schools could work against the success of the choice program here.

"No one wants a one-race school," he said. But it will be natural for some families who previously bused their kids to New Tampa to opt for new schools and upgraded attractor programs closer to home. Likewise, New Tampa students may want to stay at their neighborhood schools.

The district is relying on a menu of attractive education programs at schools in zoned urban areas to boost diversity in seven Hillsborough County regions.

"Piggy-backing" on the success of magnet programs, which are federally funded and enable children to attend schools countywide, district officials have created attractor schools. The concept allows enrollment anywhere in their region to achieve diversity.

In New Tampa, for example, students could elect to transfer from Tampa Palms Elementary to Mort Elementary. They could also choose among Wharton, Freedom and Gaither high schools.

Transportation will be provided in many cases. Up to 100 buses districtwide are being purchased for choice, said Person.

Parents able to drive their children could conceivably enroll them anywhere in the county, he added.

And as preparations are made for choice, the district is also planning to build at least three new schools in New Tampa's suburbs during the next few years. Another federally funded magnet school is planned at 22nd and Fletcher avenues in the University of South Florida area.

-For information on choice or school boundaries contact the school district at 272-4091.

Choice Schools for Region and Zone 3 (and their attractor programs, if offered) are: Elementary

Cahoon Elementary -- Communication technology and extended day care

Chiles Elementary

Clark Elementary

Claywell Elementary -- Communication technology and extended day care

Essrig Elementary -- Computer technology and extended day care

Hunter's Green Elementary -- Physical activity and extended day care

Lutz Elementary -- Communication technology and extended day care

Maniscalco Elementary -- Communication technology and extended day care

Miles Elementary -- Fine arts and extended day care

Mort Elementary -- Fine arts and extended day care

Pride Elementary

Shaw Elementary -- Economics and extended day care

Tampa Palms Elementary

Witter Elementary -- Math technology and extended day care

Heritage Elementary (2003)

Elementary O (2003) -- (A federally funded magnet school that draws countywide instead of solely from region 3) Proposed offerings are math, science and visual arts

Elementary W (2004)


Benito Middle School

Buchanan Middle School

Hill Middle School

Liberty Middle School

Van Buren Middle School -- Math, science technology and after school program

Middle OO (2004)


Freedom High School

Gaither High School

Wharton High School

Tampa Bay Tech

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