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There's been a change of plans.
District officials had planned to do a second neighborhood canvassing event to spread the word about choice to areas where participation rates are low. Now, they've decided to do something else instead.
On Dec. 7, six schools will open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to collect choice applications and answer questions. Communications coordinator Andrea Zahn said the district wants to make choice as convenient as possible.
Why not take choice on the road again?
Zahn said the schools have lists of current students who haven't participated. They are calling students and visiting their homes. So, she said, there was no need to duplicate efforts.
The other group the district is trying to reach is new students, particularly those entering kindergarten. But officials don't know where they live, so Zahn said it would be hard to go to homes and hope to find those families.
The schools that will be open Dec. 7 are:
Sutherland Elementary, 3150 Belcher Road in Palm Harbor, 724-1466.
Countryside High, 3000 State Road 580 in Clearwater, 725-7956.
Clearwater Intermediate, 1220 Palmetto St. in Clearwater, 298-1616.
Ridgecrest Elementary, 1901 119th St. N in Largo, 588-3580.
Blanton Elementary, 6400 54th Ave. N in St. Petersburg, 547-7820.
Sanderlin Elementary, 2350 22nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg, 893-2643.
So are school principals.
The school district is frantically trying to reach all of its current students, all 103,000, to get them to participate in the choice plan. The latest count showed around 24,000 students still haven't completed paperwork.
So this fall, superintendent Howard Hinesley started keeping score.
The district generated a list of schools and figured out which ones had the highest return rate for choice applications. As the list was updated every couple of weeks, Hinesley studied the list again.
He decided to reward schools whose students have high poverty rates but are still getting their applications done. He rewarded schools for making the most gains between the first report and the second. He looked at attendance areas and rewarded schools doing the best in each area.
For prizes, Hinesley sought contributions from local businesses.
So far, he's given out 58 $25 gift certificates to Outback Steakhouse. The grand prize, come December, will be a $500 gift certificate to Dillard's.
Is this really making principals work harder to get their students to participate?
Hinesley said it's created some friendly competition. And he sees that they're working hard. Schools are putting notices on their marquees, calling hundreds of students and sending letters home. Choice reminders are in school newsletters.
He knows it isn't realistic to expect that every single student will apply by Dec. 13. But he said it's not for lack of trying.
"I'm comfortable that we've done the best we could," Hinesley said.
Special attendance permit applications, or SAPs, are now available in the Family Education and Information Centers. The St. Petersburg center is at 3420 Eighth Ave. S, and the Clearwater center is at 1101 Marshall St.
Permits can only be used for students who want to attend a school in another attendance area. That means they are only available for elementary and middle school students; high school students can choose any high school in the county already.
The permit applications won't be considered until early next year, after the district's computer has processed all of the choice applications. Since SAPs are not guaranteed, you must also apply to a school in your attendance area as a backup. Those applications must be turned in by Dec. 13.
DEC. 13: This is the final deadline for returning all choice applications and declarations of intent. Choice applications must be returned in person to a Family Education and Information Center. Declarations can be mailed, but the district must receive them by this date.
-- Send questions about choice to Kelly Ryan Gilmer, and please indicate whether your name can be used in the column. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to St. Petersburg Times newsroom, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or fax (727) 893-8675.