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    Friday's last chance for choosing school

    By KELLY RYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 8, 2002

    Last call.

    This Friday is the choice application deadline. All students who want to attend Pinellas schools in 2003-04 must fill out a declaration of intent or a choice application.

    Repeat: ALL STUDENTS.

    All students must apply, even if they want to keep their current schools.

    All students who will start kindergarten next fall must apply.

    All students who are leaving private schools or home schools must apply.

    Make no mistake: If you miss this Friday's deadline, there's no second chance. You simply won't be allowed to choose a school for your child for next fall. Instead, the district will choose for your child after all other students are placed.

    Keep in mind that schools must be racially balanced for four more years. If you don't choose and the district chooses for you, your child could end up in a school where he helps maintain that balance. And that could be a school miles away, outside your immediate neighborhood.

    What do you need to do to apply?

    If you are a current student and have a declaration of intent form, you can still fill it out and drop it in the mail. Do that with this warning: It must be received by the district by Dec. 13. The safest bet is to drop it off in person at a Family Education and Information Center.

    If you will be new to Pinellas schools in fall 2003, you must visit one of the family centers. The St. Petersburg center (552-1595) is at 3420 Eighth Ave. S. The Clearwater center (298-2858) is at 1101 Marshall St.

    Both centers will be open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    New students should bring proof of residence, the child's original birth certificate and the child's Social Security number. If the child is entering grades 1-12, also bring a recent report card.

    Also bring patience.

    The family centers are packed. Think grocery the day before Thanksgiving. Mall the Saturday before Christmas. Airport during spring break.

    Remember that thousands of students still have to apply and have lots of questions.

    The district has brought in eight temporary workers to help handle the load. But there are only so many computers and so many hands.

    Here's some friendly advice from choice communications coordinator Andrea Zahn, who says this might make the experience less painful.

    -- Bring all of the paperwork listed above so the application can be finished in a single visit.

    -- Research schools before arriving at the family center.

    Schools are holding tours up until the deadline. Two new schools in St. Petersburg, Sanderlin Elementary and Jamerson Elementary, are holding discovery nights, too. Sanderlin's is 7 p.m. Tuesday at 2350 22nd Ave. S. Jamerson's is 7 p.m. Wednesday at 1200 37th St. S.

    If you can't make a tour, brochures are available online at www.pinellas.k12.fl.us. Also online are the rules of choice and maps to help you determine your attendance area.

    -- Decide which schools you will choose (and in what order) before arriving at the family center.

    Don't say you weren't warned.

    * * *

    Here are some odds and ends:

    -- If your child is new to the district and has accepted a seat at a magnet program, fundamental school or high school career academy, he or she must still register with the district before Friday. To do that, visit a family center and bring the personal papers listed above, as well as the student's invitation letter.

    -- Early this week, families who have made choices since Nov. 15 or been placed in magnet programs will receive new letters from the district confirming their choices. This letter replaces earlier letters the district sent. If anything in the letter is wrong, call a family center before Dec. 13.

    -- Already turned in an application or declaration of intent and want to make a change? Choice change forms are available on the district's Web site, www.pinellas.k12.fl.us. Simply download the form and return it to a family center by Friday. (Tired of hearing that?)

    -- If you're on a waiting list for a countywide program, you must select a school in your attendance area as a backup. Otherwise, the district will assign your child to a school.

    * * *

    So, now you want to know when you'll find out your child's school placement for next fall.

    All students who picked grandfathering -- that is to stay where they are -- automatically get it. So, if that's your choice, your child already has been assigned to his same school.

    If you've made a choice, you have some waiting to do.

    The district sometimes says letters will be mailed in January. Sometimes, it's February.

    The latest word is, well, it'll definitely be one or the other. I'll keep you posted.

    -- Send questions about choice to Kelly Ryan Gilmer, and please indicate whether your name can be used in the column. E-mail ryan@sptimes.com. Write to St. Petersburg Times newsroom, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or fax (727) 893-8675.

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