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School's woes give parents options

Because Gulfport Elementary failed to meet federal standards the past two years, parents can choose to send their children somewhere else.

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published July 30, 2003

GULFPORT - Though not his top choice, Samir Klapuh was relieved last spring to learn that under the new school choice plan, his son had been assigned to Gulfport Elementary School.

He thought the school's Montessori program would be good for 7-year-old Vanja. Besides, what choice did he have?

Last week, Klapuh learned in a letter from the school that he has another option. Because the school failed to meet federal standards the past two years, he and 400 other parents can pick another school.

The problem is, not many choices remain.

"I don't know where any of this is going to lead," said Klapuh, one of about 40 Gulfport parents who attended an informational meeting Tuesday at the school, 2014 52nd Street S.

Parents must choose from schools that still have seats in what is called "Attendance Area A," roughly the lower part of Pinellas County.

Further complicating matters, black children will not be granted a seat in a school if it would push the percentage of black students above 42 percent, the cap set by an agreement between Pinellas Schools and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

On Monday, Klapuh visited the Family Education and Information Center, where parents sign up for schools under the choice plan, and was told his son could attend Campbell Park Elementary, or another school that Klapuh said he has never heard of.

Confused, he decided to attend Tuesday's meeting to get answers.

The meeting began with an explanation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The school's failure to meet the standards of that act is the reason parents are getting the option to send their children to a "higher performing" public school.

Charlie Eubanks, Pinellas' director of grants, said the act measures how schools serve students with low English proficiency or physical or mental disabilities, as well as those from low-income backgrounds or major racial and ethnic groups.

The district is waiting to find out where Gulfport fell short, Eubanks said. Some answers are expected the first week of August.

In the meantime, parents must decide whether they will send their children elsewhere. But district officials say parents have up to 10 days into the school year to make their final decision.

During the question-and-answer period that followed Eubanks' presentation, several parents expressed concern about the status of the Montessori program and questioned the district's commitment to it.

One parent said the program was the reason he chose Gulfport for his child, in spite of the school's struggles in recent years, including an F grade on the FCAT in 2002.

Other parents were frustrated at what they perceived as a lack of student supervision in the Montessori classrooms after several teachers left the school last year.

Principal Lisa Grant said that because of budget cuts she could not guarantee that each Montessori classroom would be staffed by two teachers for the full day.

But she assured parents that she will rearrange schedules to ensure children have proper instruction. She encouraged parents to stick with the school, emphasizing the staff's dedication and commitment to the students.

Like many of the approximately 40 parents who attended the meeting, Klapuh left without a clear-cut idea of what to do.

"Too much is unknown," he said.

[Last modified July 30, 2003, 01:33:02]


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