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Schools

NAACP: Keep students near home

If older Clemmie Ross James students have to go to another school, the group says, they need first choice in their own neighborhoods.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published March 9, 2006


TAMPA - As the School Board decides whether to move middle grades out of Clemmie Ross James K-8 School, the local NAACP branch has a simple request: Don't bus any displaced sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders far from home.

If the board transforms James back into a traditional elementary as proposed, the organization would prefer to see the children assigned to the middle schools nearest their inner city neighborhoods.

"The schools they are talking about sending the kids to are on the other end of the county," NAACP local secretary Pat Spencer said Wednesday.

District officials have recommended sending sixth- through eighth-graders from James to the suburbs in the northwest and southeast. They also could apply for entry into the magnet schools closest to their homes, according to the proposals.

Brenda James, chairwoman of the NAACP local education committee, said the organization supports changing James back to an elementary. But she suggested that the displaced students deserve special middle school consideration rather than the chance to enter a lottery for admission to their neighborhood school.

"Even though it's a magnet, there can also be a regular middle school there," Jordan said of Ferrell, Franklin, Williams and Young middle schools. "However they see fit, that's reasonable to do."

Of the four, only Franklin has an attendance zone. The rest are pure magnets, which are schools that offer special programs to draw students from a wide geographic area with the aim of keeping the school racially diverse by choice.

Past proposals to let some students get around the magnet school application process have met anger from parents whose children went through the process or sat on waiting lists to get in. But some School Board members indicated a willingness Wednesday to rethink the program in light of the district's larger school choice system.

"The reality is, for a very long time, we have bused little black children all over the place," board member Candy Olson said. "I think parents have a right to say, "I'm less concerned about diversity than I am about having my children in school near where I live."'

Olson said she did not want to see magnet schools diluted, because they serve several valuable goals including promotion of student diversity and provision of specialty curriculum to students with specific interests.

But magnets should factor into the conversation about how to fill all district seats to ease crowding concerns, she said. All four of the schools the NAACP mentioned as possible assignments for the James middle school students have hundreds of available seats, according to district enrollment records.

Board members Susan Valdes and Jennifer Faliero agreed that all parents deserve to have real school choices, including in their neighborhoods. Faliero called the NAACP soon after receiving its letter to express her support for its position.

"Magnets are public schools," Valdes said. "All of this is really on the table."

The school district has several magnet schools that also have neighborhood attendance zones, including Sligh, Dowdell and Franklin middle schools. When a campus is fully a magnet, however, all students must apply for admission, regardless of where they live, said Susan King, who oversees the program.

When they live in the immediate vicinity of a school, though, children may be given a higher priority for admission than others, King said.

Such was the case when the district converted Booker T. Washington K-8 back to an elementary school last year. The Booker T. Washington middle school students were given "enhanced priority" to choose among seven magnet schools, based on their interest, King said.

"In most cases they were placed where they wanted to be," she said.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has tagged James K-8 as one of three schools that needs immediate relief for its crowding. Some parents and district staff also have raised concerns that the campus, built as an elementary school, is not suited for the middle grades.

If the conversion occurs, Hillsborough County would have only two K-8 schools remaining.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or solochek@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 02:45:12]


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