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Our Schools

Program brings school rivalries to mall's floor

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published August 25, 2006


They don't have football teams or basketball teams. The Battle of the Books and Math Bowl are months away. Yet several area schools have found a way to pump up their rivalries in the first month of classes. They're doing it at the mall.

Westfield Citrus Park has put up a $10,000 grand prize for the school that collects the most points in its Cash for Class contest, which runs through Sept. 15.

People can get points by showing their library card and turning in a movie ticket stub, but mainly by spending at the mall.

One dollar equals one point, except on double Monday. To make sure smaller schools have a chance, the mall figures out points per student in its weekly tally.

Westfield Brandon created the program a year ago. The Citrus Park and Sarasota malls joined this summer.

"Everyone is always saying the schools don't have enough money," Citrus Park mall spokeswoman Mary Ellen Norton says. "It's a way to keep the schools competitive."

That's for sure. Area PTAs have sent home urgent e-mails impressing upon parents how easy it is to help their schools win free cash.

Bryant Elementary has asked parents to send in any receipts from mall stores dating back to July 15. PTA volunteers will bring them to the mall for points.

"We are currently in fourth place," the letter announced, "within striking distance, behind Deer Park, Citrus Park, and a private school."

Citrus Park Elementary, which needs extra money to pay for a playground cover, also is aggressively pushing for participation.

"I think it's a great thing because they're giving back to the community," says Ileen Barman, PTA vice president. She figured the school, which sits in the mall's back yard, has an edge.

"I think you're going to go to the mall anyway," Barman says. "It's just what you're doing, and you might as well get something for it."

Second prize is $5,000, and third prize is $2,500.

All right, you're saying. What about families who cannot afford pillows at Macy's or slacks at Dillards? What about schools with Wal-Mart-budget parents? They're covered, Norton says. Know those coins people throw in the mall fountains? They're available to schools upon request. First-come, first-served.

* * *

If you care about where your child attends school - and from what we've seen in past months, what parent doesn't - here's the list you've been waiting for: The 23 schools that most concern the school district's capacity advisory council.

They are Chiles, DeSoto, Hunter's Green, Jackson, Miles, Nelson, Pizzo, Potter, Pride, Schmidt, Shaw, Valrico and Witter elementary schools; Davidsen, Farnell, Marshall, Mulrennan, Tomlin and Walker middle schools; and Chamberlain, Durant, Plant City and Sickles high schools.

New attendance boundaries aren't certain. The advisory council, chaired by Westchase Elementary principal Joyce Wieland and William Thomas of the Improvement League of Plant City, is open to other ideas. Two that pop to mind, usually to be dismissed quickly, are double sessions and sending students, in shifts, 12 months a year.

But just in case, the advisory council also released its list of 20 schools with room to spare. They are B.T. Washington, Clark, Foster Academy, Heritage, James, Kenly, Kingswood, Knights, Lake Magdalene, Mabry, Riverview, Temple Terrace, Town & Country and Yates elementary schools; Mann, McLane, Pierce and Webb middle schools; and King and Leto high schools.

Have any stories about how crowding affects your family? Or any good ideas for fixing this problem? Send us an e-mail or letter.

* * *

Rebuffed in several efforts to find land for a new northwest middle school, the school district might have found its solution in its own portfolio.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia wants to build on the back end of the Citrus Park Elementary property, soon after Deer Park Elementary vacates the 43 portables sitting out there. It might be a tight squeeze, Elia acknowledges, but by sharing fields with the county parks department, the school could fit.

Other ideas, such as renovating the now demolished movie theater on Van Dyke Road at N Dale Mabry Highway, have fallen through. A land buy next to the Salvation Army headquarters on Van Dyke also foundered.

The district has turned to itself for land before. It's building a new elementary school on the Walker Middle School campus, unable to secure its preferred site less than a mile away on Gunn Highway.

That site remains subject to litigation. But the lawsuit - and therefore the school - appears to be on hold.

"We haven't gotten to mediation. We haven't been deposed," says Mindee Cobb, past president of the Keystone Civic Association, which is suing to block the school. "Nothing is happening."

* * *

Every year the state grades public schools A through F and distributes the report cards for everyone to see. What it hasn't done in the past is talk about the underlying numbers. Who made a high A on the 600-point scale? Who made a low D?

This year, the state released lists of the A schools with the highest point totals. Several Hillsborough schools made the cut.

Bevis Elementary in Lithia had the most points among all Hillsborough schools, with 525. It ranked 12th among Florida elementary schools. Also in the top 100 elementary schools were Gorrie (23rd), Pride and Mabry (tied for 35th), McKitrick (53rd), Westchase (56th), Claywell (77th) and Maniscalco (93rd).

Wilson Middle in Tampa was the highest scoring Hillsborough middle school. With 508 points, it ranked seventh statewide. Also in the top 75 were Martinez (23rd), Walker (27th), Randall (34th), Coleman (42nd), Burns (50th) and Liberty (69th).

Three county high schools made the top 50 - Plant at No. 34, Newsome at No. 45 and Sickles at No. 47. And two local "combination" schools that span traditional grade levels made the top 50 - Terrace Community Middle was ninth, and Learning Gate Community was 39th.

The state has no plans to release a list of the lowest scoring schools. A quick review finds some Hillsborough schools at the bottom, too. The worst, a now-closed Central City Elementary charter school, earned 100 points and logged in at No. 37 from the bottom among 2,849 schools. Also in the bottom 150: Just Elementary, Washington Elementary, Cahoon Elementary, Oak Park Elementary, Carl Sagan Academy and East Bay High School.

Superintendent Elia has placed these and other schools on her watch list and put together a team and an improvement plan for each.

* * *

Want to go to college? Representatives from universities and colleges all over the state and country will be out recruiting Hillsborough's finest next week at county-organized fairs. The dates and locations are:

* Monday, Sickles High School, 7950 Gunn Highway.

* Tuesday, Plant High School, 2415 S Himes Ave.

* Wednesday, Brandon High School, 1101 Victoria St.

* Thursday, Chamberlain High School, 9401 N Boulevard.

Each event begins at 6 p.m.

Staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Have ideas for future columns? Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5304.

[Last modified August 23, 2006, 12:49:18]


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