A 'choice' gamble ends
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published December 17, 2006
Three years ago, Judy Bryan took a huge leap of faith.
The mother of twin girls turned down seats in a highly regarded fundamental school and a popular magnet. She hoped her daughters would come through the unpredictable choice lottery with seats in a neighborhood school that had a math and engineering theme.
Bryan got what she wanted. The district placed the girls at Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary, a relatively new school on 37th Avenue S.
Bryan says she has never regretted turning down the highly coveted seats at the other two schools. But she still remembers the long weeks she spent waiting to find out if her gamble had paid off.
"It was stressful," she said. "I had said no to schools with known records without knowing if I would get into Jamerson."
Last week, Pinellas school officials announced a policy change that will end the kind of stress Bryan endured. Parents interested in six schools known as "attendance area magnets," including Jamerson, will be able to apply for seats at those schools during the first round of applications normally reserved for countywide magnets and fundamental schools.
Why is that important? Because in the past, parents with incoming kindergarteners who went through that first application round and were invited to one of the popular countywide programs lost the seat if they entered the second round of choice, reserved for attendance area schools.
The old system also created risks for parents with children already in the system who were interested in another school. If they took a chance and applied to a different school, including one of the six attendance area magnets, they lost the seat at their current school.
Jim Madden, the district official in charge of the choice plan, thinks the policy change will be a big improvement.
"There's a whole universe of parents out there who want special programs for their kids," Madden said. "These six schools aren't countywide magnets, but we wanted to set them apart from the other schools in the attendance area."
The six schools are, in fact, identical to the district's other magnets in every respect except one.
Because the schools were created during a time when a court order prevented the district from establishing countywide programs, they are open only to students in Attendance Area A, a region that roughly covers south Pinellas County.
They sprang to life with assistance from the same federal grants that created schools such as Perkins Elementary, John Hopkins Middle School and Lakewood High's Center for Advanced Technologies. All of the schools are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods where voluntary integration is encouraged.
The six schools could become countywide magnets next year, depending on the recommendations of a task force that is researching the choice plan, Madden said. But in the meantime, allowing parents to apply to them during the countywide application period, Jan. 15 to Feb. 3, at least will focus more attention on them, he said.
Sandra O'Bryant, principal at Maximo Elementary, called the opportunity to participate in the countywide application period "a great little bonus." Campbell Park Elementary principal Jim Steen called it "a gift."
And Denise Miller, principal at James B. Sanderlin Elementary, said the policy change could introduce parents to programs they might not otherwise have been willing to take a chance on.
"Our magnet attractors are very unique," Miller said. "I think after all the energy we've put into them, the district is encouraging parents to check us out instead of just mixing us up in the pages with everybody else."
- Because the Pinellas school district was under a federal court order prohibiting it from creating countywide magnet programs when these schools received federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grants, they became "attendance area" magnet schools, open only to children who live in the areas surrounding them.
- Because a federal court order kept the district from creating countywide magnet programs when these schools received federal grants, they became "attendance area" magnet s , open only to children who live nearby.
Magnet programs in Pinellas County
Program: Center for Advanced Technology at Lakewood High School
Grant amount: $2.5-million
Programs: Center for Advancement of the Sciences and Technology at Bay Point Elementary; Center for Advancement of the Sciences and Technology at Bay Point Middle; Center for the Arts and International Studies at Perkins Elementary
Grant amount: $5.2-million
Programs: Center for Communication and Mass Media at Melrose Elementary; Center for the Arts and Communication Studies at John Hopkins Middle School
Grant amount: $5.2-million
Programs: Campbell Park Elementary Marine Science Center;* Gulfport Elementary Montessori Academy;* Maximo Elementary Microsociety Center for Economics and Visual Arts*
Grant amount: $6.7-million
Programs: Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary Center for Mathematics and Engineering;* James B. Sanderlin Elementary Primary Years International Baccalaureate program;* Lakewood Elementary Center for Medical Sciences*
Grant amount: $6.4-million
[Last modified December 16, 2006, 21:46:48]
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