tampabay.com

Committee sees proposed school zone map

"Elementary J" is intended to relieve overcrowded schools of 1,460 kids.

By TOM MARSHALL
Published January 31, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Everything was on the table Monday - from special education to magnet schools - at the start of a months-long effort to rezone the Hernando County schools.

Well, almost everything.

Members of an advisory committee, including many of the district's principals, got their first look at a proposed map showing which families might attend the planned "Elementary J." The 2,200-student school in Spring Hill is slated to open in the fall of 2008 off Northcliffe Boulevard for kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Under the proposal, around 1,460 students would automatically be enrolled since they're living within that zone. And an undetermined number of special-needs students from outside the zone would be shifted from Deltona Elementary and West Hernando Middle schools, making the new building the district's third ESE "center" school.

But there was no talk at the meeting of another proposal being floated by School Board member Jim Malcolm to create an academy for gifted students in one wing of the building.

Malcolm, who has long urged the district to do more to challenge its most talented students, said Tuesday he's interested in developing a "K-12 seamless curriculum for gifted youngsters" and putting it under one roof.

"I'm looking at the new K-8 because it's brand-new and you can plan for such a program," he said.

"That may not be the place to put it," Malcolm added, saying there might be some opposition to putting a gifted program into what the board has frequently described as a "neighborhood school."

Two board members, John Sweeney and Chairman Pat Fagan, declined to take a position on the idea.

"I don't want to get into a situation we got into a few years ago, by caring more for special (magnet) programs than taking care of existing problems with overcrowded schools," Fagan added.

Board member Sandra Nicholson said she was open to exploring Malcolm's idea, and said there might be room at the new school even with extra special-needs students in another wing.

But member Dianne Bonfield said she opposed committing extra resources to a new gifted program.

"It's my impression we're building (the new) school because we're so overcrowded in other schools," Bonfield added. "That's the intent of the voting public, to reduce the overcrowding."

Even without Malcolm's idea, the committee will have its hands full, as changes within densely-populated Spring Hill force changes to most other school zones in the county.

Under the current plan, some schools will remain crowded even after the new school opens.

While Spring Hill Elementary's enrollment is projected to drop from around 1,038 to 887 students, Deltona Elementary might lose just 50 or so of its 1,000 students unless extra special-needs students are sent to the new school, said school services director James Knight.

Sweeney and Bonfield have asked the rezoning committee to consider drawing partial zones around the district's magnet schools to help relieve overcrowding.

But Chocachatti Elementary principal Michael Tellone said that might doom his school's arts magnet program unless neighborhood families enroll by choice.

Between now and November, the committee also plans to propose new high school zones to the School Board. But it likely won't implement those changes until 2010, when a new high school opens on U.S. 19, Knight said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.