School gets nod from state to tutor others

Pasco's top school wants to help kids from lower-performing schools.

Published May 15, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - The only school in Pasco County to make adequate yearly progress under federal guidelines last year is now seeking to provide tutoring to students from high-poverty schools that didn't fare so well.

And it might hire teachers from those same schools to get the job done.

Sand Pine Elementary School is one of 30 entities, including private companies, that have won state approval to offer extra instruction to children who attend elementary schools that have not met achievement targets for three years or more.

The School Board, which meets today, must decide whether to let the school proceed. Most board members said they were not familiar with the proposal.

Chairwoman Marge Whaley made some calls before saying she thought the idea had merit. For-profit tutoring providers are in it for the money, Whaley said, but the district wouldn't be.

"Our goal would be to educate the kids, " she said. "I am excited about it."

But also leery, she added, noting that teachers are tired at the end of the day. Many of them have family obligations, too.

"We'll see how it will work out, " Whaley said.

It's uncommon, though not unheard of, for individual schools to provide this type of tutoring. Several school districts, especially larger ones like Hillsborough County, have sought to run their own programs - despite not having made adequate progress as a whole - hoping to maintain quality, ensure adequate numbers of tutors and keep some of the federal money in-house.

But because they had not made adequate progress as districts, they have met with limited success, only lately winning permission to move ahead.

Elena Garcia, who oversees federal programs for low-income students in Pasco, said the district mainly wants to best serve students with a lower-cost option than the private firms provide.

"It has to do with keeping options open for students, " Garcia explained. "We have no control of the quality of the tutoring services provided by the private tutoring companies."

The private companies charge the district as much as $90 an hour for the tutoring, she added, while the Sand Pine program would cost just $20 per hour. What's more, she said, Sand Pine will provide a curriculum known to be successful, with teachers who have worked with it before.

Garcia did not have any concerns about Sand Pine hiring teachers from the same low-performing schools where some of the students might come from. Federal law allows it and, she noted, the private providers do the same thing.

If the board moves ahead with the Sand Pine proposal, the school would offer tutoring on its campus before and after classes on weekdays. Children would be assigned to groups of no more than five per teacher, two or three times a week.

They would have to find their own way to and from the school, which is close to the intersection of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and County Line Road. Parents of children who qualify for the tutoring services should get notices from the district of upcoming "provider fairs" where they can learn about their tutoring choices.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.