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Dropout prevention program dismissed

PTEC will refocus on adult education. At-risk teens will be served at other schools.

Published June 22, 2007


A program to help potential dropouts earn a diploma and learn job skills has become a casualty of an overhaul of Pinellas County's technical education programs.

The program began in 1989 at the St. Petersburg and Clearwater campuses of the Pinellas Technical Education Centers to serve high school dropouts or those at risk of leaving school.

Students got help meeting graduation requirements and could enroll in a variety of technical classes. It was called the Technical Education Achievement Model program, or TEAM.

About 1, 120 students have graduated from TEAM since its inception, many of whom probably would not have finished high school, said dropout prevention administrator Dee Burns.

"A lot of kids at TEAM were the first in their family to graduate, " Burns said. "That doesn't (just) change a child. That changes a family because they go, 'People in our family can graduate from high school.' "

Teresa Stephen, whose son Edwin Meyer graduated from the Clearwater TEAM last month, said the program's end "leaves a great big hole."

"This program is so important for these kids, many who would not have graduated, and it sets up their future for them, " said Stephen, a former dropout prevention teacher.

Meyer, 18, is a whiz at math and science, Stephen said. But his writing scores were holding him back, putting him at risk of not graduating. With some special attention from TEAM teachers, he boosted his scores.

The students were referred to the TEAM program for a number of reasons, including truancy and pregnancy. They came to TEAM struggling with serious issues like abusive relationships or the loss of a parent.

Others said they had felt lost and had fallen behind in their large high schools. Teachers and parents praised the program for its small classes and individual attention.

"That's why TEAM was so successful, because (the students) knew that everybody there loved them, " Burns said.

But district officials said that over the years, TEAM students edged away from the vocational components.

"A majority of the students in that program were not taking advantage of the programs, " said David Barnes, director of workforce education.

Disbanding TEAM was a logical move as PTEC begins to renew its focus on adult education, said new chief operating officer Dennis Jauch.

"We were essentially running two small high schools on the two campuses, " he said. "... This helps focus us on postsecondary education."

Students at risk for dropping out will still be served, but at other schools, Jauch said. Some will go to Bayside High School in Clearwater, an alternative school that serves students in similar situations, or Life Skills Center Pinellas, a charter school that helps young adults make up credits.

Others will return to the high schools they came from. A teen pregnancy program at Harris/TIPS in St. Petersburg will serve some of the teen parents. PTEC will continue to offer dual enrollment to students who are interested in programs not offered at their high schools, Jauch said.

The move comes as district officials are poised to implement a plan that will create "centers of excellence" at high schools that will allow students to earn industry certifications along with their diplomas.

Burns, who was part of the original group who started the TEAM programs, said her office is restructuring its focus to include community outreach programs.

Dropout prevention specialists will work more closely with the high schools to start or expand programs for struggling students.

"It's a chance for us to move forward, " Burns said. "... We're going to use our resources wisely."

But TEAM graduate Meyer's mother questions whether discontinuing the program is really a smart move.

"In my opinion, it's contrary to what the district is trying to do, " Stephen said. "If we want to decrease dropouts, then the program should not be shut down. It should be expanded."

[Last modified June 22, 2007, 06:50:58]

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