tampabay.com

Schools to get choice funds

A $2.1-million grant will bring new programs to high-poverty schools.

By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published July 28, 2007


TAMPA -- Hillsborough schools received good news Friday: The federal government is awarding them a $2.1-million grant that could grow to $14-million over five years.

In a year, parents can expect to see new programs at more than two-dozen high-poverty schools. These include several high-profile experiments, such as the debut of single-gender classes at James Elementary. It will bring a hands-on, experiential curriculum known as the Bank Street Model to Temple Terrace Elementary.

The effort will mostly concentrate on creating targeted academic programs in 16 middle schools and eight high schools. Middle school themes called "RAP" (Rigorous Academic Program) and Tomorrow's Leaders (a math, science, technology and leadership curriculum) will seek to attract students from other backgrounds to the largely minority campuses.

Hillsborough will emphasize a college prep focus at the high schools, especially promoting advanced placement classes.

"The themes are very focused around high student achievement," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who wants to allow "students who have high interest in programs to reach their potential through programs of choice."

This is the second time the federal government has picked Hillsborough for the grant. Since 2002, the district has received about $11-million to promote school choice.

The grant was initially used to develop a plan to keep schools diverse after court-ordered busing for desegregation ended. That program saw disappointing participation. It was confusing to parents. School crowding limited the options. Many schools lost diversity.

Still, Elia pointed out that it was one of many choice options in Hillsborough. Last year, more than 35,000 students attended schools outside their neighborhoods. Most popular are Hillsborough's magnet schools and requests for special assignment.

This time, Hillsborough's grant proposal is more focused, Elia said. Rather than creating many different programs, school officials are aiming to develop a few outstanding ones. The diversity goals remain the same.

"This grant allows us to expand and improve our existing choice plan," said Bill Person, who oversees student placement. "We see that as a way to make a diverse school system."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

FAST FACTS: New focus
A number of high-profile attractor themes, including the introduction of single-gender classes, are planned for the following schools. Bank Street Model: Temple Terrace Elementary. Single-gender classes: James Elementary. RAP (Rigorous Academic Program): Franklin, Sligh, Memorial, Jennings, Shields, Greco, Eisenhower, Pierce, Webb, Tomlin, Marshall, Turkey Creek, Dowdell and Giunta middle schools. Tomorrow's Leaders (math, science, technology, leadership): McLane, Madison middle schools, Spoto High. Advanced placement/college prep: King, East Bay, Lennard, Leto, Middleton, Plant City high schools. Health Administration Academy: Tampa Bay Tech High.