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A school year heavy on 'new'

A pair of schools, 21 principals, more Advanced Placement courses are among the changes.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007


Pinellas public schools open today with numerous changes. Here's a summary:


Two new schools

Dunedin and High Point elementary schools will open today in new facilities. Dunedin's cost $27.4-million and High Point's cost $25.8-million.


Enrollment down

An estimated 107,000 students will show up today, down about 2,000 from last year. The decline began in 2004 and is projected to continue.


Changing of the guard

Twenty-one schools have new principals, most of whom rose from the assistant principal ranks.


Focus on high achievers

The district's new Office of Advanced Studies and Academic Excellence aims to get more out of students who aren't being challenged. High school students will be asked to take the Preliminary SAT so educators can see who should be taking more rigorous courses. Advanced Placement course offerings will be increased and more students encouraged to enroll in them. "There's a group of students out there that haven't been neglected but we didn't focus on them as much as we could have," said Harry Brown, deputy superintendent for curriculum.


High school exam policy

The School Board has changed a longtime policy designed to reduce absences in high school. Previously, students with 10 recorded absences were required to take a final exam in all their classes. In individual classes where they missed 10 days, they had to pass the test to pass the course. Now, students must take finals only for classes in which they missed 10 days, and the final is just part of the grade. Brown said the old policy put too much weight on one test.


Head start on college

About 100 students are enrolled in the Early College Program at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus, which allows 11th- and 12th-graders to earn high school and college credit while participating in extracurriculars at their "home" high school. They graduate with a diploma and an associate of arts degree.


More technical training

The district hopes to approve "centers of excellence" at several high schools this year. The centers will allow students to accrue high school and college credit while earning certification in a trade. Every high school will have a center by 2010.


Eighth-graders: think jobs

Four middle schools are piloting a program this year to build more awareness among eighth-graders about their careers. At every middle school, teachers will focus more on careers as part of the eighth-grade trip to Finance Park.


Old labels out

The district will continue a practice, begun last year, of emphasizing how many credits high school students accrue rather than whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. Said Brown: "It's less important what grade you're in and more important what interests you have."


In the spotlight

Twenty struggling schools will get special attention starting this year. Barbara Hires, the new associate superintendent for school success, will be in charge of seeing that resources are targeted properly. The schools have been deemed "in need of improvement" under federal rules. Hires says one focus will be to develop a stronger reading habit in more students.

[Last modified August 21, 2007, 01:38:27]

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