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Grants won't generate new magnet programs

Three Clearwater schools were to benefit.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 2, 2007


Federal officials have denied a Pinellas request for $9-million to turn three Clearwater schools into magnet programs.

The money would have paid to start a center for medical science and wellness at Kings Highway Elementary, a "primary years" International Baccalaureate program at Sandy Lane Elementary and a "middle years" International Baccalaureate program at Kennedy Middle School.

Magnet programs are designed to create more diverse student populations by enticing white families to consider schools traditionally attended by minority students.

"I think we were all disappointed we didn't get it," said Pinellas school superintendent Clayton Wilcox. "But we also realize these grants are getting tighter and tighter, tougher to earn."

The grants are awarded every three years by the U.S. Department of Education's Magnet School Assistance Program.

Getting the grant would have marked a turning point for Pinellas, which has most of its magnet programs in St. Petersburg, home to most of the county's black residents. One magnet program, the Center for Gifted Studies at Ridgecrest Elementary, is in Largo.

District officials said their plans for the Clearwater magnets reflected the need to move their focus farther north, where minority populations, especially Hispanics, are growing.

Magnet schools are a key part of the new student assignment plan, which generally steers families to neighborhood schools but also encourages them to try special programs. Such programs will be among the few diversity tools left as the district moves away from decades of busing for desegregation.

Wilcox said the district's plan to turn the three Clearwater schools into magnets still has some life. He said he plans to approach the School Board with the idea of using district money to start the programs.

The money would come from anticipated savings from not having to bus as many students under the new plan.

Earlier this summer, the district proposed turning Kennedy Middle into a fundamental school and turning Coachman Fundamental Middle into an elementary school.

The idea won't be explored again until the board makes a final decision on the magnet idea, Wilcox said. "I think we've got to take it in that order."

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at or 727 893-8923.

[Last modified October 2, 2007, 01:31:12]

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