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Q&A: School plan offers choices for families

By the Times staff
Published December 19, 2007


What does the new plan do?

It changes the way Pinellas students are assigned to schools, steering most students into a school close to home but offering families other choices as well. The plan also addresses enrollment declines by slightly reducing the number of schools. In addition, the district will gradually increase the number of fundamental schools to give families more choices. Two St. Petersburg elementaries -- Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. and James B. Sanderlin -- will be added to the mix of full-fledged magnet schools. Zones will be structured to make it easier for families to predict which schools their children will attend from kindergarten to high school. The School Board has approved the closing of three schools: Largo Central and South Ward elementaries and Riviera Middle School. Clearview Avenue Elementary initially was on the list, but the district decided to keep it open to help address a potential seat shortage south of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.

How will the plan work?

Every school will be surrounded by a zone and students will be assigned to the school in the zone where they live -- their "close-to-home" school. Students could attend their close-to-home school or apply for a magnet program, fundamental school or another special program. They also could ask to attend any regular school in the county, provided that school had space and the student could get there without a district bus ride.

When will the new plan take effect?

Early next year, when the district starts assigning students for the 2008-09 school year.

When will I know what my close-to-home school is?

Within the next few weeks. The district plans to produce an online map that will allow families to type in an address and get the name of their close-to-home school. Families also will be able to get the information by going to any school. The district also may notify families by mail.

What if my new close-to-home school is not the one my child is in now? Can't we just stay at our current school instead of being uprooted?

Yes. The plan allows all students to be "grandfathered" into their current schools. In fact, they will be automatically assigned to their existing school. Those who qualify will continue to receive bus service. This is a change from early versions of the plan, which would have forced many families to move schools next year and would have denied them bus service if they opted to be grandfathered. The board changed those provisions after complaints from parents.

I don't want to stay in my current school. Can I move to my new close-to-home school right away?

Yes, if there's room.

So, what happens when a school doesn't have enough room for all the students who want to go there?

Under the new plan, many schools will be filled with out-of-zone students who want to be grandfathered there. At some schools, the district will try to accommodate both the grandfathered and in-zone students by adding portable classrooms. But that won't be possible everywhere. At schools where there are more students applying than seats available, grandfathered students will be allowed to remain. After that, students who live closest to the school will get priority.

What happens with prekindergarten children who aren't in the school system yet?

Students entering kindergarten next year will be assigned to their close-to-home school. But if they have an older sibling in another school, they will be automatically assigned to the sibling's school. However, parents who want their incoming kindergartener to attend the close-to-home school could do that by submitting a request to the district.

What happens to students who plan to move up to middle or high school next year?

They will be assigned to their close-to-home middle or high school, unless they have an older sibling in another school. In that case, they will be automatically assigned to the sibling's school. Students who don't want to be in their siblings' school could attend the close-to-home school by simply filing a request with the district.

What if I don't like my close-to-home school and I don't get into a magnet or fundamental school? Will I have other options?

Yes. The district will have a new open enrollment period for special cases, such as families who don't like any of their options. The district says it will work with families to get them into a school they like, provided that school has space. Seats will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

[Last modified December 18, 2007, 20:41:25]

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