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New Pinellas arts magnet nears fruition

A program at Tarpon Springs High would differ from the arts magnet in south county.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008


LARGO -- The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday moved one step closer to approving a magnet program for north county.

The Leadership Conservatory for the Arts at Tarpon Springs High School would become the district's 16th countywide magnet, and the first created since a federal court order prohibiting the creation of countywide programs was lifted earlier this month.

Board members could vote on the new magnet as early as next week. Students then would be able to apply to it during the upcoming application period for special programs scheduled to begin Feb. 3.

The proposed program is part of an effort to expand magnet offerings throughout the county, officials say. Phased in over four years, it would begin with next year's freshmen class.

Conservatory students would take an 18-week leadership course, then choose an area of the arts on which to focus.

A key piece of the program would be the integration of leadership skills with performing arts, rigorous academics and technology, said Harry Brown, the district's superintendent for curriculum and operations.

The program would differ from the arts magnet at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Brown said, in that it would highlight management skills. The Pinellas County Center for the Arts is performance-based, Brown said.

"The focus at this school is leadership," he said. "It's being the band director, it's being the orchestra conductor, the theater manager, the fine arts curator at a museum. It's really not a PCCA north."

Tarpon's program would differ from the Center for the Arts in at least two other ways, said Tarpon principal Kent Vermeer. Students would not be required to audition for it. And, Vermeer said, as many as 80 percent of program graduates probably won't end up in music careers.

"We're preparing students for that 21st century no matter what they want to do," he said. "If they want to go to a technical school, to college or into the work force, we believe this program prepares them for that."

But one attendee at Tuesday's presentation expressed concern that the new program could negatively affect the arts magnet at Gibbs.

"It intends to have every arts strand that Gibbs has," said Sami Leigh Scott, whose daughter is in another magnet program at Gibbs. "How does this serve our children best, and how do you justify a competing interest to Gibbs, when what you end up with is an exodus of your diversity members?"

Proponents of the Tarpon program said fears that it could drain diversity from Gibbs are unfounded. Board member Jane Gallucci said the programs are totally different.

Board member Janet Clark said it was time the district began creating programs in north Pinellas.

"Parents have a valid point up there that all the specialty programs are in south county," Clark said.

Board member Linda Lerner said there are enough students who want to pursue the performing arts to have one program in each end of the county.

"I think the issue of Gibbs being able to get diversity into their program is separate from the Tarpon issue," Lerner said. "Gibbs may have challenges with their magnet program, but I would not want that to impact my decision."

Donna Winchester contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at or (727) 445-4162.

[Last modified January 16, 2008, 01:13:25]

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