Plan for new school brings fresh concerns from parents

The district is still seeking input on the proposal.

By AMBER MOBLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008


In some ways, filling a new school with students is a numbers game.

Of the 14 middle schools in northwestern Hillsborough County, half are over capacity.

With Sgt. Paul Smith Middle School opening in August, more than 1,000 students from four of those crowded schools must shuffle.

The new school will help the county meet the state's mandate to reduce class sizes at Davidsen, Farnell, Martinez and Walker middle schools.

Some will go to a fifth school, Webb, which is at 76 percent capacity.

But of those 1,000 or so students, each one is someone's child, which makes moving not-so numerical.

A move could mean separated siblings, a final year in a foreign classroom or going to a C-school instead of one that's earned an A grade.

This is where it gets complicated, and when it comes to Smith Middle, this is where contention lies.

This is where it starts.

The boundaries are not yet official and your input is still requested.

* * *

On Jan. 23, school officials presented preliminary attendance boundaries for Smith to a group of about 300 people.

Smith will get 607 students from Davidsen and 417 students from Walker; Davidsen will receive 262 students from Farnell; Walker will get 122 students from Martinez; and Farnell will send 145 students to Webb.

In general, students living east of Sheldon Road, west of Hutchison Road, north of W Waters Avenue and south of subdivisions that access Ehrlich Road would go to Smith.

Most of the parents who spoke at the meeting - about 20 or so - were not worried about the new school, which is to be headed by Martinez principal Kathleen Flanagan. Instead, they aired doubts, worries and concerns regarding moving to already established schools.

Families with children currently attending Baycrest Elementary said they were barely warned regarding the potential move to Webb, a C-rated school. Davidsen is a B school, while Walker, Martinez and Farnell are all A schools.

Many clapped in agreement as mother Michele Wagner said they learned of the public meeting Jan. 22, which did not give them much time to mobilize for a meeting the following evening. Still, Wagner collected and presented dozens of signatures opposing the move to Webb and collected more as the meeting went on.

Stacy Theobald, a mother of triplets, said she moved from Newark, N.J., to this area because she wanted her children to attend Farnell. "And not Webb," she said. "I will homeschool them if I have to, but they are not going there."

Other parents took issue with their children being among a minority who would be moved.

Gayle Geagan's seventh-grade son will be one of a very few Martinez students who will have to call Walker home for their eighth-grade year, she said.

"These children will be going into what should be their best year of middle school as the big men and women on campus. Instead they will be just a few new kids thrown into the mix," Geagan said.

While rising seventh- and eighth-graders at Farnell will be grandfathered into the school, there is no plan or promise to grandfather in the rising eighth-graders at Martinez, or older students at any other school, said Steve Ayers, director of pupil administrative services. But such a change may be considered at a later date. He also pledged to take all objections up with the district superintendent.

And while many parents at the Jan. 23 meeting came expecting two boundary plans, there was only one, created by Ayers.

The district paid SeerAnalytics consulting firm $15,500 to develop a model that would automate and standardize the boundary-setting process for Smith as a pilot program for future boundary changes in the county. But its proposal was very similar to the one Ayers had drawn.

"We were 90 to 95 percent in agreement overall," he told the crowd at the meeting.

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or 813 269-5311.

Sgt. Paul Smith Middle School Q&A

What are the preliminary boundaries for Smith Middle School?

In general, students living east of Sheldon Road, west of Hutchison Road, north of W Waters Avenue and south of subdivisions that access Ehrlich Road would go to Smith.

I'm unsure whether my address is inside the new boundaries. How can I find out if my family is affected?

E-mail your questions to Steven.Ayers@sdhc.k12.fl.us and Steve Ayers, director of pupil administrative services for the school district, will respond to you.

How crowded are the five area middle schools that will be affected by the opening of Smith Middle School and what kind of relief will the proposed plan for Smith provide?

According to student counts on the 40th day of class, Davidsen Middle School is at 115 percent capacity, Farnell is at 117 percent, Martinez is at 100 percent, Walker is at 135 percent and Webb is at 76 percent. Under the proposed plan Davidsen will drop to 83 percent, Farnell will drop to 82 percent, Martinez will drop to 88 percent, Walker will drop to 98 percent and Webb, the school with the lowest numbers, will rise to 89 percent.

According to the plan, when Smith draws just more than 1,000 students from Walker and Davidsen, it will be at 87 percent capacity.

Who will be the principal at Smith?

Kathleen Flanagan, the principal at Martinez Middle School in Lutz. She starts after spring break.

What if I want my child to go to Smith, but he or she is not slated to move there?

Smith will be a School Choice option. Your next chance to apply for choice is March 3.

What will be the curriculum at Smith?

It will be the regular middle school curriculum. There will be basic classes, honors classes and electives.