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Schools

Basic rules: Know what you want, watch deadlines

By THOMAS C. TOBIN, Times Staff Writer
Published February 3, 2008


The Green Devils marching band practices at St. Petersburg High under the direction of Jason Foster, left center in jacket. St. Petersburg High is home to the International Baccalaureate program.
[Lara Cerri | Times (2007)]
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photo
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
Dylan Cote, 13, raises his hand during a science lesson in an exceptional student education class at Pinellas Park Middle School.

What does the new student assignment plan do?

It changes the way Pinellas students are placed in schools, steering most students to a school close to home but offering families other choices, too. Every school will be surrounded by a zone and students will be assigned to the school in the zone where they live. The district is calling this your "close-to-home" school. Students can attend that school or apply for a special program, such as a magnet or fundamental. They also can attend any regular school in the county, provided the school has space and the student can get there without a bus ride.

When will the plan take effect?

When the 2008-09 school year starts on Aug. 19, but the process of assigning students to schools begins now. The first step is the application period for special programs: magnets, fundamental schools and career academies.

Who's affected besides those who want a special program?

Primarily a large group of students who want to be in the district's regular programs. The group mostly consists of students who will naturally rise to a new school in August - those entering sixth grade and ninth grade. It also includes incoming kindergarteners and other students just entering the public school system. Most of these students automatically will be assigned to their close-to-home school. Those with siblings at another school, though, will be automatically assigned to the sibling's school.

When is my child eligible to enter kindergarten?

Children must reach the age of 5 on or before Sept. 1, 2008, to start kindergarten in August.

So, what are these special programs?

They are magnet programs, fundamental schools and high school career academies. All have themes or philosophies designed to attract families from a broad area, thereby promoting racial diversity. Some programs encompass entire schools; others make up only part of a school. Almost all accept applications from across the district. Among the exceptions: four elementary schools called "area magnets," which accept applications only from the bottom third of the county. The area is shown in our map on Page 8.

When can I apply to a special program?

The application period begins at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 11 and ends at midnight, Feb. 22, but you can begin shopping for a school now. Schools with special programs will hold discovery nights starting this week. For a schedule and basic information on each program, see our list and a map in this publication. Families also should consult the school district's "Directory of Programs" for 2008. It's available at the district's Web site, www.pcsb.org/news/PCSNews_Story_2.html, or at a Family Education and Information Center.

How do I apply for a special program?

First make sure you have a 10-digit student ID number. You can get it from your child's school; middle and high school students have them on their report cards. If your child is new to the system, you can get a student ID number by calling the district's call center at (727) 587-2020 or the student assignment office at (727) 588-6210. Or you can call or visit a Family Education and Information Center. Be prepared to give your student's legal name and address, the grade he or she will enter next year and any special services the child will need. When you have the ID number and you've decided what special programs you like, call (727) 501-0871. You'll be asked to enter the student's ID number and date of birth. The system will walk you through the rest of the process, which is entering an ID number for the program you want. Program ID numbers are listed in this publication under each program description. You can apply for as many programs as you like and can call back to make changes throughout the application period. Some middle and high school programs have eligibility criteria and require students to submit additional information. The deadline is Feb. 22 for middle schools and Feb. 25 for high schools.

How do I know if my child is accepted to a special program?

You MUST call between March 10 and 16 to find out whether your child was accepted into a program and to accept the invitation. You'll also find out if your child is on any waiting lists. You won't receive anything in the mail. The number to call is the same as the application number: (727) 501-0871. If you don't call back and accept an invitation during this period, your child's application will be voided.

What else should I know about applying for a special program?

- Because it's a lottery, being one of the first to apply does not matter.

- You don't lose your child's current seat by applying - only if you accept an invitation.

- Priority placement is given to two groups: full-time district employees who apply to get their children into the school where they work, and applicants with siblings who already attend the school and who will be at the school next year.

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

This spring after the district knows which students will be admitted to special programs for 2008-09. In late March, the district will send letters to students entering sixth and ninth grade next year at regular schools. The letters will tell them their close-to-home assignment or if they have been assigned with a sibling at another school. In early April, after spring break, the registration process begins for incoming kindergarteners and other students who are coming into the district for the first time and want a close-to-home school. At that time, you can register by calling the district's call center at (727) 587-2020 or the student assignment office at (727) 588-6210. You also will be able to register at any school or at a Family Education and Information Center. At some point this spring, the district plans to produce maps showing the close-to-home zones around every school.

Why can't they tell me what my close-to-home is before I apply for a special program? I may like my close-to-home school better.

This is one area where the new plan is not as family friendly as it might be. But district officials say it's necessary to fill special programs first. They say they need to know how many students will occupy those seats before they can know how big to draw the zones around each close-to-home school. Without that information, the district risks creating zones with too many or too few students. Districts were flexible with enrollments in the past, but the class size amendment forces them to be more precise when drawing zones. The district will review the process annually. Officials are encouraging families to think of special programs as a first option rather than a Plan B.

My child has never been in the public system before. How do I get her into our close-to-home school?

The first step is to register the child, but the district wants students in your situation to wait until early April. At that time, you can register by calling the district's call center at (727) 587-2020 or the student assignment office at (727) 588-6210. You also will be able to register at any school or at a Family Education and Information Center. Be prepared to give your child's legal name and address, the grade she will enter next year and any special services the child will need. The district will announce a registration deadline soon.

What if my child doesn't get into a special program and gets assigned to a close-to-home school we don't like? Can we move to another public school?

You can try. The district will have an "open enrollment" period in late summer to allow families to change schools. The school you want to move to must have room for your child, and no bus service would be available. Open seats will be filled on a first come, first served basis.

What if my close-to-home school is different than the one my child attends now? Will we be forced to change schools?

No. The School Board has offered "grandfathering" to all students, allowing them to finish out at their current schools. In fact, the district will assume those students want to stay put, so families need not take any action. Those who qualify will continue to receive bus service.

What if my close-to-home school turns out to be the one my child already attends? Do I need to take any action?

No action is required if you want to remain at that school.

How will students with special needs be accommodated under the new plan?

The district says it will work to assign disabled students and non-English-speaking students to schools with programs to handle their needs. Officials say those programs are well-distributed across the county but that they may need to tweak the system to make sure students' needs are met.

[Last modified February 2, 2008, 19:44:41]


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