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Integration incentives offered

Schools hope new programs, school themes and school choice will lead the district to diversity.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


TAMPA -- Hillsborough school administrators hope that programs ranging from aquatics to visual arts will lure enough students to schools outside their own neighborhoods to help the district achieve desegregation.

The new programs would be offered this fall at 33 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools. The elementary schools also will offer free 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. day care and transportation to and from school.

Themes also were chosen for nine new or planned magnet schools and seven elementary schools were designated as academies. The academies will require pupils and parents to meet more demanding standards for homework, attendance and parent-teacher meetings.

The programs, still tentative, were released Friday at a meeting of a committee working on the desegregation plan.

Over the next six weeks, committee members will present the plan at public hearings and meetings of community groups. Comments and criticisms offered at those presentations will be used to alter the plan before presenting it to the Hillsborough County School Board on Sept. 26, said Bill Persons, one of the committee members.

Among the programs chosen for elementary schools are Spanish, fine arts, communication technology, pre-vet care, computer graphics, environmental science, math and aquatics. Middle and high school programs include Olympic sports, computer technology, teacher training, culinary arts and American Sign Language.

The district surveyed 600 parents about what kinds of programs they'd like to see in schools. Math, science and computer technology were the most popular choices.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ordered Hillsborough schools to achieve greater integration than they had under previous plans that relied on busing.

Administrators came up with a plan that gives parents a choice between schools in their neighborhood and those in other regions. Instead of assigning students to schools to meet racial quotas, the district will rely on parents choosing schools outside their immediate neighborhoods to achieve a diverse student body.

The problem with a plan based on choice, said Persons, is that there is no way to predict the race of students that choose any particular schools. "You don't have a crystal ball," he said.

The district's inability to guarantee racially diverse student bodies in all schools under this plan disturbed the county NAACP chapter. It withdrew from participating in drawing up the latest desegregation plan.

Sam Horton, president of the Hillsborough County chapter, couldn't be reached for comment on the programs, magnet schools or academies.

But committee member Willie Norwood explained why the organization wanted guarantees.

"The African-American community doesn't trust the white community to do what it says it will," Norwood said. A guaranteed racial ratio for each school would make it easier to take the district back to court if the ratio wasn't achieved, he said.

The committee still has much work to get the plan ready for public presentation. The cost of the plan and the transportation needed to make it work still have to be hammered out. The first public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.

If the School Board and Kovachevich approve the plan, it would become effective in 2002.

Want to speak out on desegregation?

Public hearings on the Hillsborough County School Board's desegregation plan are scheduled for the following dates and places:

Aug. 14, Jefferson High School, 4401 Cypress St.

Aug. 16, Blake High School, 1701 N Boulevard.

Aug. 17, Buchanan Middle School, 1001 W Bearss Ave.

Aug. 21, Van Buren Middle School, 8715 N 22nd St.

Aug. 22, Hillsborough High School, 5000 Central Ave.

Aug. 23, Ferrell Middle School, 4302 24th St.

Aug. 24, Sickles High School, 7950 Gunn Highway.

Aug. 28, B.T. Washington Middle School, 1407 Estelle St.

Aug. 29, Armwood High School, 12000 U.S. 92, Seffner.

Aug. 30, King High School, 6815 N 56th St.

Aug. 31, Riverview High School, 11311 Boyette Road, Riverview.

Sept. 6, Turkey Creek Middle School, 5005 S Turkey Creek Road, Plant City.

Sept. 7, Marshall Middle School, 18 S Maryland Ave., Plant City.

Sept. 11, Oak Park Elementary School, 4916 E 10th Ave.

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