Thursday, May 24, 2018

A south county Ridgecrest Elementary? Midtown Academy could become gifted, K-5 school

Midtown Academy was a rescue mission that never really took off.

Even after the Kindergarten through eighth grade school was converted from the failed University Preparatory Academy charter school into a district-run choice school two weeks before the start of the 2016-17 school year, the school has struggled to maintain a healthy enrollment, boost academic performance and create a desirable attractor for families.

At a Pinellas County School Board workshop on Tuesday, deputy superintendent Bill Corbett suggested that the district shut down the middle school and transform grades 1 through 5 into a full-time gifted center like Ridgecrest Elementary in Largo, creating a duplicate, closer option for gifted children in south Pinellas County.

Enrollment has dwindled from 330 students in 2016 to a current count of 271, with just 78 students in grades 6 though 8. Corbett said that anemic enrollment has made it difficult for the district to offer a range of electives like a traditional middle school.

"We've examined it every which way and we don't think we're serving those children well," he said. "It's not really what we want to do but it's what we have to do."

Although the district's application period for magnet and choice programs is over, as some board members pointed out, Corbett said meetings will be held at Midtown to place middle school students into other schools. Corbett said the students are zoned for Azalea, Bay Point, Meadowlawn, John Hopkins and Tyrone middle schools.

Midtown Academy students in Kindergarten through fourth grade will be grandfathered in the school. Corbett said the school could work like Ridgecrest and have grades 1 through 5 be exclusively for gifted students.

Corbett pointed out that just 15 percent of students at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle went to Ridgecrest for elementary school. He said there are 650 gifted students in south Pinellas who chose to go to school elsewhere.

Corbett added that creating a south county gifted center would break up long bus routes to Ridgecrest and help make later high school start times a reality.

Board members appeared to be in agreement for closing Midtown Academy's middle school, but were split on how to make an all-gifted elementary school work. Some expressed concerns over pulling high-functioning students from struggling schools.

Board member Peggy O'Shea suggested creating a school within a school at Midtown for gifted students.

"Every time we do something like this, we drain the higher performing kids out of schools," she said. "What's the impact going to be to the neighborhood schools?"

Added board member Linda Lerner: "I'm just hearing all kinds of good ideas and possibilities for the elementary population. I think we need more info and discussion for that part of it."

More details will be provided and the discussion will continue at a March 20 workshop.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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