Sunday, September 23, 2018

Today: Pinellas to vote on new high school start times, center for gifted students

There's a lot to unpack in this unexpected double-header today at the Pinellas County School Board. A special workshop to discuss how the district is implementing new school safety measures now required by law will begin after the 10 a.m. board meeting concludes.

High school start times

Despite calls for an 8:30 a.m. start time, the school district isn't budging on a slightly delayed 7:20 a.m. start time for most high school students. The change, expected to be approved today by the School Board, also will push back most elementary school and middle school start times to 8:45 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., respectively.

However, Gibbs, Lakewood, Dixie Hollins and Boca Ciega high schools will still begin their days at 7:05 a.m. and release at 1:50 p.m. like every other high school. Why those four? Associate superintendent Clint Herbic said those schools previously were required to have a longer school day because of struggling academic performance.

Although that requirement has gone away, the district has chosen to keep the longer day. Pushing their day 15 minutes later into the afternoon squeezes the window for buses to run from high school drop-offs to elementary school drop-offs, Herbic said.

He explained that 80 buses serve those four schools, and if the window tightened in the afternoon, 60 of those buses would not make it to their elementary school routes.

The district will shell out an additional $900,000 to hire 18 drivers, however Herbic said that the district probably would have incurred that cost even if the start times were not changed in order to break up long routes.

The district recently hired a new consultant to examine start times. Superintendent Mike Grego emphasized that more changes could be made in the future.

"This is a great first step," he said, "but not a last step."

Midtown Academy, the new Center for Cultural Arts & Gifted Studies

Midtown Academy is just another board meeting away from its transformation into a south county gifted center.

After the failed-charter-school-turned-district-run K-8 school fell short of finding an identity and retaining students, district officials have proposed eliminating the school's middle grades and making it an elementary gifted center for south county students and a cultural arts magnet for neighborhood students for the 2018-19 school year.

Students in the cultural arts magnet – who would enjoy field trips from surrounding institutions like the Dali Museum, Carter G. Woodson Museum, Mahaffey Theater, Florida Orchestra and the Morean Arts Center – would also get gifted-level services as part of a "school-wide enrichment model."

The school plans to have two classes per grade level, for a total of 232 students. However, the school could accommodate six classes per grade level. The current 190 K-5 students will be grandfathered in and middle school students have been reassigned. The school will not accept any kindergarten students for the gifted program, but will accept applications for the cultural arts program.

Gifted students would feed into the gifted program at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, while those in the cultural arts program will have a feeder priority into the Center for the Arts, Journalism and Multimedia at John Hopkins Middle.

If approved, a second application period will open for students currently identified as gifted, on other magnet wait lists or living in the Middle School South Application area. Fifty percent of the available seats would be given to students who live closest to the school, located at 1701 10th St. S in St. Petersburg.

The school has received two F grades from the state and will continue to receive intense supports as a Transformation Zone school, said deputy superintendent Bill Corbett.

"I think it's a very creative approach what we're doing to Midtown," said Ric Davis, president of the Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students at the March 20 workshop. "I think it's going to bode well for the community."

Having a south county gifted center could mean fewer bus trips to Ridgecrest Elementary, currently the only full-time gifted school in the county, and that could mean later school start times.

Follow @Colleen_Wright for live tweets throughout the meeting, and stick around for live updates from the board workshop held immediately after the board meeting.

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