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Challenger K-8 is best site for Hernando gifted center, district staffers say



BROOKSVILLE -- If Hernando’s gifted center is to be moved from Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill to ease overcrowding there and offer more opportunities for the district’s high-performing students, the center should go to Challenger K-8.

That’s the recommendation from school district staffers and a gifted advisory council comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and other interested individuals.

Challenger is “the ideal candidate” for the center among four other options, Cathy Dofka, director of exceptional student education, wrote in a memo to the School Board. The board is slated to discuss the issue at a special meeting slated for 6 p.m. Thursday at district headquarters, 919 N. Broad St., Brooksville.

There are lots of reasons why Challenger is the best location, Dofka wrote.

Located on Elgin Boulevard a few miles east of Explorer, Challenger has a nearly identical design, so the school already has the technology and configuration to accommodate the center. Gifted students would still get interaction with peers not enrolled in the program.

Since Challenger is a magnet school, attendance there can be capped to keep overcrowding at bay, Dofka wrote. And there are already 94 students identified as gifted at Challenger.

The option is also least costly at about $175,000 and “the least disruptive,” Dofka wrote.

There are about 245 students at Quest. That’s roughly 66 percent of the district’s gifted population, according to Dofka.

The other options up for discussion and some of the cons as listed in Dofka's presentation to the board:

* Convert Fox Chapel Middle in Spring Hill to a K-8 school and move the gifted center there. That conversion would cost more than $900,000 and would require shifting of attendance boundaries. The other drawback: Fox Chapel is even farther west than Explorer, making for a long trip for students on the east side of the county.

* Move the center to Fox Chapel without a K-8 conversion. That could cost about $300,000 and gifted students wouldn’t get to interact with peers.

* Move the center to the former ninth grade center at Central High School. Converting the building would cost at least $605,000, and some parents would likely have concerns about putting younger children on a high school campus. The option to use the building as a ninth grade center again at some point would disappear.

* Create a campus of portable buildings on district land on Mobley Road in Brooksville. The board has already instructed the facilities department to sell 52 extra portables, but there is still time to change course, said facilities director Bo Bavota, who back in October pitched the idea to create a campus of portables for several possible uses including a gifted center. He estimated the cost to set up the campus, to be about $4.6 million.

Gifted Advisory Council members voted 9 to 1 in favor of Challenger at recent meeting, said Jim Malcolm, the community representative for the council. In a survey of parents asking where the center should go if it has to leave Explorer, 129 of 160 favored Challenger, Malcolm said.

“It’s the logical choice,” Malcolm said Monday.

Malcolm sat on the School Board when the decision to put the Quest center at Explorer was made in spring, 2008. Malcolm favored Challenger at the time. Explorer opened up with more students than expected and has been overcrowded ever since.

--Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:44am]


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