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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Should Pinellas be a 'fundamental district'?



This idea isn't even half-baked so take it with many grains of salt. At a Pinellas school board workshop today, officials started a wide-ranging discussion about the future of the district by throwing out this possibility: making Pinellas a "fundamental district."

Deputy superintendent Jim Madden told the board he was suggesting the idea simply to start a discussion. Superintendent Julie Janssen offered a few more details to get the ball rolling: The designation would probably apply to elementary schools for starters, she said, and they wouldn't be quite like fundamental schools, because the district wouldn't expect the same level of commitment from all parents. But perhaps, she said, schools could offer a "menu of things" that demonstrated parental involvement, and parents could pick and choose how they could best contribute.

That would make it clear "that the families are part of us," Janssen said. "It's a philosophical approach to what Pinellas believes," which is that students achieve best when schools and parents are active partners in their learning.

The idea sparked a lot of comments, and a bit of a debate.

"That's a great concept," said board member Linda Lerner, who promptly emailed fellow members this Harvard policy brief about best practices for districts that want to better engage parents.

"Let's remove the name fundamental for a minute," said board member Peggy O'Shea. Whatever you want to call the concept, it would be good to "try to do some of the things that fundamental schools do" in other schools.

Board member Robin Wikle suggested the name "promise schools" or "deep schools," because parents would be promising to be partners in their kids' education and schools would be able to go deeper into student learning.

Board member Janet Clark, though, wondered if a new label would really address the issues that are driving more and more parents to apply to fundamental schools. "If we remove the issue of the discipline problems in our schools ... I don't believe we'd have that much demand for fundamental schools," she said. "Are we going to re-invent something? Or are we going to solve the problem?"

To be clear, board members didn't just talk about the possibility of more fundamental schools. They rambled into everything from the possibility of creating K-2 schools to offering more flexible hours for high schools. They'll take a closer look at all these possibilities at another workshop.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:50am]


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