A weekend interview with Teresa Daiker, co-chair of Fundamental Schools Advocacy Network
In Pinellas County schools, parents have begun clamoring for more fundamental schools. One group has formed an action committee, Fundamental Schools Advocacy Network, to advance the cause. Its first goal is to persuade the district to create a second fundamental high school to open next fall. Co-chair Teresa Daiker, the PTA president at Curtis Fundamental, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the group's efforts.
Why is this group for fundamental schools now coming to the forefront?
Especially in the last year they've added and expanded our fundamental middle schools. ... There wasn't enough seats last year for all the fundamental eighth graders to get into Osceola (High). And it's only going to get worse because we've now expanded our program.
Why is it that people like the fundamental schools so much?
You know, the reason I like it, and other people as well, is it's a focus on academics and structure. And they don't have all the other distractions that other schools might have, like discipline problems. I'm not saying that other schools have strong discipline problems. I'm saying that our school has a structured environment. There's demerits and warnings and stuff like that that are given for doing the wrong things.
For example, Madeira Beach was not a fundamental school last year. It is this year. Last year, their rate of homework turn-in was 14 percent, which is pretty low. Fifty percent of those children stayed there, and they added another 50 percent. Now their homework turn-in rate -- 100 percent. I mean, that's a huge difference. That came from a teacher who taught at Madeira Beach last year and this year. Clearwater Fundamental, we had a lot of Kennedy teachers who stayed on. And there was a sign hanging in the hallway. It was hanging there all week. ... And the teachers said, That sign would have never stayed there last year. It would have been ripped down in the first day. That just speaks volumes to our kids. They're very focused on academics.
I have heard some people say it's not fair because, one, there's not enough seats for everybody, but also it's sometimes difficult for parents to commit to everything that fundamental schools require.
Our basic commitments to fundamental are that we attend a one-hour meeting eight times a year. That's usually in the evening, like 7 p.m. That's a monthly meeting. And the other requirement is that we have three conferences a year, and the teachers do work around the parents' schedules. ... I know there's not enough seats. That's because it's a popular program, just like IB programs and magnet programs. Sometimes there's not enough seats there, either. But we are expanding the program.
I think the board is supportive, mostly, of our efforts. We know it's a big job to add more fundamental schools. But I think there's a misconception about what the expectation is of fundamental parents.
Your main goal to start off is to have another high school. Is that because there are so many more middle school seats now?
Yes. Osceola's numbers are fabulous. They have made a huge difference in the past year. But if you look at south county and you look at north county -- I live in north county and it would take me 40 minutes each way to go to Osceola High School if we're lucky enough to get in. ... Osceola is a good center, but Pinellas is a big county and it's not easy to get to Osceola from either north or south county without a significant drive.
Have you heard anybody say what would be a good location?
It would be great to do one in north and south county. But no, we don't have any specific locations. We're just hoping that we can pull something together. ... Osceola High School, their final vote was in December 2005 and they opened the following August. So we really feel like we have the opportunity to get at least a school open. ... And I know we'll fill them.
The main thing right now is to get parent support behind this and to see how much you can influence the board?
What do you think is the biggest selling point to convince people?
People who are already in the fundamental program, they know what the benefit is. Obviously we'll lose some to IB and to magnets, because they want to specialize in a certain area. But our families know the benefits of a fundamental school. I think that's the main selling point. It has been successful. It is a great program. And it's a great learning environment. We have great kids. I think that the more schools we can open up as well will also appeal to more kids. Because really as it is, Osceola is not centrally located. If we opened them up in south and north county, we could appeal to more kids.
If this is such a great idea, why not push to make all schools fundamental schools?
I'm with you. (But) let me tell you, this is not for everyone. Some kids need a different type of structure. And some kids, the strong structure doesn't work for them. ...