Pasco school officials look to amp up school choice options
When Ray Gadd left the Pasco school district four years ago, he said, he was really proud of his role in building 17 new schools for students.
Looking back, Gadd is disappointed that they were "cookie-cutter schools," all offering essentially the same types of education.
"As a system," he told the School Board on Tuesday, "we have got to start moving in the direction of offering our students more choices. The more choices we offer them, the less we have to deal with the charter school issue, the dual enrollment issue."
Superintendent Kurt Browning agreed, calling the district's record on providing options "abysmal." He said his leadership team is working on a choice plan that could involve K-8 schools, magnet programs and other possibilities. One of those includes a long-desired accelerated high school program — perhaps International Baccalaureate or Cambridge — for east Pasco.
Speaking to the board and administrators Tuesday, state Sen. John Legg urged the district to take significant strides in this arena. He said Pasco schools lag far behind nearby districts such as Hillsborough and Manatee in offering career programs, which the state has given high priority in both academic direction and funding.
"It is critical that Pasco kick into gear on this area," Legg said.
He then gave the district a big "hint, hint, hint" by reminding the officials that he and other lawmakers had placed $1.5 million in the new state budget to create a STEM academy in Pasco County. Legg suggested that the district could use that money and the new state rules allowing districts to create technology schools of innovation — essentially district-run charter schools — to quickly move ahead with a strong choice option.
Now everyone is holding their breath that Gov. Rick Scott doesn't eliminate the funding.
Browning said he expects to present a plan about "what choice will look like in this system" as soon as possible.