Pinellas plans new "school-within-a-school"
Pinellas is planning to open "school-within-a-school" programs at seven or eight of its campuses, according to a memo sent to school board members.
The school district received a $64,518 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to kick off the first steps toward opening a "New Tech Network school." New Tech Network in a nonprofit that aims to personalize student learning. Per the memo, the model "provides an instructional approach centered on project and problem-based learning, a culture that empowers students and teachers, and integrated technology in the classroom."
There's only one New Tech Network school currently operating in Florida, although the nonprofit runs 130 schools in 23 states. While the $64,518 grant is just to get the administrative ducks in a row to create such a school, Pinellas is expecting more money from the Gates Foundation as it moves forward.
The project team includes Jan Urbanski, the district's director of special projects, and Rita Vasquez, the executive director of high school education. Whether these school-within-a-schools will be at high schools was not clear.
The team plans to create a five-year plan by the end of January. The focus is initially on opening one New Tech Network School, but the district ultimately plans to open seven or eight.
Pinellas has had success using specialty programs to draw students into students typically seen as undesirable - take the gifted program at Ridgecrest Elementary, for example.
While critics don't take issue with the programs themselves, there are questions about how Florida measures achievement at these schools. For example, a school with struggling students in its traditional classes could avoid an "F" because of a high-performing program, meaning fewer state resources for those struggling students.