It can take years to build the reputation of an academic program. But district officials are counting on two new technology magnet schools to fill up, possibly before principals have been named or facilities renovated.
Pending School Board approval Tuesday, Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach and Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater will start taking applications Wednesday for the 2014-15 school year. Both will serve students in kindergarten to fifth grade, with a focus on learning through technology.
That means "flipped classrooms," in which students learn lessons online at home and then practice their skills during class, more access to personal technology, project-based learning and "blended learning," with both computerized and print texts.
"They're still going to have reading, writing, math, social studies, science. What we do envision with the curriculum is greater integration. I might be studying a science content piece during my reading time," said Pam Moore, associate superintendent of teaching and learning.
Already there seems to be interest in the new programs.
"Do we get calls? Yeah, every day," said Bill Lawrence, director of student demographics, assignment and school capacity.
The real test, however, will be how many parents turn out Tuesday for an open house, he said. Because the schools aren't ready to reopen, a special Discovery Night will be held at the district's headquarters.
The school district closed both schools in 2009, along with others, amid budget cuts and declining enrollment. It would cost about $680,000 to renovate the schools before an August reopening.
Superintendent Mike Grego proposed the idea in December as part of a broader effort to increase specialty options for families, particularly those who have left the district for charters and private schools.
With the reopening of Gulf Beaches Elementary, the barrier islands would again have a public school. Kings Highway Elementary also would offer a large prekindergarten program, which would have a separate enrollment process.
Interested families can apply online to either school between Wednesday and March 17; the acceptance period will be March 19-21. Seats will be available at all grade levels, with three classes per grade at Gulf Beaches and two classes per grade at Kings Highway. Gulf Beaches could enroll up to 348 students. Kings Highway could take up to 232 in elementary grades.
Half of the seats at each grade level will be reserved for students who live in what were the schools' zones before they closed. Another 20 percent of seats will be for students who live close to the schools but not in the prior zones. The remaining seats will be set aside for a random lottery from each school's application area.
Principal jobs will be posted, pending approval of the School Board, Lawrence said.