For years, students at Jamerson Elementary have had an edge when it comes to getting into popular Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle.
That could change soon.
The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday will consider whether to eliminate a "feeder pattern" that gives Jamerson students first dibs, along with fundamental students, when applying for seats at A-rated Thurgood Marshall. Instead, starting in the 2014-15 school year, students at the school would get seats at F-rated Azalea Middle and C-rated Bay Point Middle.
Board members unofficially signed off on the proposal last month. Tuesday's vote will be final.
Parents from Jamerson and Thurgood Marshall have been pressuring board members to keep the link between the schools. More than 400 parents and students signed a petition last week asking for a six-year "transition period" before making any change. Their proposal would give most of the current Jamerson families time to fully cycle through the school with the link to Thurgood Marshall intact.
In the petition, parents and students call for the district to "build up" the programs at Azalea Middle and Bay Point Middle, and to more closely match them to Jamerson's Center for Mathematics and Engineering. They also ask that Thurgood Marshall remain one of the choices.
"Pulling the plug and removing our students from Thurgood is not right," the petition reads.
So far, most board members haven't been swayed by their arguments.
At a work session last week, board member Linda Lerner said she thinks the programs at Azalea Middle and Bay Point Middle will be better choices for students from Jamerson. Azalea will have a new engineering program. Bay Point has a science and technology magnet.
"I think we're giving them something stronger," she said.
Board member Rene Flowers said she thought Jamerson parents were more concerned about Azalea and Bay Point's school grades than academics.
"Let's just be honest about that," she said.
Chairwoman Carol Cook said the district could consider a compromise, giving parents a two- to three-year transition. Board member Terry Krassner was the lone board member in strong support of a transition period, however.
She said it was unfair to parents that the school brochure touted the feeder pattern to Thurgood Marshall, and she said both schools had spent a lot of time collaborating on academics.
"I would love to give enough warning to the families," she said.
Bill Lawrence, the district's director of student demographics, said Jamerson is the only non-fundamental elementary school whose students have "priority status" to get into Thurgood. The district hears complaints every February and March that there aren't enough fundamental seats, he said.
Elimination of the feeder pattern at Jamerson would open up about 45 more seats at Thurgood, bringing the total open to non-fundamental elementary students to about 100, he said. Jamerson students still could apply to get into Thurgood Marshall but no longer would have a leg up over other applicants.
Lawrence also said Azalea Middle and Bay Point Middle have already started working with Jamerson.
"The planning process has begun in earnest," he said.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.