BROOKSVILLE — Any hopes parents had that their children would enjoy automatic admission to one of the district's magnet schools because a sibling already attends the school were almost surely dashed Tuesday.
The School Board, during an afternoon workshop, gave its initial approval to a revised magnet school admissions policy that eliminates the sibling preference clause.
The move didn't come as a surprise. A board with four of the five current members decided in 2007 to eliminate the policy after this school year. A committee of administrators, teachers and parents — formed by the board this year to make long-term recommendations for the magnet admissions policy — recently reached the same consensus.
"I'm very happy the committee was in agreement with that," board member Dianne Bonfield said.
Board members reiterated what they've said for three years: It's not fair or sensible to have automatic admission for siblings to schools that require a demonstration of talent through portfolio or the luck of the draw through lottery.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt agreed that nixing the policy makes for a more "fair and equitable" process for the district's three magnet schools: Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics; Chocachatti Elementary School, which has fine arts and microsociety programs; and Nature Coast Technical High School.
The policy keeps the current ratio of portfolio to lottery admission. In each school, 70 percent of all students will still be accepted by portfolio, and 30 percent by lottery.
Also, new employees who reside outside Hernando County will not be able to enroll their children in magnet school programs. And the children of employees who work at magnet schools will no longer get first preference.
The board made another more significant change after three members — Bonfield, John Sweeney and Sandra Nicholson — said the volunteer requirements for parents and guardians of magnet school students should be eliminated. Currently, students of parents who do not complete the nine required hours can be kicked out of the school.
"You never know what's going on with families," Nicholson said. "I think it just hurts the student."
Chairman Pat Fagan and board member James Yant disagreed, saying parental involvement is key.
"I think that's what helps make the school what it is," Fagan said.
The revised admission policy is expected to come before the board for a formal vote next month.
After a sometimes heated discussion, however, the board also opened the door for more dramatic changes that could be in place by the time families apply for the 2012-13 school year.
Bonfield, Nicholson and Sweeney said the magnet programs for two of the schools should begin when students are older.
Nicholson has for several years said programs should start in the second grade because students tend to show talent and aptitude by then, and that portfolios created for the younger students are typically the work of the parents. She repeated that Tuesday, saying she was disappointed the committee didn't address that issue.
Bonfield went further, saying the admission policies should be more individualized to the school. The math and science magnet at Challenger should begin at fourth grade, Bonfield said, because students can come with a "resume" that includes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores and science fair projects.
Students in the performing arts, on the other hand, need to develop those skills at a younger age, and so Chocachatti should admit students only by lottery, she said.
Blavatt said the committee had limited time to tackle all of the issues and that the group would continue to meet to make additional recommendations.
"This was a committee brought in with a rather large responsibility, and it is taking bites at a time," Blavatt said.
In other action, the board gave tentative approval for the purchase of a software program that helps teachers identify concepts that students missed in previous grades and develop remedial plans to help those students catch up to their peers.
Blavatt told the board the Learning Plans on Demand software, which would cost the district $75,000, is unique in the market and a bargain, considering its benefits.
The software has received positive reviews from teachers and administrators at the Star Center, the district's school for at-risk students, where it has been in use as a pilot program for about a month. The board must formally approve the purchase with a formal vote during an upcoming regular meeting.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.