Again, Pinellas schools look at assignment zones

LARGO — Pinellas County schools may be in store for yet another student assignment plan.

Superintendent Julie Janssen and her staff on Tuesday presented School Board members with a variety of data to begin discussing school zoning that could be in place as soon as 2011-2012.

With almost 6,000 students on wait lists for countywide magnet and fundamental programs, board members discussed possibly splitting the district into three high school zones — north, central and south — and offering the same magnet school options in each area.

But Janssen also pointed out that while popular discussion lately has centered around creating a second fundamental high school program, the greatest amount of interest appears to come from elementary parents whose children are wait-listed.

The district has nine fundamental schools and 49 distinct magnet programs.

Janssen told board members she will present several five-year plans to them during a September workshop with the hope that they will vote on a new scenario by December — in time for parents to start picking their children's schools for 2011-12.

Adding to the discussion, administrators showed a variety of graphics identifying the greatest concentrations of special education students and economically disadvantaged students in relation with current high school zones.

In both cases, blocks of red indicated the steepest numbers. And in both cases, the reddest areas of the district appeared in the southernmost part of the county.

"That does not mean that it's not also filled with highly talented students," said board member Mary Brown, who favors opening a fundamental high school in her south Pinellas district. "But that's an awful lot of issues for one area."

Since the School Board three years ago voted 6-1 to return to neighborhood zones, the district has become increasingly economically and racially segregated.

Brown said she feels the option gives a greater opportunity for diverse student populations.

But Goliath Davis, an administrator for the city of St. Petersburg who serves on two mediation teams dealing with the school district's equitable treatment of black students, listened to the discussion from the back of the room, at times shaking his head, especially when discussion returned to adding a fundamental high school in south Pinellas.

With the bulk of the district's struggling schools in that area, Davis worries that adding another fundamental school only results in dispersal of a troubled population rather than addressing core educational issues.

"We can't look at fundamental high school as the end all to addressing the problems," Davis said a day earlier. "Just don't shotgun it and say this is the solution."

Also Tuesday, board members received the results of an online anonymous survey of 852 parents, students and teachers regarding absenteeism and high school exam exemptions.

No surprise: 94 percent of teachers think students should be required to take a final exam if they missed five or more days in the class, while only 37 percent of students did.

Nonetheless, the board is preparing in September to approve a policy to require final exams for all high school students who miss five or more days per semester.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8707.

Again, Pinellas schools look at assignment zones 08/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:34am]

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