Do you feel respected?
Do you connect with teachers?
Do you like coming to school?
Pinellas County School District leaders have used such basic questions to chart a course with one goal in mind:
In the past three years, the number of students leaving Pinellas high schools with a diploma has increased, but there's still room for improvement. A district committee tackled the issue and on Tuesday presented more than a dozen recommendations to the Pinellas School Board during a workshop.
"To me, this is thinking bold," said board member Mary Brown. "It's thinking about some of the things that are best for children, and I like it."
School employees and community members surveyed district workers, students, teachers and parents, and led focus groups with students from alternative schools and programs like Bayside High, Clearwater and Lealman Intermediate schools, and the PACE Center for Girls.
The results showed a demand for more individualized instruction, better communication, more vocational education and more support for older kids who are lagging behind.
Priorities are ambitious. Among the suggestions:
• Open two learning centers in the 2010-2011 school year to serve 360 11th- and 12th-graders who need flexible arrangements to recover credits and get work experience.
• Start high school programs at Pinellas Technical Education Centers.
• Put overage middle school students in new facilities, possibly the second floor at Lealman Intermediate School, the former site of Curtis Fundamental in Clearwater or a new, third location.
• Better utilize Bayside High, across from the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center on 49th Street in Clearwater. Bayside would operate year-round with longer, staggered days and flexible hours. It would appeal to more students by offering summer credit building and a Bayside Beach Camp for eighth-graders getting ready for high school.
Board members said they needed time to digest it all. Superintendent Julie Janssen hoped to have initial plans and costs ready by the board's April workshop.
"It's got to be a phased-in process," she said.
One of the biggest changes would be a simple one: Drop the name Dropout Prevention Services for something softer and more encouraging:
Graduation Pathways to Success.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.