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Applying for magnet, fundamental or career program? Here are tips

Chamber orchestra students perform last month on a discovery night for the Tarpon Springs Middle School Leadership Conservatory for the Arts. From left are Celina Lawson, Madeleine McCreary, Isabelle Lebron, Nomikos Skoutelis, Olivia Stokely, Shania Eazer, George Sullivan and Anya Reinhard. In addition to the arts, the new program will focus on leadership and character education.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Chamber orchestra students perform last month on a discovery night for the Tarpon Springs Middle School Leadership Conservatory for the Arts. From left are Celina Lawson, Madeleine McCreary, Isabelle Lebron, Nomikos Skoutelis, Olivia Stokely, Shania Eazer, George Sullivan and Anya Reinhard. In addition to the arts, the new program will focus on leadership and character education.

It's that time of year again. • Time for school tours, discovery nights and poring over test data, all with the desperate hope of getting your student into the right school. To help you through what can be a stressful process, we've compiled a list of basic and advanced tips.

The basics

1 Submit an application between Wednesday and Jan. 17.

2 Follow up. The school district won't call, email or send a letter to alert students about invitations. Return to the Student Reservation System Feb. 6-13 to view invitations and waiting list status. Accept a program invitation before midnight Feb. 13 and remember to print or email confirmation.

3 A surprising number of students each year apply to programs for which they are ineligible. Check the program requirements or call the school before applying.

Advanced strategies

1 Students can rank up to five choices when they apply. Think of the process as applying to college. Put your top choice first — even if it's one of the most coveted programs in the district, such as Osceola Fundamental High or Madeira Beach Fundamental K-8 — but make a "safe school" the second pick. Selecting five competitive programs could result in no invitation at all. To help gauge whether a program is competitive, consult the chart at right.

2 Kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades — the entry-level grades — offer the best shot at getting into competitive programs. Kindergarten is particularly wide open because most students don't yet have "priority status." (Students get an edge by having attended a fundamental, having a parent employed at the school, having a sibling at the school or living nearby.) Keep in mind that fundamental schools are tough to crack past the elementary years.

3 Didn't get into that special program in kindergarten? Try again in fourth grade. Florida's class-size amendment boosts the number of students in each class to 22 from 18 in fourth grade, potentially opening up a few more seats. It's worth calling the school to check.

4 Middle school programs might be easier to get into this year. That's because the district is opening four new programs for 2014-15. Those programs — at Pinellas Park Middle, Azalea Middle, Tarpon Springs Middle and East Lake High — will offer seats at all three grade levels and could draw some students away from the traditionally competitive programs.

5 Don't panic. Students who draw a low number on the waiting list could have a chance at getting a seat. It's worth calling the school to find out how many students typically are accepted from the waiting list each year before making a final decision.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

To see our chart showing inside the school lottery, click here.

Applying for magnet, fundamental or career program? Here are tips 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 5:37pm]

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