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Be in the know when approaching your search for schools

At a discovery night last month at 
Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, John Gehm holds 
2-week-old 
son Nixon while looking at world history projects with wife Han Ly and their two sons, Kevin, 11, and Kyle, 7, along with Benjamin Nguyen, 11.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

At a discovery night last month at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, John Gehm holds 2-week-old son Nixon while looking at world history projects with wife Han Ly and their two sons, Kevin, 11, and Kyle, 7, along with Benjamin Nguyen, 11.

Welcome to the 18th annual edition of School Search. Our goal is to help Pinellas families with the important task of choosing the right school for their children in this season when schools begin to seek new students for the 2014-15 academic year.

This special section is built around the start of the application period for magnet, fundamental and career programs in Pinellas public schools. But private and charter schools are in recruitment mode as well, with January open houses and application deadlines of their own.

Pinellas parents have an expanding array of choices, and these pages reflect that reality.

Traditional zoned public schools, the most obvious choice, register students later in the year during a process that is largely automatic and based on where families live.

At School Search, we deal primarily with the dozens of special programs in the public system that go beyond what zoned schools offer. But we also report on what private and charter schools bring to the table.

As you will read in this section, the number of charter schools in Pinellas has more than tripled in the past five years, and more are in the pipeline to be approved.

Similarly, private school options continue to expand for low-income families who qualify for vouchers that cover tuition or transportation to a school far from home. This year, as in the past, more private schools have joined the Florida Tax Credit program, which again has increased the scholarship amount it offers.

At the same time, public schools are offering more variety. Pinellas is adding four magnet programs for middle school students in 2014-15, and is moving quickly on a proposal to reopen Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementary schools as technology magnets by August.

Also new this year: The Center for Journalism and Multimedia at Lakewood High, an established program, has been elevated to an academy.

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego says his staff is talking about adding even more special programs in the near future.

As we always say, School Search is just a starting point for families. Attending discovery nights, asking lots of questions and comparing notes with other parents are strongly recommended steps as you prepare to make a choice.

It also can't hurt to check the numbers.

Go to fldoe.org, the Florida Department of Education's home page. Click on "Data & Statistics" in the far left column. After that, scroll down and click on a line that reads "PK-12 Reports and Publications." It will lead you to school-by-school data such as student poverty levels and teacher salaries and degree levels.

For school FCAT scores, click on "Data & Statistics" from the home page, then on the next page click on "Assessment" in the left column. That will lead you to a page with the heading "Bureau of K-12 Student Assessments." Under it, click on the link to "FCAT 2.0." Find the heading that says "Assessment Results" and choose a year.

Another resource, greatschools.org, rates individual schools and offers consumer reviews from parents and teachers. Be sure to pay attention to the dates of the reviews, and treat the information as you would a single test score or a chat at the grocery story with another parent. It's only a piece of the puzzle.

Good luck on your quest to find the right school, and feel free to drop us a line if you need more help.

Tom Tobin can be reached at tobin@tampabay.com.

Be in the know when approaching your search for schools 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 3:38pm]
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