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Bold plan for Pinellas schools seems headed for approval

ST. PETERSBURG — It's banged up. Full of arrows. Missing pieces.

But despite all it has been through — and all it has put people through — a good chunk of Pinellas County superintendent Julie Janssen's ambitious plan to beef up the district's academic programs appears headed for approval Tuesday night.

"I think we're still on the right track with this," said School Board chairwoman Carol Cook. "We may be going at a little slower speed than was originally intended. But we're going about it in a conscientious manner."

"We did ask her to be bold with some decisions and to try some new stuff," said board member Janet Clark, who has been Janssen's most vocal critic on the board. "I can't fault her with coming up with some things that were controversial."

Unveiled in September, the plan aims to give more students more access to more top-notch academic offerings. Shorter waiting lists, hopefully, for fundamental schools and International Baccalaureate programs. Shorter commutes, hopefully, for students who can't get what they want in their zoned schools.

Those big-picture goals are still in sight, even if parts of the plan got blown to bits.

The IB program at Palm Harbor University High won't be moving to Countryside High, as originally envisioned. Southern Oak and Walsingham elementary schools won't be paired up into new grade configurations. Lakeview Fundamental and Gulfport elementaries won't be merged.

All those proposals went down in flames after angry parents rebelled. Janssen and School Board members concede much of the damage was self-inflicted, due to a poor decisionmaking process they promise will improve.

"Some things had to be put on the back burner until we could do things the right way," Janssen said. "And the right way is to get input from stakeholders."

But away from the fires, plenty of other pieces survived.

Among high schools alone, a new IB is on tap for Largo High. School-within-a-school fundamental programs are headed to Dunedin High and Boca Ciega High. Dixie Hollins, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs high schools are each set to get a Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program (better known as AICE, which some liken to IB). Countryside is slated to get an integrated technology program.

"Yeah, they all didn't work. But sometimes when you try new things, they all don't work," said board member Robin Wikle. "I feel we rolled it out incorrectly. But we are raising academic achievement, we're raising the bar."

Some pieces were put on hold, such as ninth-grade centers at each high school.

Some pieces remain up in the air, such as the proposal to downsize the IB program at Palm Harbor.

Others — such as a new application process for magnet and fundamental programs — may come under fire later (in the case of the new application process, perhaps when parents begin using it next month).

The board's two newest members, Lew Williams and Terry Krassner, are the most ambivalent about the plan, saying they still need to digest more details.

Williams said he wanted to see more programs for struggling students. Krassner said she wants assurances that the district can afford the new programs — and that they're based on best practices or solid research.

"I have a lot of questions but not a lot of answers right now," she said.

For all the controversy, Clark said it's important to remember the plan was never billed as the end-all-be-all, but a start.

"Dr. Janssen never intended this to be a one-year, one-shot thing," she said. "We're going to have more conversations."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

The final vote

The Pinellas County School Board is scheduled to take a final vote on the student achievement/assignment plan Tuesday. The board meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the school district administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo. To see the agenda, go to www.pcsb.org. To see the latest draft of the plan, go to the same site and scroll down to the bottom of the page, where it says pcsNEWS. Click on the link that says "Magnet, Fundamental, Career Academy Programs Handbook (Subject to change)."

Bold plan for Pinellas schools seems headed for approval 12/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 6, 2010 7:41am]
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