Pinellas County's 101,000 students head back to school on Aug. 22. Some themes — coping with budget cuts, developing new teacher evaluations and turning around struggling schools — will likely continue to be challenges in the 2011-12 school year. But the district will also significantly expand academic programs. Pieces of superintendent Julie Janssen's student assignment plan, approved by the School Board, will become reality this school year. Among them:
International Baccalaureate: Programs of the rigorous curriculum will launch at two schools. At Largo High, incoming ninth-graders will be enrolled in an honors option leading to the IB diploma. The James Sanderlin IB World School in St. Petersburg will expand to sixth grade, with seventh and eighth grades in the coming years.
Institute for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (ISTEM): Students at Countryside High in Clearwater will have the chance to study and apply emerging technologies across all four disciplines. Some of their elective courses will lead to industry certification in cyber security, database programming and digital video/multimedia.
Cambridge Program (Advanced Certificate of Education): Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and Dixie Hollins high schools will begin offering an international diploma program recognized by colleges and universities for its academic rigor. The Senior Research Project allows students to demonstrate skills of independent study and pursue areas of study or particular interests at greater depth.
Boca Ciega and Dunedin high schools will have a school-within-a-school fundamental program. Fundamental schools provide a structured environment and a "back to basics" approach. Important features: a focus on student responsibility and self-discipline, daily homework, a dress code that exceeds that of the school district, and mandatory parental attendance of conferences and monthly meetings.
Longer school day
Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs and Lakewood high schools, which are under some kind of state oversight after earning low grades, will extend the school day. These schools will be on a block schedule and will have 50 minutes of additional instructional time.
, A redesigned website: The district revamped pcsb.org. It features quick links to student assignment information, registration, locating your zoned school, supply lists for 2011-12, bell times and School Board meetings, among other things.
Facebook and Twitter are out: A new policy prohibits employees from communicating with students about school-related issues using popular social media or personal e-mail or cell phones. Teachers can use only district-supplied methods of communications such as Outlook e-mail accounts.
Shorter lunch lines: District officials hope lunch lines will move more swiftly with a new palm scanning system, which replaces a less accurate fingerprinting system.
New choices: High school students will find new vending machines on campus. Out: the ones selling soft drinks and sugary beverages. In: those selling fruit juices and flavored water.