BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District is one step closer to a magnet school admission policy that at least most stakeholders can agree on.
The School Board on Tuesday gave its blessing to a committee to study the issue and a timetable that could produce recommendations by the fall.
"I think this is what has been needed in this district," student services director Jim Knight said. "I'm glad they're ready to move forward."
The committee will include three parents of students at magnet schools and three parents from neighborhood schools. Four teachers will be split the same way.
Among the other members are Toni-Ann Noyes, principal of the magnet Nature Coast Technical High School, and Marvin Gordon, principal at Spring Hill Elementary School, a neighborhood school. Two district staffers and John Mitten with the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce round out the group.
The final makeup of the group is the result of a request from board members who sought more representation from parents and teachers not affiliated with the district's magnet programs.
"If anything, this would give the nonmagnet sector … more involvement where maybe they don't have that now," board member John Sweeney said.
The committee will seek information from districts inside and outside Florida that have magnet programs, and bring recommendations to the board, Knight said.
Among the questions are what kind of admission criteria districts use, who oversees the audition process, and whether transportation is provided for magnet students.
In the past, the School Board has debated issues such as what percentage of students should be admitted by portfolio and by lottery, and whether portfolios from students in kindergarten and first grade really reflect the child's aptitude.
At a workshop in June, board members agreed that all students entering first grade and higher at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics and Chocachatti Elementary, which has a fine arts magnet program, would be accepted by portfolio starting this year. Nature Coast's admission ratio will be 60 percent portfolio, 40 percent lottery.
The board also made one of two changes that rankled some parents: Students entering kindergarten would be accepted only by lottery starting this year. Children that young, board members reasoned, can't really show much aptitude, and portfolios tend to be the work of parents, not the students.
The other question the committee will be tasked to ask: Do you have a sibling policy?
A vocal group of parents had sought to extend the controversial policy that gives automatic admission to a child with a sibling in the same magnet school. That policy ended this year, and parents tried in vain to persuade the board to extend it at least until the committee had finished its work.
The group is set to have its first meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 17, probably at the district headquarters, Knight said. The meetings, expected to run through August, are open to the public.
Among the parents on the committee is Andrew Caamano, who has a student at Challenger. "Bring us some good info," Sweeney called as Caamano left the board room Tuesday.
Caamano indicated that should not be a problem.
"I already have a lot of people bombarding me with information," he replied.
Jennifer Ward of Brooksville has a student at Chocachatti and another child who will likely apply. Ward, who attended Tuesday's meeting but is not on the committee, said she doesn't support an automatic sibling admission policy. But there should be some additional weight given to an application of a brother or sister of a current magnet student, she said.
"There has to be a compromise, and I think that's the point of the committee," Ward said.
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Also Tuesday, the board approved a committee to research and rank sidewalk and bike lane projects that will make safer passage for students who walk and bike to school.
The county and the district will then work together to get federal grant money from the Safe Routes to School program to pay for the most pressing of those needs. Forming a committee of parents, teachers, administrators and county planners is a requirement to secure the grant money.
But board members asked staffers to halt a grant application for $317,000 in Safe Routes funding to build a roughly three-quarter-mile stretch of sidewalk along Powell Road from Spring Park Way to Chocachatti Elementary and another section on California Street near Chocachatti's neighbor, Nature Coast Technical High.
Residents in the area had collected about 700 signatures in support of the sidewalk on Powell. The grant application would likely have an advantage in the competitive process because the project is near one already approved to build a milelong stretch of sidewalk and install streetlights along the west side of California Street north of Powell, county planner Steve Diez told the board.
But a majority of board members agreed that there are more pressing needs for sidewalks in other, more densely populated parts of the county. They noted that Chocachatti and Nature Coast, as magnet schools, pull most of their students from outside their neighborhoods.
"We're talking a lot of money where it won't benefit a lot, if any, students," board member Sandra Nicholson said. "Let this one go and secure funds where we need them, not where someone in Tallahassee or Washington says we need them."
The board asked staff to bring back other suggestions at a workshop in mid April.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.