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Hernando magnet school policies continue to generate discussion

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando schools' magnet program policy generates a lot of discussion whenever it comes up for approval.

Even, like this year, when there aren't any meaningful changes.

Hernando School Board members on Tuesday will vote on magnet program procedures for the 2013-14 school year — a document that contains just a few tweaks and clarifications, according to district officials. They tentatively approved it at an October workshop.

The big changes were made last school year.

Last November, the School Board unexpectedly voted to change the admissions procedures at Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 schools. Beginning this school year, 70 percent of students who applied to the two schools were selected by lottery and 30 percent by a scored portfolio. The ratio had been exactly the opposite.

The School Board also voted unanimously to create a partial geographic zone around Nature Coast Technical High School, with students in the zone given priority in the admissions process.

The rest of the seats are filled by lottery.

This school year was the first where no students had to submit a portfolio to be accepted at Nature Coast, said principal Toni-Ann Noyes. All applicants will still interview before they are placed in specific programs at the school.

Noyes supported the revisions to allow broader access to the school.

The decision to eliminate portfolios at Nature Coast was made last year, though, somewhat confusingly, it wasn't explicitly added into the magnet program procedures. The 2013-14 procedures include, for the first time, language clarifying the selection process.

Some didn't even know Nature Coast had already moved to an all-lottery selection, except for students living in the geographic zone, for this year.

Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo said the first he heard about it was at the School Board's Oct. 2 workshop.

"I was stunned," Vitalo said. "I think most of the people were stunned."

School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Moore said she wasn't exactly sure what the method was for accepting students into Nature Coast.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the minor tweaks to program procedures were a validation of last year's changes.

But it remains clear that some School Board members are not satisfied with the way the district selects students for magnet programs.

Board members debated the issue for hours at their October workshop, some offering up different ideas on how to change the magnet procedures.

Board member Dianne Bonfield proposed moving to 100 percent lottery selection for elementary school students and portfolios for middle school students. She said the district hasn't seen a difference in the lottery and portfolio students.

Board member John Sweeney didn't like the idea that pre-kindergarten students must submit a portfolio.

"There's something overly cold with the way we're doing things," Sweeney said.

The previous year, he argued for a total lottery system for Chocachatti and Challenger and also pushed to create partial neighborhood zones for both schools.

Bonfield said she had a problem with the way the magnet schools are perceived.

"I have always had some issues with the way our magnet programs are viewed and the schools those magnet programs are in … ," she said. "It shouldn't be viewed if you can't get in there, there's nothing for me."

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Reach him on Twitter @HernandoTimes.

Hernando magnet school policies continue to generate discussion 11/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 6:03pm]
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