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Hernando School Board will review magnet school admission plan

BROOKSVILLE — Confronted by parents fretting over changes to magnet school admission rules, the School Board on Tuesday decided to reverse course and form a committee to come up with long-term policies.

The board agreed during a workshop that some kindergarten spaces at Chocachatti Elementary School of the Arts and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics should be taken using a portfolio.

Back in June, the board reasoned that 100 percent of kindergartners should be accepted by lottery because students that young typically don't show aptitude in a given area. They also agreed then to fill the rest of the grade levels through portfolio only instead of continuing to gradually phase out lottery admission.

For now, however, spaces at all grades at all three of the county's magnet schools will be filled using a ratio of 70 percent portfolio, 30 percent lottery.

Parents who showed up at Tuesday's workshop argued that students show plenty of aptitude by the age of 4 and that filling kindergarten spots completely by chance defeats the purpose of magnet programs meant to attract students with talent in given areas.

"I don't think luck is the way you decide who goes to the magnet school," parent John Boyle said.

Chocachatti principal Maria Rybka supported a mix of portfolio and lottery for kindergarten admission.

"I think that it would be nice balance if you had a little bit of each," Rybka said. "We can take any child and help them develop talents but excluding students who already show ability is what the issue is."

Board members mentioned a few ideas for tweaking the admissions policy during a two-hour discussion. Jim Knight, director of student services, recommended forming a committee of parents and school officials to research the policies of other districts in the state and cherry-pick what works.

Principals and parents supported the idea, and the board agreed.

"So we can have something that will work for many, many years," board member Sandra Nicholson said.

Tuesday marked only a partial victory for parents, though. They also sought to preserve the policy that gives automatic admission to siblings of students already enrolled in magnet schools.

That policy ends next year and the board did not change that, but the issue is likely one the committee would address.

Vicki Schultz, a Brooksville resident who has three children at Chocachatti and wants her 3 year old to gain admission, too, told the board that she found through her own research that some of the most respected magnet programs have some kind of preference for siblings if not automatic admission.

"The benefits of the family unit and keeping that together, they just outweigh the spot that (siblings) are taking from somebody else," Schultz said.

Knight said he would work with interim superintendent Sonya Jackson to figure out how to form the committee.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or at (352) 848-1431.

Hernando School Board will review magnet school admission plan 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 8:25pm]
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