Friday, September 21, 2018
Education

Merging Cahoon Elementary, Van Buren Middle would solve several problems for Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — With the merger of two north Tampa schools, the Hillsborough County School District is finally working to make sense of where it sends its students and how they get there.

Van Buren Middle School, which is more than half empty and earned a string of D grades in recent years, will be combined with Cahoon Elementary, a magnet school specializing in animal science.

The adjacent campuses are just east of Sulphur Springs and south of Busch Boulevard.

When the changes take place in August of 2018, Cahoon will no longer be a magnet. Students who live near the school, or are admitted through choice, will be able to take part in the animal science program. But those outside the boundaries will not be guaranteed a bus ride.

These plans are preliminary, and officials say they will hold several community meetings before anything is firmed up. Details worked out so farare explained on the school district website.

The plan affects far more schools than Cahoon and Van Buren.

For years, as elementary schools near Cahoon were filled beyond capacity, the district bused children to Clark and Hunter's Green elementary schools in New Tampa.

But, with suburban homebuilding back in full swing, 1,500 new families are expected in New Tampa. By ending busing, the district can accommodate the new students without building a new school. "It's really a $25 million motivator," said Chris Farkas, the district's chief operating officer, referring to the approximate construction cost.

The merger also helps answer the question of what to do when the Museum of Science and Industry, which has its own district-run school near the University of South Florida, relocates to downtown Tampa.

Right now children who cannot find room at MOSI attend Pizzo Elementary, or other schools when Pizzo is full, Farkas said. Sometimes buses travel from one apartment complex to three different schools. And the erratic pattern hurts Pizzo, which gets about half of its 800 students from other school zones.

"It's not a conducive learning environment," Farkas said, "not knowing who your students are and what your feeder schools are."

An important piece of the plan is a prekindergarten program, district officials said. With kindergarten readiness lacking in many schools, they want children to be well prepared as they move through the primary grades.

Of the 40 schools that landed on the state's list of 312 low-performing elementary schools this year, many are located close to Cahoon and Van Buren: Kimbell, Miles, Pizzo, Shaw, Witter and the Village of Excellence charter school, to name a few.

There's no way to gauge how the merger will go. Nearby Sulphur Springs Elementary began a conversion to a K-8 school two years ago. It added grade six, then needed an extra year to adjust to its new role as a middle school. Grade seven will be added in August, Farkas said.

And race could become a factor as the plan is communicated to area residents.

Van Buren's student population is 60 percent black and under 5 percent white. Cahoon, with the magnet program, is 52 percent black and 17 percent white.

"We're always concerned about racial make up at a school," Farkas said. "That's all the more reason for kids having a viable option within that community."

As complicated as the Cahoon-Van Buren merger promises to be, it is just the first of many such reconfigurations planned as the district tries to correct inefficient zoning situations.

Schools, especially middle schools, have enrollments as low as 46 percent of their capacity and as high as 117 percent. And some of the largely empty schools are magnets, which means the district is paying to bus students in from as far as 25 miles away.

"This is a small snapshot of what the future may hold," Farkas said.

Despite the work, district leaders say they must find ways to economize at a time of uncertain funding and concerns about its reserve accounts. Following recommendations from the Gibson Consulting Group, district leaders are also considering a change to bell schedules that would allow more buses to serve three schools a day instead of two.

Those conversations are preliminary, Farkas said, with the goal of putting a full hour between high school, elementary school and middle school start times. The typical high school day begins at 7:33 a.m. while elementary schools start at 8 a.m. and middle schools at 9 a.m.

Forty percent of the bus drivers have only two schools, so spacing the trips out would improve efficiency, Farkas said.

More importantly, he added: "If we have an hour in between, it gives us a much better chance to of getting the students to school on time for breakfast and picking them up on time."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Students, parents invited to three upcoming college and career fairsThree events are scheduled over the next two weeks that are designed to help students plan their next steps after leaving the Pinellas County school system. The University of South F...
Published: 09/21/18
Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

TRINITY — Julie Michael stood in the metal bleachers, flute poised at her lips, ready to play the national anthem with the Seven Springs Middle School advanced band.As the band segued into the school fight song, the eighth-grader continued per...
Published: 09/20/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Let’s see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18

Local rapper encourages elementary students to attend school every day(w/video)

Local rapper Corey Thornton performs original songs on Wednesday Sept. 18, 2019 about the importance of school attendance at Walsingham Elementary School during a school wide assembly. During Attendance Awareness Month, Pinellas County Schools and th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

TAMPA — All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into o...
Published: 09/19/18
Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

LAND O' LAKES — The Pasco County School Board unanimously adopted a $1.26 billion budget Tuesday with a slightly lowered tax rate and funding for new school construction in both east and west Pasco.But the spending item that grabbed most of th...
Published: 09/19/18
Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

After he graduated from a Maryland high school, Rickey Murray had a number of opportunities awaiting him at a number of four-year institutions.He eyed the University of South Florida, applied to Florida International University and considered Virgini...
Published: 09/18/18
School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District’s concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district’s legislative picture for 2019 sha...
Published: 09/18/18
Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Robert Judson, who spent a decade as a community college president, died Monday afternoon. He was 77.In 1994 Judson took the helm at Pasco-Hernando State College, then called Pasco-Hernando Community College. He became the college’s second president ...
Published: 09/17/18

Pasco Letters to the Editor for Sept. 21

Re: Pasco deal for teachers another 'slap on the face' | Sept. 7 letterKenny Blankenship’s recent letter to the editor confirms why he is a social studies teacher and not a math teacher. Like the Tampa Bay Times, Pasco County Schools has a fac...
Published: 09/17/18