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Increased demand for Pinellas specialty schools means fewer students are getting their choice

ST. PETERSBURG — This week, thousands of parents who applied to magnet or fundamental schools in Pinellas County found out whether their children got in.

As usual, there were winners and losers. This year, because of unprecedented interest in these schools, there were more disappointed parents than in years past. At some schools, even siblings of students already at the school didn't get a seat.

"We pretty much thought she would be a shoo-in to get into Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle because (her brother) is there," said Lisa Brave, mother of Sierra, 10, who is No. 24 on the school's gifted studies wait list and No. 65 on the fundamental school's wait list. "Now I've got to bite my nails and lips and wait and hope and pray that she moves up on the wait list."

There were 791 applicants for Thurgood's 306 openings. The gifted portion of the school had 277 applicants for 142 spots.

Thurgood Marshall principal Dallas Jackson said it is likely that siblings of current students will get in once students who were accepted at more than one school make their choices and free up spots.

But in the meantime, there is uncertainty for Brave and hundreds of other parents.

Though the district has added more seats at fundamental schools in recent years, parents are still clamoring for more seats at these schools.

"My main issue is the fact there really aren't many spots for those of us who don't already have a child at these schools," said Tricia Bates of Palm Harbor, whose daughter didn't get into kindergarten at Curtis Fundamental Elementary School in Dunedin.

We asked district officials to explain the selection process:

What was the process for the lottery? Who was given preference?

In elementary schools, first preference was given to the children of professional staff at that school. After that, students who have an older sibling at that school were given preference. Then it was opened up to other applicants.

For middle schools, first priority was given to students from feeder schools. After that, children of professional staff at the schools got slots, followed by siblings of current students.

If I'm 100 on the wait list, is there a chance I could still get in?

Yes, but it depends on the school and the grade level. Students entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades tend to have the best chance to move up the list. Students trying to get into fifth or eighth grade have the least chance, since those students tend to stay put so that they can guarantee themselves a spot in a magnet or fundamental middle or high school.

To find out more, you should contact the school to find out the history of the wait list. Many will tell you how many spots have been accepted and where you might stand. But ultimately, it's up to you to make the decision that best fits your child. Some parents may choose to gamble away a guaranteed spot at one elementary magnet school in hopes of making it into another via the wait list.

Do I need to do anything to secure my spot on the wait list?

Yes. If you do not log in and accept a position by Monday, even if it is a spot on a wait list, it will be as if you never even applied. You must accept one of your choices. If you accept a position at one school, you will lose your spots at the other schools and be removed from any wait lists.

When can I find out what my final wait list number is?

On March 10, you can call the school to find your wait list number. Between March 10 and March 17, the district will give students with siblings who got into magnet or fundamental schools for the first time the option to register that sibling preference with the district. Those siblings then move to the top of the list. On March 18, schools will begin making invitations to students on the wait lists.

Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or 727-893-8640.

Increased demand for Pinellas specialty schools means fewer students are getting their choice 03/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 12:22am]

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