K-8 community school proposed for Sulphur Springs

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TAMPA — A school serving Sulphur Springs, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, could soon join the trend of K-8 community schools.

Hillsborough County School District administrators are proposing the conversion for Sulphur Springs Elementary, to begin in the fall. Its principal, Julie Scardino, would remain. The School Board will consider the matter Tuesday.

Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the community's educational culture, has worked with the district on the idea. Sheff Crowder, the chairman of the group that has worked there since 2009, said his team has noticed a trend at the C-rated elementary school. The school's graduates are zoned to attend Sligh Middle if they live south of Waters Avenue or Van Buren Middle if they live north. Both are F-rated schools.

"We were seeing behavioral problems go up and academic progress go down," Crowder said. "That's a double-edged sword, because that's just the middle school experience. But that's a particularly big experience for a neighborhood like Sulphur Springs." Every child at the school qualifies for the federal free-lunch program.

The plan is to phase students assigned to Van Buren and Sligh into the combined K-8 school. Educators think the structure allows students to avoid the awkward transition into middle school and foster meaningful relationships with teachers. "This really could make all the difference," Crowder said.

Three K-8 schools already exist in Tampa: Roland Park, Rampello Magnet, and Turner/Bartels. The district also plans to convert Tinker Elementary in August.

These community schools have "pretty overwhelming support," district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said, because parents like the idea of their kids staying at the same place.

He said one hazard of community schools is that the district has to change attendance boundaries.

"Zoning is a big thing we need to bring before the School Board. Parents need to know about it," Hegarty said. "But we anticipate this zoning will proceed smoothly."

Contact Zack Peterson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.

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