Last week, Pinellas County school superintendent Julie Janssen presented a laundry list of student assignment reforms during a School Board workshop. It included expanding fundamental and International Baccalaureate programs, creating laboratory schools in partnership with local colleges, and turning two elementary schools into centers serving kindergarten through second grade in one area and third through fifth in another.
Here's a look at some of the other ideas Janssen presented to the board:
• Divide the district into three attendance zones — north, middle and south county — and offer students comparable programs so they don't have to travel far. For example, a student who lives in midcounty and wanted to go to a fundamental high school could apply to the south county high school proposed at Boca Ciega High as well as to Osceola High in midcounty. But they'd probably land higher up the waiting list at Osceola than they would at Boca Ciega due to proximity.
• Extend the school day/year at some schools where student test scores indicate a need for more instructional time. Right now, Gibbs High School is discussing moving to a longer school day, though the details are still being worked out between the teachers union and the administration. "Research says students need to be in learning opportunities longer in order to get caught up," Janssen said.
• Create "ninth-grade centers" at each high school. Already in place in some schools, it clusters ninth-graders in their own part of a campus to give them extra support as they transition to high school. "We believe that could help us get our students in and then caught up," Janssen said.
• Expand AVID, the program that prepares students in the "academic middle," to all middle and high schools and explore adding it to the fifth-grade curriculum. Currently, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) is in 23 Pinellas schools. Its strives to give students the skills they need to help them successfully complete more rigorous study, like advanced placement courses.
• Create more "centers of excellence" to increase career and technical opportunities. Redesign Seminole Vocational Education Center and explore PTEC's role in supporting K-12 programs.
• Explore using PSTA buses for students. School officials and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are developing a pilot program that would see the county bus system provide transportation for students in three schools: Osceola Fundamental High School in Seminole, Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg and Bayside High School, an alternative school in Largo.
• Establish "full service centers" at three sites — one in the north, one in the middle and one in the south part of the county. These centers would be like the medical clinic being established at Gibbs High, where students could get health-related assistance.
• Expand virtual school at the middle and high school levels and to fifth grade.
• Expand prekindergarten to all elementary schools eligible for Title I funds.