LARGO — With a marketing campaign and several new middle school choices, Pinellas County schools saw a dramatic increase in the number of students applying for special programs on the first day of a 10-day application period.
This year, 3,942 students applied on opening day, compared to 2,945 last year, according to the school district. That's an increase of about 34 percent, or 997 students.
Grego told the School Board on Tuesday that he credited the uptick to "more strategic, more aggressive" promotion efforts, including direct mail sent to 15,000 families and "invitation-only" events for the new programs.
He said he was encouraged by the level of interest in new middle school programs at Azalea Middle, Pinellas Park Middle, Tarpon Springs Middle and East Lake High. (East Lake will have middle school classrooms on its campus next year.) He also said he was impressed by the number of students listing the programs as their first choice.
Students have until midnight Friday to submit an application to the district's most coveted programs, such as fundamental and magnet schools. Each student can apply to five programs, which they rank in order of preference. Students have the same chance of getting in regardless of whether they apply on the first day of the application period or the last.
Last year, 9,667 students applied, but many didn't receive an invitation to a single school. Some of those students then left the school system for charter or private schools.
That's something Grego is trying to change with the introduction of new programs, which could revitalize some schools with less-than-stellar reputations and shift students away from popular schools. He's also proposed re-opening two schools as technology magnets that the district had previously closed. If the School Board approves that plan, Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementaries will have a separate application period later this year.
Already, the new middle school programs have drawn interest from families.
As of Friday, East Lake High, which will open a middle school engineering program, had drawn the most applications of any of the four new programs. The school received 289 applications. Of those, 201 were marked first choice.
Tarpon Springs Middle, which will have a Leadership Conservatory for the Arts and pre-Cambridge program, had 126 applications in the first three days of the application period. Of those, 55 were ranked first choice.
Azalea Middle and Pinellas Park Middle, which are struggling to rebuild their academic reputations, were third and fourth, respectively, for applications as of Friday.
Azalea Middle's engineering program garnered 119 applications; 27 were ranked first. Pinellas Park's pre-Cambridge program drew 82 applications, 28 of those ranked first.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.