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Move of Pasco's veterinary training program riles parents

NEW PORT RICHEY — Lisa Marshall answered her phone Thursday afternoon to hear her daughter, Andrea, crying that her dreams and hopes were over.

The news: The Pasco County School District had announced plans to move its west-side veterinary assistant program from Marchman Technical Education Center to Hudson High.

What did that mean? Officials hadn't shared too many details.

Aspiring veterinarian Andrea Marshall, a junior at Ridgewood High, worried that she might have to transfer to Hudson for her senior year to complete the program, which may lose longtime teacher Debra Frelick and the animals that Frelick lends to it.

Lisa Marshall and many of the other parents whose 40 kids are working toward their vet assistant certificate began swarming the school district with calls and e-mails. They've planned a Sunday afternoon gathering to put their heads together before a planned Monday evening meeting with district officials.

"We need to get to the bottom of it," Marshall said. "We're only hearing little bits and pieces."

Rob Aguis, director of the district's career and technical programs, said many of the calls he has received came down to misinformation about the proposed changes.

Many people thought the district planned to end the vet assistance certification classes, he said, or to substantially alter their content.

That's not the case at all, he said.

Rather, several administrators decided to relocate the program to Hudson, which has more land and classroom space than Marchman. The decision came from discussions about how to distribute several area programs with the opening of nearby Fivay High in the fall.

"If we want to enhance and expand the program, we need to increase that land," Aguis said. "Will Hudson accommodate this type of program? Looking at the community of Hudson, we think it will."

Students who will be seniors next year will continue to travel to the program, and will graduate with their current classmates at their usual school, officials said.

When Aguis stopped by Marchman to inform Frelick and the students of the coming change, the reaction was swift and negative.

Frelick, a 30-year agriculture teacher who helped start the program five years ago, told Aguis that she did not agree with the plan.

"These moves may benefit the students at those individual schools but will eventually limit access of students from other schools to these programs," she wrote in an e-mail to Aguis and superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

Frelick said she would leave her animals available for students to show at the county and state fairs, but did not intend to make the move.

"I am certified to teach science," she wrote in a separate note to parents. "If I take a science position close to home it will save for my family the time I spend driving and the money involved. At some point I need to put my family first. If the program is moved to Hudson, I will not be going with it."

Her correspondence fanned some flames. Parents and students started calling and e-mailing officials, complaining that the proposal was not fair.

"Some people are freaking out," said Lisa Levinski, whose son attends the program.

Levinski said she had lots of questions and she expressed hope that, in the end, the answers would satisfy everyone's concerns.

"My concern as a parent would be, is the program going to remain the same, and at the end of their senior year will they still have enough hours to get the vet tech certificate?" she said. "I think it will be fine."

Marchman principal Sheila Bryan said she understood the questions and concerns. She looked forward to helping students and parents work through the change to continue their education as planned.

Bryan, Aguis, Hudson High principal Dave LaRoche and other administrators will be available at 6 p.m. Monday at Marchman to talk about the changes with parents.

The School Board is set to take up the move in January.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Move of Pasco's veterinary training program riles parents 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 8:10pm]
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