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New initiatives aim to boost classroom rigor, get an early start on college

TAMPA

At three high schools, students will get a head start on college.

For younger students, the more challenging Common Core curriculum will continue to take shape. And in Temple Terrace, an International Baccalaureate program will be rolled out at an elementary school.

These are some of the changes families can expect when public school in Hillsborough County resumes Aug. 20.

Most dramatic, for families who aren't sure how they will manage college, is the Collegiate Academy program at Leto, Armwood and Lennard high schools.

All three schools have struggled to maintain higher than a C in their state grades, which are determined in part by rates of participation in college-level studies.

To improve in that area and promote an overall college-going culture, the schools are bringing college literally to the high school classroom.

Students who qualify, based largely on their middle school grades, can take courses taught by scholars in their fields. They'll be able to dual enroll at nearby Hillsborough Community College campuses. At Leto and Armwood, students also will get guidance in how to manage their study time and make the best use of college advisers.

For some, the payoff will come at graduation, when they will emerge with two-year associate degrees.

For students in the earlier grades, expect new methods of instruction as Florida continues its transition to the Common Core State Standards.

Controversial among some political conservatives and teachers, Common Core seeks to give students deeper understanding of a more limited number of topics instead of what is known as the "inch-deep, mile-wide" approach to education.

Most problematic to critics is the new battery of tests that will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as the FCAT. The movement also has come under fire from those who oppose national or global educational movements of any kind.

Nevertheless, Hillsborough and other Florida districts will continue to phase in the new standards this year. (Learn more about Common Core in the Q&A on Page 9.)

In Temple Terrace, students will have another chance to sample an international curriculum as an International Baccalaureate program debuts at Riverhills Elementary School.

The IB program, which will draw students from all over the district, represents a significant change for the lower-income school. Drawing attendance boundaries for the surrounding schools was a sensitive issue, as some residents worried about the effect on nearby Temple Terrace and Lewis elementary schools.

Children who live near the school will have priority in obtaining spots in the program.

"What I feel is going to happen is that this may open the door to an IB pathway for some students and some families who may never have considered it," School Board chairwoman April Griffin said when the boundaries were adopted early this year. "That, for me, is very exciting."

Griffin also is enthusiastic about an idea she floated to allow students to bring their own Internet-enabling devices to school.

Nine schools took part in a pilot program called "Bring Your Own Device." Teachers, parents and students who were surveyed endorsed the practice. The district, meanwhile, continues to work on wiring all schools for Internet use.

Plans also are in the works to increase school security, a priority ever since the school shootings last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Officials are waiting to see if the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office will win a federal grant that would provide more patrols at elementary schools.

And, like other districts, Hillsborough begins the school year under new state laws that affect education.

A cyberbullying law allows school officials to take action when online bullying disrupts a child's education, even if the act occurs off campus. And an exceptional student education law provides numerous protections for parents at annual meetings to determine education plans for their children.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356.

New initiatives aim to boost classroom rigor, get an early start on college 08/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 6:17pm]
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