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Palm Harbor High's IB program could be safe, Janssen says

In response to outcry from Palm Harbor University High School parents, Pinellas County school superintendent Julie Janssen has retooled her proposal to phase out a highly touted magnet program at the school.

Speaking to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Friday, Janssen said she's going to ask the school board to consider a new plan that would reduce the size of the International Baccalaureate program there while adding additional IB programs at Countryside and Largo high schools.

"I think that's a marvelous idea," said Bob Owen Jr., whose son is a junior in Palm Harbor's IB program. "It's a very positive direction."

Parents and students from the school have loudly protested Janssen's initial plan to move the now 580-student program from Palm Harbor to nearby Countryside High in Clearwater over four years.

Parents like Owen worried the plan would dismantle one of the district's most successful programs at a time when Pinellas could least afford it.

Janssen on Friday said that her new proposal could ultimately result in the addition of 500 IB seats throughout the county, more than are currently on the IB waiting list, she said.

Currently, the only high schools offering the rigourous academic curriculum are Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg High, each of which have about 580 kids.

The school chief said it's too early to say exactly how much smaller she would propose the new Palm Habor IB become, but she floated a range of 375 to 400 students.

"I think that's a fair compromise," Janssen said. "We just have to land on a number."

Toni Yeomans and daughter Jordan Yeomans, 16, a junior in the IB program, sounded relieved.

"I'm shocked right now," Jordan said. "To be able to keep it at Palm Harbor and be able to keep it all together and also expand the program . . . Wow."

Toni Yeomans has been one of the key organizers helping to get word out to parents at the school. She was at a faith conference in Tampa Friday when she got word. "You just made my whole day," she said. "It's good news. It shows things are going in the right direction."

Janssen said that though she is proposing a smaller IB enrollment at Palm Harbor, she hopes to stave off the possibility of losing many teachers as a result. Janssen is suggesting that teachers who are there now have the opportunity to teach pure IB classes as well as classes that are open to non-IB students who are not seeking an strict IB diploma but who qualify for what is called the IB "certificated" program.

Janssen said she plans to discuss the new idea with individual school board members. She also hopes to bring it to the entire board at their next workshop on Thursday, Oct. 28.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Palm Harbor High's IB program could be safe, Janssen says 10/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 5:05pm]
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