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 will ask the School Board to consider reducing the size of the International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor while at the same time adding 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 phase out the program at Palm Harbor and phase it in over four years at Countryside High School in Clearwater. Parents like Owen worried the plan would dismantle one of the district's most successful programs.
Janssen on Friday said her new proposal could ultimately result in the addition of 500 IB seats throughout the county, more than are currently on the waiting list.
The only high schools that now offer the rigourous academic curriculum are Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg High School, each of which has about 580 students.
The school chief said it's too early to say exactly how much Palm Harbor's IB program would shrink, 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, a key parent organizer, was at a conference in Tampa on Friday when she got the word. "You just made my whole day," she said. "It's good news. It shows things are going in the right direction."
Her 16-year-old daughter Jordan, a junior in the IB program, was relieved. "I'm shocked right now," she said. "To be able to keep it at Palm Harbor and be able to keep it all together and also expand the program … Wow."
With the smaller enrollment, Janssen said she will propose that Palm Harbor IB teachers also teach students who are not seeking an IB diploma but who qualify for an IB certificate.
Janssen said she hopes to present her new plan to the board at an Oct. 28 workshop.
On Friday, board member Linda Lerner said that she wants to keep the IB program at Palm Harbor, but has questions about reducing its size and creating IB programs at Countryside and Largo.
Lerner said she wants to ensure the district is considering a spectrum of offerings for high-achieving students. "I want to see it deliberatively looked at," she said.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.