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Pasco officials exploring idea for county's first magnet school

LAND O'LAKES — In a nod to increasing demands for more education options, Pasco school district leaders are exploring whether to open the county's first magnet school.

They plan to spend the next month gauging community interest while also studying academic and financial possibilities.

"The climate is definitely becoming more competitive," assistant superintendent Dave Scanga said. "As a district, we need to make sure we have those choices that parents are seeking."

Action could come quickly if community response is positive.

That's the expectation, based on recent activity.

In the past few years, the district has seen a rise in home schooling among families, as well as growth in charter school enrollment, open choice applications, virtual education participation and out-of-district transfers. It has opened several high school career academies with varying degrees of success.

If there's a demand for additional programs and services, the district wants to know it and try to meet it, Scanga said. Parents will be able to respond to an online survey on the issue as early as Friday.

"I love the idea," School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. "This is a perfect example of giving parents the opportunity to tell us what they think is important."

Hurley said she did not consider this a matter of competition with other educational offerings in the county. Rather, she said, the public school system has an obligation to advance student achievement and involve parents, and it should do everything possible to meet that civic duty.

Pasco is the only district in the Tampa Bay area without a magnet school: Hillsborough has 31, Pinellas has 20 and Hernando has three.

"I think it's the time for us to have the discussion about why we should," Hurley said.

Board member Steve Luikart fully backed the idea of seeking community views on whether to create new academic programs.

"I am all for offering as much as we can offer," Luikart said. "If the community is wanting it and supporting it, I say go for it."

He cautioned against aiming for new initiatives the district cannot afford, though. He also raised concerns over establishing magnets in one location rather than making specialty programs available to everyone in every school.

That's the problem with the district's career academies, Luikart said — they're really only available to students whose families can find a way to get them there.

He suggested that the district already has many schools that focus on specific academic areas, such as fine arts at River Ridge High. The district simply does not publicize those as much as it could, he said.

Scanga agreed that many county schools have strong specialty programs. But they are not necessarily embedded or sustained over time, he said.

The magnet concept, if pursued, would take that next step.

So far, he said, the idea is very preliminary. Officials have no preconceptions of subject area, location or any other detail, except to focus on the elementary level to start.

If approved, the magnet likely would go into an existing school, either as a full conversion or a school within a school. Scanga said he hoped to collect as much information as possible in the coming month. If interest is high, he said, the goal is to prepare something "fairly quickly."

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

Pasco officials exploring idea for county's first magnet school 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 8:46pm]
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