LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County School Board members appeared Tuesday to put the brakes on an aggressive plan to transform Ridgewood High School into a technical education campus by next fall, suggesting that even if it is a good idea, slowing down will make it better.
"I'd like to see us maybe move toward it," board member Colleen Beaudoin said of the concept, calling for a longer phase-in to allow the district to better gauge student interest.
As a cautionary note, Beaudoin observed that new programs designed to attract students to open seats at Anclote High and Paul R. Smith Middle did not have an immediate impact this fall. District data show that 108 high school students attend Marchman Technical College, which is key to the emerging Ridgewood conversion proposal.
Board member Steve Luikart, a onetime Ridgewood assistant principal, went further in his critique. He did not disagree that Ridgewood, in New Port Richey, requires change.
However, he panned the notion of turning the school into a magnet with no attendance zone and few extracurricular activities.
Luikart recommended instead more tightly connecting Ridgewood and neighboring Marchman over three to five years, for students already zoned there.
He figured a more engaged student body would perform better academically.
"I think this is jumping the gun in trying to get this done by next year," Luikart said.
More immediately, he suggested identifying the lowest 35 performers at Ridgewood and telling them that if they don't improve significantly by the end of first quarter, they would be transferred to the Schwettman Educational Center.
He said he would repeat the process in the second quarter with another 35 students.
"At least we're trying to help them academically. If we leave them where they're at, they're not successful," Luikart said, noting they would not simply be rezoned to other schools.
He was hopeful his idea would motivate students and parents to get more involved with the school.
Other board members wanted more information. Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong questioned, for instance, whether the board could simply transfer students out of Ridgewood without parent consent.
"I am keeping an open mind," Armstrong said later.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said he would investigate Luikart's idea, and also seek more student input on program interest, as Beaudoin called for.
Three students attended the School Board meeting to ask that more consideration go into the existing programs, community and history before making a decision.
Browning expected to have staffers work on proposal details and be able to update the board again in October.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.