LAND O'LAKES — Pasco school district officials need to take into account student interests when preparing new academic offerings.
That message from both parents and children came through loudly at the district's inaugural meeting of its Educational Options Committee.
Pasco High parent Tami Bentley, for instance, pointedly noted that the district lacks a school for the performing and visual arts, something she said her daughter could have benefited from. Gulf High sophomore Elizabeth Cruz spoke of friends who have no plans to go to college — "they just want to do what they want to do," she said — and yet school doesn't always address their needs.
"We are failing to reach many of our students," assistant superintendent Amelia Larson acknowledged during the two-hour conversation, which encompassed standards, expectations and honors in addition to choices. "We have to work on engagement. We need to present information, do the teaching job, in a different way."
Larson and superintendent Kurt Browning explained several of the current district programs available to students. Those include advanced courses of study such as International Baccalaureate, career academies including engineering and auto mechanics, online classes and open enrollment into schools outside a family's attendance zone.
They also highlighted new ideas slated to debut in the fall, among them the Cambridge advanced studies program at Pasco Middle and Pasco High, an aeronautics career academy affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Sunlake High, and a gaming technology academy at Gulf High. Plans also are in the works to reopen Sanders Elementary as a STEM magnet after it is rebuilt.
Browning initially had planned to take those concepts to the advisory committee for its buy-in before presenting a proposal to the School Board. He said after last week's session that such a delay was not feasible, because preparing a new venture from curriculum through hiring and recruiting of students requires more time.
As a result, he sought reassurance that the committee members felt comfortable with the initiatives. But "they're already a go," Browning said, adding that he would look to the group to offer insights into future efforts.
"We are as a district very interested in hearing from our business partners, our parents, our teachers and administrators so that we are not running into the ditch," he said. "We are a long way from being finished."
Some of the possibilities that members brought up included a technical school for east Pasco, a fine arts school and a computer programming academy. Officials also said they were looking into more blended online-classroom courses and programs, with pilots at Stewart Middle and Zephyrhills High.
The group expects to meet quarterly. Browning said he might expand the membership, after noting that it did not include the demographic diversity he wanted.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.