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Pasco schools look to build on what they have started

Having made several big changes in his first 18 months as superintendent, Kurt Browning has promised no major districtwide strategy changes this year for Pasco County schools.

Faculty and staff have their hands full enough already.

"We're going to continue to improve upon and build upon initiatives we put in place," Browning explained.

He referred specifically to the expansion of the district's school choice options and the addition of programs designed to assist struggling students. Some of those will begin to blossom during the 2014-15 school year, after preparations during the past several months.

The biggest one is the debut of the Cambridge/AICE advanced curriculum and accelerated study at Pasco Middle and Pasco High schools. The program, an alternative to International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement, was developed by the University of Cambridge in England and serves more than 8 million students a year in 160 countries.

Pasco schools have not offered it before.

District leaders decided to implement it at the two Dade City schools because the east side of the county had no organized advanced opportunities available, unlike central and west Pasco. Rather than repeating IB, they chose a different concept.

If successful, Browning said, he would look to implement Cambridge in another feeder pattern.

For students seeking to move ahead at their own pace, but still wanting the benefit of classroom instruction, the district is expanding its Infinity program into three additional campuses.

Developed at Paul R. Smith Middle School, Infinity puts students into classrooms where they can take their courses online during the school day. Assigned teachers remain with the students all day and help them in their subjects as needed.

This year, Zephyrhills High, Anclote High and Stewart Middle schools adopt the program.

The district also is broadening its prekindergarten offerings, creating new mainstreamed classrooms at Oakstead, Schrader and Northwest elementary schools.

They will serve a combination of children in the state Voluntary Prekindergarten program and students with special needs who qualify for federal early education funding.

These classes aim to help the district meet federal requirements for inclusion of special education students in traditional classrooms. And they also offer families access to a curriculum aligned to kindergarten demands.

Initially offered to the children of employees at the host schools, the concept could broaden if it meets financial and academic targets.

On the policy front, the School Board has two big revisions in play.

Following parent complaints, the board expects to change its requirements to earn a spot on the honor roll. Browning pledged to increase the standard after learning that students could earn D grades and still receive the recognition.

The new rule would make it impossible to be placed on the honor roll if you get any D or F, regardless of grade-point average for the marking period. It would create four levels of awards, including an All-A Honor Roll and a new Superintendent's Honor Roll for students who earn only A's for the entire year.

School Board members have signaled their support for the change, but will not vote on the measure until Aug. 12.

They've already approved a new chart that streamlines the potential penalties for student misbehavior in school. The change also incorporates more rules for academic integrity, which had been largely absent in the district's code of conduct.

Browning said that when he took over as superintendent, he would hear complaints that the same violations did not yield the same disciplinary action in every school. He proposed this "matrix" as a way to have consistency throughout the district.

Teachers and principals would have room to make judgment calls based on all the factors. This effort should, however, remove the wide variation in decisions.

Looking ahead, the district will continue its ongoing efforts related to choice by creating plans for new and renovated schools that will open in 2015. Work is under way for a magnet school to replace Sanders Memorial Elementary, which closed four years ago.

Curriculum discussions, including questions about magnet options, also have begun for the reopenings of Quail Hollow and Shady Hills elementary schools, which have been shut during construction.

The district has not opened a new school since 2010.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Pasco schools look to build on what they have started 07/31/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 11:53am]
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