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Pinellas charter school leaves parents searching for spots

Dozens of Pinellas families are scrambling to find schools for their children after a St. Petersburg charter school abruptly held a new lottery for admission just four days before the first day of school.

East Windsor Middle Academy emailed parents on Wednesday evening that construction on its middle school building wouldn't be finished by Monday, and that a temporary location could serve only 65 students.

On Thursday afternoon, the school held a new lottery that left parents in tears.

"What am I supposed to do now?" asked Rose Borgias, whose 11-year-old daughter lost the sixth-grade seat she had secured months ago. "What am I supposed to tell my girl?"

It was not immediately clear Thursday how many families lost their acceptance to East Windsor. In documents submitted to the School Board in May, administrators said they expected to enroll 242 students in grades 6 through 8 this school year. The original lottery was held in March, two months before these documents were reviewed by the Pinellas School Board.

The school's principal, Jessica Clements, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails seeking comment Thursday evening.

Kim Smalling, the parent of another sixth-grader shut out of the charter school, said her phone calls to East Windsor went unanswered all afternoon.

Borgias said she went to the school, where she found no answers. Her daughter is 39th on the wait list, she said.

Both mothers had already bought uniforms and school supplies for East Windsor; neither knew where they would send their daughters Monday.

"What am I supposed to do, run around and beg schools to take her?" asked Smalling, who gave up her younger child's seat at another school so that both children could attend the K-8 charter school together.

"I'm not the kind of mom who sends her kid to any school," she said. "I researched them all, I toured them all, I studied them all, and now I don't have a school for her."

Bill Lawrence, the director of student assignment for Pinellas County Schools, sent out a phone message Thursday evening urging parents to call his office "whether your child is still enrolled at East Windsor Middle Academy and you are uncomfortable with the recent turn of events, or your child has lost their seat at East Windsor."

In his message, Lawrence said that district staff would find spots Friday for all students in either the traditional schools or special magnet programs within the school district.

Privately, Lawrence emailed district staff with instructions on how to handle these parents: "please assign to the student's zoned (middle school) ASAP."

He also told staff to provide information about the district's application programs, and said that after the third week of school, Pinellas may be able to place some students in middle schools they were not zoned for.

The district could not provide an estimate of how many students lost their spot at East Windsor on Thursday.

Offering a project-based curriculum, Windsor Preparatory Academy opened in 2012 to students in kindergarten through the third grade. This year, they are expanding to become a K-8 school.

In her email to parents, principal Clements said the temporary location on Park Boulevard would be necessary as construction continued on the middle school.

"We feel that this will allow for our students to remain focused on their learning, which is critical in these middle school years," she wrote.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com. Follow @lisagartner.

Pinellas charter school leaves parents searching for spots 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 9:16pm]
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