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Pinellas schools chief proposes mandatory uniforms and other changes

LARGO — Pinellas County's public school students could be required to wear uniforms up through eighth grade if a plan floated by superintendent Julie Janssen gains traction.

The idea is just one in a sweeping proposal affecting student assignment that aims to bring families more magnet, gifted and fundamental options closer to home while raising the bar in struggling schools.

Among the numerous ideas: moving the International Baccalaureate program from overcrowded Palm Harbor University High School to nearby Countryside High, installing a "fundamental school within a school" at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, and creating at least three "research and development" schools in partnership with local colleges.

"It isn't really about student assignment," Janssen said as she shared her plan with school board members during a workshop Tuesday. "Moving students all over the district isn't going to get us to 100 percent success. … What I'm going to present today is really a student achievement plan."

Mandatory uniforms would set the tone for what Janssen is calling a "fundamental pre-K-8 district." It would draw from the fundamental schools concept of strict discipline and high parental involvement by asking all elementary and middle school parents to sign a contract agreeing to be active in their children's schooling.

Parents would have to agree, for example, to read to their children and get their children to class on time. The difference is that unlike strict fundamental schools, families that don't comply would not be kicked out.

"We asked for a bold plan," School Board member Robin Wikle said, "and it's a great starting point."

Key to Janssen's proposal is an attempt to equalize options for families across the district by dividing the county into northern, middle and southern zones. Within each zone, students could have access to a fundamental high school, an International Baccalaureate program and, over time, other magnet programs that today require long-distance travel to attend.

"The goal would be trying to keep kids close to home," deputy superintendent Jim Madden said.

Moving Palm Harbor's IB program to Countryside over four years could be controversial. But Madden said that with two magnet programs at Palm Harbor, the already overcrowded school struggles to accommodate upperclassmen who are zoned for the campus. IB originated at Countryside before it was moved to Palm Harbor years ago.

As far as the fundamental high school expansion goes, Janssen didn't suggest a north county option.

But Wikle and board member Carol Cook asked administrators to consider looking at Dunedin and Clearwater high schools, where staff members have indicated an interest in going fundamental. "A fundamental at Bogie or Osceola will not meet the needs for the students in north county who want it," Wikle said.

Though Janssen recently said she wouldn't support making Boca Ciega High a fundamental school, Tuesday's proposal indicates a compromise between those who want a south county fundamental option and those who oppose it. The 1,600-student school will soon increase its capacity to 2,200 thanks to a renovation, and Janssen said she feels her idea would meet the demand of students who want the option without displacing current Boca students.

If a north county fundamental high were added to the plan, Madden said, it too would be a "school within a school" concept.

Among Janssen's other ideas:

• Adding another fundamental elementary school in the middle or north part of the county.

• Adding a third high school IB program in middle Pinellas, possibly in the Largo area, and expanding the elementary IB program at Sanderlin Elementary to the middle school grades, securing it as a K-8 campus.

• Establishing the IB-like "Advanced International Certificated Education" program at Dixie Hollins High.

• Making Melrose Elementary a laboratory school in partnership with the University of Florida, meaning education there would be monitored and supported by university education researchers, with two more similar programs elsewhere.

• Dividing Sandy Lane Elementary's grades into two, one serving pre-K through second grade and one serving third through fifth grades, with campuses at Sandy Lane and the now-closed Kings Highway Elementary. The same design would work for Southern Oak and Walsingham elementaries.

• Moving the Gulfport Montessori program out of a "school within a school" concept and over to its own building at Lakeview Fundamental Elementary. Lakeview would move its students to Gulfport, opening up more fundamental seats at the elementary level.

Janssen plans to work on the proposal and bring it back to the board during its Oct. 5 workshop. She expects two community forums between Oct. 6 and Oct. 29.

The board would take a final vote Dec. 7.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8707.

The Gradebook blog

For more details on Janssen's student assignment proposal, visit www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pinellas schools chief proposes mandatory uniforms and other changes 09/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 7:13am]
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