The Pinellas County school system will reopen for classes this month, having significantly expanded its reach with two new elementary magnets, four new middle school programs and a new alternative high school.
This year also will mark another adjustment that will affect thousands of students — a return to grading students on nine-week quarters. Below is a closer look at these developments.
Families responded favorably to the district's decision to reopen two vacant schools and repurpose them as elementary magnet schools focusing on digital learning. Hundreds of students applied in January for spots at Kings Highway and Gulf Beaches elementary schools, which closed in 2009 as the district dealt with enrollment declines and financial troubles. Each of the new magnets has been dubbed a "Center for Innovation & Digital Learning" and will employ tools such as iPads, smartboards and "project-based learning."
The district also is gaining a high school for at-risk students, Gulf Coast Academy in Largo. The former charter school closed in June after a record of poor performance, including a 7 percent graduation rate. District officials say they can do better and have reopened it as a public school that will include a focus on accelerating graduation and increasing student interest in academics. The school typically enrolls about 350 students.
New middle school programs
The district is ready to unveil programs at Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park and Azalea middle schools, and has installed a middle school engineering program on the campus of East Lake High.
Pinellas Park will get a Pre-Cambridge program, emphasizing advanced academics and global learning. Azalea's new program will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
The East Lake program will look to attract technology-minded students with the thought that they would later join the high school's well-regarded engineering magnet.
Tarpon Springs Middle, meanwhile, will launch its Leadership Conservatory for the Arts along with a Pre-Cambridge program.
All of these programs are designed to draw students from several north county middle schools and create new "feeder patterns" into high schools.
A return to quarters
A district task force recommended a new nine-week grading system this year, concluding the change would give students a better chance to recover from poor marks early on and allow more time for instruction because teachers would spend less time reporting grades. Previously, the grading periods were six weeks.
Now the school year will be divided into quarters for all grades, returning to a system the district used several years ago. It won't change classroom instruction, officials say.