LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County students and parents face a broader array of education options as the district's 2014-15 school choice application window opens.
District officials are touting several new opportunities for families to consider if they want to attend a school other than the ones that their children are assigned to. They include a recently started aeronautics academy at Sunlake High, and an on-campus virtual program called Infinity at Stewart Middle and Zephyrhills and Anclote high schools.
The district also is starting the advanced Cambridge program at Pasco Middle and Pasco High, although the application deadline has passed. These additions come alongside existing choices such as high school career academies, International Baccalaureate, gifted programs and the K-8 model at Crews Lake.
None of the options come with district transportation.
Superintendent Kurt Browning has set a goal of expanding the district's offerings to meet student needs, and turn around a stream of children who have headed to private and charter schools in Pasco County. Planners are working on establishing magnet programs, such as science and engineering, at Sanders, Quail Hollow and Shady Hills elementary schools as they are rebuilt, for instance.
They also are looking at a 6-12 grade configuration for a new school that will be built in Wesley Chapel in the coming few years. Plans for a "blended" home/classroom learning program at Wiregrass Ranch High have been put on hold after receiving limited interest.
Families also can apply to any school that has open seats. But as usual, close to half of the district's schools are likely to be closed to open enrollment transfers because they already have met or exceeded their capacity.
The list includes 14 of 46 elementary schools, five of 15 middle schools and six of 13 high schools. Planning director Chris Williams said another eight schools are likely to be frozen for choice as well, two because they are under construction and six because they are close to reaching capacity and they sit in high-growth areas.
That doesn't mean you can't submit requests to attend those schools, though, as their enrollments can shift and seats might become available. In many years, in fact, the district's most crowded schools have received the most choice applications.
District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said families seeking to take advantage of any of the options must apply online this year at www.pasco.k12.fl.us/ed_choice/school_choice/registration, as the schools will not be taking paper applications.
Students who already have received choice reassignments do not have to reapply, unless they come to Pasco from another county or they have moved residences, Cobbe said.
Out-of-county applicants must provide proof of permission from their home district along with their applications.
Student-athletes who transfer high schools will have to make a separate appeal to the district's Athletic Transfer Participation Committee if they wish to continue playing sports at their new school. Otherwise they are considered ineligible for one year.
The district will take choice applications through March 1. It expects to provide decisions to families who meet the deadline by the end of the current school year. Parents would have three days to file a written appeal if they don't like the outcome.
In recent years, the district's choice rejection rate has climbed to close to 30 percent, as schools have had to meet state class size requirements. Before that, close to 90 percent of families received their choice requests.
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.