School Search: a starting point in your quest for the right school

Plato Academy student Ilan Ruiz, 11, reads a brochure during Largo Middle School's Discovery Night, where school officials highlighted the International Studies Program, one of 70 special programs offered by county schools.  LARA CERRI   |   Times
Plato Academy student Ilan Ruiz, 11, reads a brochure during Largo Middle School's Discovery Night, where school officials highlighted the International Studies Program, one of 70 special programs offered by county schools. LARA CERRI | Times
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Welcome to School Search, our annual special section dedicated to helping Pinellas County families find the right schools for their children.

It's built around the Jan. 6 start of the application period for magnet, fundamental and high school career programs. But it also includes information on the upcoming kindergarten registration process for traditional schools — as well as listings for private and charter schools. The latter two groups are recruiting students with open houses and application deadlines of their own in the next few weeks and months.

You'll also find information on two state programs that cover private school tuition and other education costs for low-income and special-needs students. In addition, we've put together some numbers and advice designed to help families navigate the district's lottery, which is necessitated by the fact that more than 11,000 students will be vying for about 7,500 spots.

The Pinellas County School District has upped its game over the last two years in the realm of school choice with the addition of 11 programs, many of them focused on technology and international studies. As you read through the descriptions of various programs, you'll notice that many of them focus on "personalized learning," a concept Pinellas is embracing on a large scale. It involves more hands-on learning and in-class projects, and more attention on meeting students where their interests lie.

With School Search, we aim to serve as a starting point for families as the 2016-17 academic year approaches.

If you missed the district's discovery nights in the fall, a handful still remain. And many schools are still offering tours and shadowing opportunities. Talking with other parents is strongly recommended, as is checking the available data.

The Florida Department of Education website, fldoe.org, is a good place to begin. Start your research under the tab labeled "accountability."

Finally, you should consult the District Application Programs Guide available at pcsb.org/choice — especially if you have questions about programs that accept student applications only from certain parts of the county. The guide has maps and other helpful information.

We wish you well as you continue your search. And, as always, let us know if we can help.

Contact Thomas C. Tobin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8923. Follow @ThomasCTobin.

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