The Pinellas School Board expressed strong support Monday for launching a handful of special programs, some starting as soon as next school year.
At a workshop, the board heard proposals for:
• A middle school magnet program for gifted students.
• A program at Pinellas Park High geared to students seeking careers in emergency management.
• And a journalism program at Lakewood High.
The middle school gifted program is a response to years of lobbying from parents at Ridgecrest Elementary, a gifted magnet school in Largo and the only elementary magnet without a destination program in middle school.
Some Pinellas middle schools offer gifted programs in math and science, plus some gifted electives. But Ridgecrest parents say it's not enough to keep their students challenged, especially in language arts classes.
District officials said such a program could be in place for the 2009-10 school year. It would operate as part of an existing, still-to-be-named middle school.
The National Guard has provided nearly $900,000 in startup costs for the proposed magnet program at Pinellas Park High. District officials said the idea for the magnet grew out of a realization after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that the nation needed more emergency management professionals.
A proposal submitted to the board said it was "designed for students expressing an interest in areas related to first responders, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), homeland security, fire safety and emergency management."
Some board members, including Jane Gallucci and Linda Lerner, expressed concern about the National Guard's involvement, saying they didn't want the program to be a military recruiting tool.
But David Barnes, the district's director of work force education, said the program was proposed by the National Guard's Education, Incentives and Employment Division, not its military arm.
"The Guard has been very up front and forthcoming," Barnes said of the board members' recruiting concern. "They don't want that either."
Board members pushed for something that would back that up in writing.
The program, thought to be the first of its kind, could be ready to accept students for the 2009-10 school year. The board tentatively decided to consider approving it in November.
Also Monday, board members gave administrators the approval to push ahead with a journalism program at Lakewood High. Starting as soon as next school year, the program would offer journalism classes to all freshmen at Lakewood and allow students from two feeder schools to continue their journalism studies.
The two feeder schools are Melrose Elementary and John Hopkins Middle School, both in St. Petersburg.