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Suncoast Lakes parents want kids to stay at River Ridge High

LAND O'LAKES — To fill Fivay High School next fall, the Pasco School Board plans to shift more than 1,200 students around.

The families of the Suncoast Lakes subdivision, just off State Road 52 west of the Suncoast Parkway, don't want to be part of the equation.

Currently, children from Suncoast Lakes attend River Ridge High. Under the proposed plan, they would move to Hudson High, replacing some of the hundreds of teens who would move from Hudson to Fivay.

"We don't want to be zoned for Hudson (High)," said Amy Hertog, who is organizing the opposition in her community.

The neighborhood, which has 56 high school-age children, has mobilized into committees and subcommittees. They are parsing all the district's written recommendations on the new boundaries for details and inconsistencies that they might use to their advantage. They are reaching out to School Board members, hoping to persuade them to leave their kids alone.

They have even compiled a 13-page position paper detailing all the effects to their community that they expect changing schools would create.

Key among those is their concern that Hudson High simply doesn't have the academic successes that River Ridge has experienced, based on graduation rates, FCAT scores and other outcome-based measures.

"I can't think of anybody who is going to want their kids to be moved … to an underachieving high school," parent Sergio Sierra said recently.

School district officials so far have stood firmly behind their advisory committee's recommendation.

They noted that Suncoast Lakes families are zoned to Mary Giella Elementary, which feeds into Crews Lake Middle, which feeds into Hudson High. One of the district's priorities is to keep feeder patterns together to provide continuity for children.

"It makes sense, feeder pattern-wise, for them to go to Hudson High School," planning director Chris Williams said.

The staff also said the drive to Hudson High is slightly shorter than the drive to River Ridge, creating possible savings in transportation. In addition, they noted, the need remained to move students out of River Ridge and into Hudson, which would be well under capacity after it loses hundreds of teens to Fivay.

Even so, Williams provided maps and other documents to the community, advising members that they should contact the School Board with their concerns as it moves toward a Nov. 3 vote.

"The School Board may see it differently," Williams said.

In past similar instances, the board has generally sided with its advisory committees — even when communities have presented detailed reports stating their case.

Ivy Lakes Estates residents, for instance, walked away from a 2007 board meeting dissatisfied that their children would be sent to Rushe Middle and Sunlake High over their objections. Meadow Pointe families didn't even show up for the 2007 meeting where they were to be rezoned into Double Branch Elementary against their wishes, after the board showed little interest in their inches-thick impact report.

"One of the reasons that the board has followed the recommendations (in the past) is because we have a very good process," vice chairman Allen Altman said. "They have done a tremendous job in every case that I have been involved in since I was elected."

Altman did meet with a Suncoast Lakes representative this week to review the community's detailed concerns.

He wouldn't commit to supporting the group, but he wouldn't rule it out, either.

"Is there a chance?" said Altman, who has requested more information from the district. "Obviously."

Board member Kathryn Starkey said she will make a motion to keep Suncoast Lakes in River Ridge.

"I appreciate all the hard work of the parents," said Starkey, who was outvoted by her colleagues on the Ivy Lakes Estates matter two years ago. "It's always difficult" to face being zoned out of your school.

She could not predict how the board might vote, acknowledging that the district's direction toward unified feeder patterns might be too much to overcome.

Still, Starkey said, the neighbors deserve a chance to persuade the board.

The Hertog family, leading the charge for Suncoast Lakes, plans to give its best shot.

The Hertogs contend that there's no research showing that unified feeder patterns create the best academic results for students. Besides, Dennis Hertog noted, some Crews Lake students go to Land O'Lakes High, knocking a leg out from that argument.

Not only that, he continued, the trip from the subdivision to River Ridge is one-tenth of a mile longer than the ride to Hudson, not some huge difference that would generate major savings. Even district officials have signaled that whether the 56 Suncoast Lakes students attend one high school or the other would not greatly affect crowding at either.

In fact, Williams said, many of the families probably would end up at River Ridge High through school choice.

The Suncoast Lakes families pick at that rationale, too, saying that school choice requires approval and then personal transportation to and from campus — a luxury some parents cannot afford.

Suncoast Lakes residents identify with River Ridge for school, business and social activities, they said. The school suits their needs, and transferring the students to Hudson High offers no distinct benefits, they added.

And that, more than anything, should carry the day, Amy Hertog said.

"A change in our zoned high school will not provide an improved educational opportunity for our students," she said. "Our children are our priority."

Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Suncoast Lakes parents want kids to stay at River Ridge High 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 9:08pm]
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