Superintendent Julie Janssen's plan for Pinellas schools moves closer to approval

LARGO — Pinellas County schools superintendent Julie Janssen's big plan to beef up academic programs moved another step closer to reality Tuesday, with the School Board offering a tentative thumbs up to most of it.

"We're real close," said chairwoman Janet Clark.

But with a final vote coming Dec. 7, key questions remain unanswered — including what the future will look like at Lakeview Fundamental and Gulfport elementary schools in south Pinellas, and what top-flight academic program may land at Countryside High in Clearwater.

About a dozen parents, most of them from Lakeview, spoke against the part of the plan that would transplant their kids into Gulfport, which would be converted into a fundamental school at the same time its school-within-a-school Montessori program was permanently transferred to the Lakeview building.

"Do you not see the monumental devastation on the horizon?" asked Lakeview parent Curt Miller.

Miller and other Lakeview parents fear the merger will undermine success at one of the district's highest-performing schools. Some also say the change won't be good for many families whose children attend Gulfport, a high-poverty school with a majority black student body.

A conversion to a fundamental school — which requires heavy parental involvement — changes Gulfport "in a way that will be extremely difficult for predominantly single-parent families to manage," Miller said.

Janssen said the change is needed to meet growing demand for fundamental school seats, and a majority of the board appears to agree.

But board member Linda Lerner voiced strong opposition and it remains to be seen how two incoming board members — Terry Krassner and Lew Williams — will vote. They'll join the board Tuesday.

The board also continued to debate what's next for Countryside High.

Janssen initially proposed that the International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor University High be moved to Countryside to help ease crowding at Palm Harbor. But after Palm Harbor parents revolted, Janssen offered a compromise: keep the program at Palm Harbor but downsize it from roughly 550 to 375 students.

That compromise, though, left Countryside in the cold. Janssen promised Tuesday that Countryside would get something, and that details would be ready in time for the final vote. District officials were scheduled to meet with Countryside teachers and parents Tuesday night.

"Please do not leave us behind," Countryside parent Stephanie Brown told the board.

Also unclear: the cost of Janssen's plan. Clark said she wants to know the financial impact for various items, including the re-opening of Kings Highway Elementary as a fundamental school and the cost of a new IB program at Largo High.

"I want to know that research has been done and the district has looked into this," she said.

"Absolutely," Janssen said. "We will bring you those numbers."

The board is scheduled to discuss the unresolved parts of the plan at its workshop on Tuesday.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Superintendent Julie Janssen's plan for Pinellas schools moves closer to approval 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 9:04pm]

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