BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast Technical High School is one step closer to having a neighborhood attendance zone of its own.
With little discussion, the Hernando School Board on Tuesday gave informal approval to the proposed zone that extends several miles in each direction from the school on California Street, southwest of Brooksville. A formal vote is set for Feb. 1.
Since opening its doors in 2003, Nature Coast has accepted students from throughout Hernando County through an application process. Starting with the 2012-2013 school year, students who live in the attendance zone will be automatically assigned to Nature Coast unless they request during the open enrollment period to attend another school. Although the enrollment period ends Jan. 31, district officials have said that students affected will likely be granted more time.
The rest of Nature Coast's seats will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis by students from throughout the county who apply. That is also a new procedure. The seats had been filled by a 70-30 portfolio-to-lottery ratio.
The attendance zone will affect current eighth-graders who will start high school in the fall. District officials had also considered applying the change to current freshmen who attend other schools. Many families who attended a public meeting last month opposed that idea.
"Those kids were established at a school and it means disenfranchising them to move them," Blavatt told the board.
Created with input from a committee made up of parents, principals and district staffers, the Nature Coast zone approved Tuesday includes 92 current eighth-graders — 54 who had been zoned for Hernando and 38 for Springstead.
The plan offers the benefit of further downsizing Springstead, a school that got some relief for its crowded conditions when attendance zones were shifted before Weeki Wachee High opened last year, Blavatt said.
"Keeping neighborhoods together is real important," board member John Sweeney said. "I'm glad we're doing that."
The idea for the changes came from an advisory committee of parents, principals, teachers and district staffers, including Nature Coast principal Toni-Ann Noyes, who supported the revisions to allow broader access to the school and stabilize its population.
Board member Dianne Bonfield asked if the zone meant that Nature Coast, which offers a comprehensive curriculum along with half a dozen career academies, would become less of a technical school.
No, Blavatt replied. But the superintendent said his current vision for the school's future is to offer higher level technical courses at Nature Coast and reduce duplication at other schools.
Concerns that admitting neighborhood students will cause a watering down of Nature Coast's programs are unfounded, Noyes said.
"I think this is a positive step," she said. "We're just building on what we have."
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In other action, the board selected applicants to interview for in-house legal counsel and for outside legal services. The board advertised for both with the intent to decide after the interview process whether to hire an in-house attorney or hire an attorney or firm on a contract basis.
Applicants for in-house counsel to be interviewed are Suzanne Brownless of Tallahassee; Christopher DeLorenzo of Jupiter; Deborah Glover-Pearcey of Lutz; Jeffrey Pegler of Vero Beach; Lori Tetreault of Weeki Wachee; and Richard Withers of Apopka.
The applicants for outside contract counsel are Glover-Pearcey; McClain, Alfonso, Meeker & Dunn, the Pasco County firm that is currently providing counsel services to the Hernando district on an interim basis; Denise Lyn of Inverness; and Bell & Roper, an Orlando firm.
Interviews are Jan. 25-26.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.