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Today is last day to accept spot in special Pinellas County school programs

Today is the last day for Pinellas students to accept a spot in one of the school district's special programs for the 2011-12 academic year.

About 24,000 applications were received from 8,600 students, according to an e-mail from district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. By midweek, the district had received more than 3,300 acceptances.

The deadline to accept a spot is at midnight through the district's online Student Reservation System (

This year for the first time families were asked to rank their five choices for programs that include magnets (focused on specialties like art, music, etc), International Baccalaureate (college prep) and fundamentals (schools that require stricter student discipline and mandatory parent participation).

Families put in more than 9,300 applications for fundamental schools, with 44 percent of them listing fundamental schools as their top choice, according to school district figures. Last year's fundamental total was 8,450 applications.

At St. Petersburg's John Hopkins Middle, 87 students ranked the school's arts program as their first choice and 326 applied. Eighteen students listed the journalism/multimedia program first while 190 applied.

District figures show there are a combined 320 slots available for the two programs.

"I'm very excited because last year was a disappointment," said John Hopkins magnet coordinator Michael Vasallo, referring to a drop in applications believed to be linked to worries about a large number of fights.

With its new emphasis on discipline, fights are down this year.

The school began recruiting for its magnet programs in October — three months early. Officials also strove to create a stronger community presence through dance, chorus and band performances at events like downtown St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market and a November school arts festival.

"We've done a lot to try to rebrand the school and let parents and students come in and see what we're doing, take a tour, shadow a student and see there's a lot more to John Hopkins than what was reported last spring," Vasallo said.

Countryside High principal Gerald Schlereth was pleased about the 196 students who applied for one of 95 available seats within the school's new ISTEM program. Forty-one students named ISTEM — short for Institute of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — their first choice.

"When we look at all the numbers of kids who applied, you're happy because they do have five choices," Schlereth said.

He said one teacher currently is being trained in cyber security and two will receive biotech engineering training this summer. The program also is slated to offer digital television production courses, Schlereth said.

Largo High principal Marjorie Sundstrom said the 193 applications for this fall's launch of an Honors Option program is right around what she was expecting. Sixty-six students ranked the Honors Option — a moniker that will stick while the school pursues approval by the International Baccalaureate organization — first.

There are 95 slots available, according to the district.

Nearly three dozen parents who attended a January meeting about the new program aired concerns that it wouldn't be accredited, possibly forcing their children to miss out on IB opportunities. Some also expressed misgivings about Largo's D grade and low graduation rate.

Sundstrom said the school is on schedule in meeting the program's roughly 18-month approval process requirements and that staff training is under way. "Largo is excited to have the opportunity to have the program," she said.

Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Keyonna Summers can be reached at or (727) 445-4153.

To see a list of the number of applications submitted go to

Today is last day to accept spot in special Pinellas County school programs 03/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2011 1:19pm]
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