Every year at this time, the Pinellas school system invites families to apply for school programs that go beyond what is offered at regular zoned schools. The application period began Jan. 26 and ends Feb. 16. One wrinkle this year is the fact that the district has not yet approved new elementary school zones, which could affect a family's decision whether to apply for a special program. Here are some questions and answers to help you navigate the application period and the new school zone maps.
What is the purpose of the Jan. 26 to Feb. 16 application period?
This is the time when Pinellas families can apply to get into a school with special programs that regular zoned schools do not offer. These programs come in many forms: fundamental schools, magnet schools, magnet programs housed within regular schools, "area magnets," high school career academies and high school centers of excellence. Unlike zoned schools, they are open to existing or incoming students throughout the county or a large area of the county. Elsewhere in this special section, you'll find descriptions of what they offer and a map showing their locations.
I recently heard a lot about school closings. Did this affect any of these special programs?
Yes. The School Board voted Jan. 13 to close seven schools. Among them were Coachman and Southside fundamental middle schools, which will move their programs to larger schools. Coachman will move about 2 miles west to Kennedy Middle School in Clearwater. Southside leaves its longtime location in St. Petersburg for Madeira Beach Middle School, about 13 miles to the west. Previously, Madeira Beach and Kennedy were regular middle schools; now they will be full-fledged fundamental schools. They also have more seats, which will open the fundamental program to more families. In addition, neighboring Madeira Beach Elementary will become a fundamental school. Southside students who don't want to move to Madeira will be given the chance to vie for seats at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School.
When is my child eligible to enter kindergarten?
Children must reach the age of 5 on or before Sept. 1 to start kindergarten in August.
When can I apply to a special program?
Anytime before 5 p.m. Feb. 16.
How do I find out about all these programs?
By attending school discovery nights, going to the countywide information fair and consulting this special section or the district's 2009-10 program guide. In both publications, discovery night schedules are listed with the program listings. (At some schools, discovery nights are not listed because they preceded the date of this publication.) The information fair is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Dunedin Highland Middle School, 70 Patricia Ave., Dunedin. The district's program guide is available at any school or at www.pscb.org. Go to the box titled "pcsNews" and click on the link to the guide.
How do I apply for a special program?
By calling (727) 501-0871. (No more paper applications.) But be prepared before you dial. First, make sure you have your child's 10-digit student ID number and birth date. You can get the ID number from your child's school; middle and high school students have them on their report cards. If your child is not yet in the school system, you can get a student ID number by first going to any Pinellas public school to get a user ID and password. You'll need to show a photo ID. Once you have the user ID and password, use the computer at the school or your home computer to log on to www.pcsb.org. Click on the green "Student Reservation System" button on the right and follow the instructions to get a student ID number. Your final step before making the call: Assemble all of the ID numbers for the programs you want to apply to. They're listed in this publication under each program description. The phone system will guide you through the process and will read back your selections to you. Many middle and high school programs have eligibility criteria and require students to submit additional documentation by Feb. 17. For a list of schools requiring documents, consult Page 15 of the district's program guide.
Can I apply to more than one program?
You may apply to as many special programs as you wish.
How do I know whether my child is accepted to a special program?
You MUST call between March 2 and 13 to find out whether your child was accepted into a program and to accept the invitation. You'll also find out whether your child is on any waiting lists. You won't receive anything in the mail. The number to call is the same as the number you used when applying: (727) 501-0871. If you do not accept an invitation during this period, any invitations you received will be voided.
What do I do if my child is invited to more than one program?
You may choose only one program. Once you make your decision and the acceptance period ends, your child's invitations to any other programs are voided. Your child's name also is removed from any waiting lists.
My child did not get invited to a program, but landed on several waiting lists. What do I do?
If your child is on a waiting list, there is no need to take action. If he or she rises to the top of a waiting list, a representative from the school will call. You may call a school to see whether your child has moved up a list. Waiting lists for elementary and middle school programs stay in place for the 2009-10 school year. Waiting lists for high school programs expire on the 11th day of the second semester.
What else should I know about applying for a special program?
• Because students are invited into a program using a lottery system, their odds of getting in aren't affected by when you apply.
• You don't lose your child's current seat by applying — only if you accept an invitation.
• Priority placement is given to two groups: full-time district employees who apply to get their children into the school where they work, and applicants with siblings who already attend the school and who will be at the school next year. IMPORTANT NOTE: You must call the school before the application period ends to be considered for priority placement.
I heard the district still hasn't approved the elementary school zones for next year. If I don't know what school my child is zoned for, how can I decide whether I need to apply for a special program?
The School Board plans to approve the elementary school zone map on Feb. 10. That leaves you six days to research, attend discovery nights and decide on a special program before the Feb. 16 application deadline. You also can start researching now and even apply. If you later decide you want your child to attend a zoned school, you can effectively cancel it by doing nothing more. By not calling back during the acceptance period, any invitation you receive will be voided. In the meantime, the proposed elementary map for 2009-10 is printed in this special section, as is the new middle school zone map and the high school map.
I can't tell from the maps what my zone school is. How can I find that out?
Through the district's new online zoned school locator. To find it, go to www.pcsb.org and look in the "pcsNews" box. Click on the link, type in your address and hit the search button. On the next screen, click on "Select" to get your zoned middle and high schools, and your proposed zoned elementary school. The system will tell you what your school is under the proposed map. After Feb. 10, when the map is finalized, it will give you a definitive answer.
The district just drew new school zones last year and now it's happening again? Will there ever be a time when I can count on my school zone not changing?
Probably not in the near future. District officials say that declining enrollment could prompt several rezonings in the next few years. The district says it has lost 10,000 students since 2003 and expects to lose an additional 10,000 by 2013. As that happens, the district says it will be forced to "rightsize" by closing more schools, which leads to zones having to be redrawn. So far, only elementary and middle schools have been closed. At some point, the district says, it might have to look at closing a high school.
What if I missed a discovery night? Can I still visit a school?
Most schools will arrange a tour if you call ahead.
Why do we have special programs? Why can't every school be special?
Special programs such as magnet schools are a legacy of the desegregation era and were designed to encourage diversity and fairness by attracting white families into black neighborhoods. That's why many of these programs are in southern Pinellas County, where most of the county's black population lives. As formal desegregation efforts have been phased out in recent years, district officials see special programs as a way to retain racial diversity at some schools, but also as a way to give families a wider array of school choices.