You know who you are.
Your child is fast approaching a fork in the road — headed for kindergarten or middle school or high school. Or maybe just a new school.
Welcome to the 17th annual edition of School Search, where we aim to help Pinellas parents fulfill one of their most important duties: choosing a school for their child.
The section is built around the 2013-14 application period for magnet, fundamental and career programs in Pinellas public schools. But our listings also reflect the reality that Florida parents have an expanding array of choices beyond traditional public schools.
We could go on about the importance of making the right choice for your child. But we suspect you'd benefit more from hard information you can use. So let's get to it.
Get clicking with two good starting points
Besides going to discovery nights, taking school tours and comparing notes with fellow parents, the Florida Department of Education's website is a great place to do your research.
From the home page at fldoe.org, click on "Data & Statistics" in the far left column. From there, you can find test scores and other information by clicking on "Assessment." But we also recommend scrolling down to a line that reads "PK-12 Reports and Publications." Click and go to a page with a line that reads, "School Public Accountability Reports."
There you'll find school-by-school data that show, for example, how many kindergarteners were ready for school last year or information about teachers' degrees and experience. On these and other pages, you'll also see plenty of other places to poke around for information.
Another resource is greatschools.org, which offers ratings for each school plus "consumer reviews." For example, 31 people posted comments on John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg. There were 41 for Palm Harbor University High and 12 for First Lutheran School in Clearwater.
During a recent check, the comments ranged from gushing to hypercritical. But the more thorough your research using other sources, the more likely you'll recognize comments that ring true.
Know how the system works
Applying for a magnet, fundamental or career program can get tricky. How does the random selection process work? Or the ranking system? What are the rules if my kid lands on a waiting list?
The district lays it all out in its District Application Programs Handbook. To find it, go to pcsb.org. Click on the logo for "Magnet, Fundamental and Career Academy Programs" on the bottom right of the home page. On the next page, click on the link for the handbook.
Don't make these mistakes
1. Too many people apply for a program and then fail to follow up by returning later to the Student Reservation System to accept an invitation. This voids their application. It's a two-step process. The acceptance period is Feb. 13-20.
2. Some parents think they don't have to apply if their child is in a school that "feeds" into a school at the next level. Not true. Students in "feeder" schools get preferred consideration to attend a related school at the next level, but they still must apply. One example is a fundamental elementary student applying to get into a fundamental middle school.
3. When applying last year, more than 700 students wasted their first choice on programs for which they were ineligible. The vast majority were high school applicants. A phone call or two can prevent this.
Over the years, our mantra has been to treat the school search process at least as seriously as you would your tax returns. Then, as the U.S. Department of Education said in a recent publication, "the hard work will be worth your while if you find a school that brings out the best in your child."