LARGO — Parents worried about enrolling their kids in a new IB program at Largo High once again voiced concerns last week about the school's low academic reputation and fears that the program would not be accredited.
"The teachers are not qualified, and the graduation rate alone is terrifying," said Cathy Gautreau, whose daughter is in seventh grade and is considering the new program.
Gautreau was one of about 35 parents who sought reassurances from Pinellas school officials during a meeting at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo on Tuesday.
Largo High, a D school, has the lowest graduation rate — 76.8 — among all Pinellas high schools.
Parents said they are also concerned about the environment at Largo High and the school's tough reputation. Last year, there were 33 arrests at Largo, mostly for fighting.
Sgt. Andy Hill, supervisor of school resource officers at Largo, said Largo High has problems just like any other school.
"There are behavioral problems at all schools," Hill said. "I don't think there's anything going on at Largo that's different from any other school across Pinellas County."
But not all parents are put off.
Ken Thompson believes his son will succeed at Largo regardless of peer influence. "The way a course is structured, and parent involvement, will affect the success of students more than their peers will," said Thompson, whose son is in eighth grade.
Parents seemed most concerned about enrolling their child in a program that still needs an official seal of approval.
Since Largo's IB program has not yet been approved by the International Baccalaureate Organization, it will only be considered an "honors option" when it launches in the fall.
The approval process could take up to 18 months. The district has set aside $200,000 to fund the new program. Teachers also will be trained and new ones hired as the program grows.
By next spring, Largo High hopes to be ready for a two-day visit from an IB team that will help determine its accreditation, school officials said. The team also will assess whether Largo has the resources and tools that make for a successful IB program beyond the general requirements.
School officials stress their track record in developing strong IB programs: one at Palm Harbor University High and the other at St. Petersburg High.
"We already have two successful IB programs in the district, so adding a third will not be difficult," said Susan Farias, assistant principal and coordinator of the IB program at St. Petersburg High.
Dr. Tracy Fansler's two oldest children are enrolled in St. Petersburg High's IB program, and she had planned to send her two youngest there as well.
But the school district's new zoning changes means Fansler faces having to split the family up and send the two youngest to Largo High.
"Because I live in the central area, I'm not really applying to an IB program," said Fansler. "Mid-county students are forced to go with an honors option."
School officials said that after all applications are in, and eligibility has been determined, the district will do its best to place siblings together.
Parents then asked what would happen to their child in the event that Largo High's IB program doesn't receive approval. Principal Marjorie Sundstrom said there is currently no plan in effect, but the district would try to work with families.
Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent, told parents that he is confident the district will create a new successful IB program for their children.
"I have no doubt that we would become an IB program," he said. "We have resources set aside to do this."
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8862.