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Pinellas School District works toward an academically rigorous program for Countryside High

CLEARWATER — The prospect of an International Baccalaureate program at Countryside High is extremely unlikely.

But district leaders are still searching for an academically rigorous program for the only mainstream, north county high school without a magnet or career academy.

"More and more students are opting not to go to Countryside because there's nothing special there," said Linda Serim, vice president of membership for Countryside's Parent Teacher Student Association.

At the last Pinellas County School Board workshop, board members told district leaders they wanted to cap the number of IB programs at three, said deputy superintendent Jim Madden. There are already IB programs at Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg high schools. That means a third IB program would end up at Largo, he said.

After passionate protests from Palm Harbor IB parents, the district dropped a previous proposal to move the IB program from Palm Harbor to Countryside. Superintendent Julie Janssen then proposed adding two IB programs. But the latest plan is to shrink Palm Harbor's IB program and add another in mid county.

The School Board will take a preliminary vote on current proposals Tuesday. A final vote is scheduled Dec. 7.

District officials want feedback from Countryside and plan to meet with School Advisory Council members at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Madden said officials don't plan to present an array of options.

"We don't want to go in and lead them," Madden said. "We want to hear from them first."

But SAC member Michael Pate said he'd like the district to offer a variety of quality choices because most parents don't have the time or expertise to study the success of programs elsewhere.

So far, Bill Lawrence, the district's director of advanced studies and academic excellence, said he's heard a variety of suggestions from parents and educators.

Many still favor an IB program at Countryside. Other suggestions include a program like Lakewood High's Center for Advanced Technologies or Cambridge's Advanced International Certificate of Education, an internationally recognized honors curriculum.

But one of the programs on the wish list is too expensive, some fear. And other programs, like the AICE and IB, have been proposed elsewhere.

Stephanie Brown is among those who would still like to see an IB program at Countryside.

She thinks the well-known, highly respected program would have broad appeal and serve the community better than something like Lakewood's CAT program.

"My worry about AICE is that parents are not going to buy into it because they don't know anything about it," said Brown, whose son graduated from Countryside and whose daughter is a 10th-grader there.

Others say their children's needs are being met through honors, AP and college courses, but they want to raise the bar at Countryside. Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test high school grades won't be released until later this year. But last year, Countryside earned a D.

"Some students are falling through the cracks, and I don't think we're doing enough to address that," said Serim, whose son and daughter attend Countryside.

Parents who would like to see an advanced technology program like Lakewood's are concerned that it's so expensive it will never come to fruition.

Janssen has said starting a CAT program is cost-prohibitive now. Start-up costs at Lakewood were about $4 million. But a majority of board members directed her to research the matter further.

The original proposal to move the IB program from Palm Harbor to Countryside created a divisive atmosphere in the community.

Some Countryside parents feel their interests were overshadowed by those of Palm Harbor parents.

Greg Hicks, a Countryside SAC member, thinks a lot of parents at Countryside weren't vocal at first because they thought moving the IB to their school was a done deal.

Then it wasn't.

At a forum in October, Palm Harbor IB parents showed up with navy blue T-shirts that said: "Leave PHUHS alone. Replicate it. Don't decimate it."

"There was no way I was going to speak with that sea of blue in front of me," Brown said.

Now, they're ready to step up and share their opinions. But it's not just Countryside parents who have strong feelings about an attractor there.

Lorrie Kohli lives close to Countryside, but her son attends East Lake High's engineering academy.

"I would just like to see academic programs be offered closer to home so we don't have to send kids across the county to meet their academic needs," said Kohli, whose younger children attend Ridgecrest Elementary and Safety Harbor Middle.

And Connie Lapujade, whose daughter attends Safety Harbor Middle School, said Countryside needs something to attract children in the community.

"People I know are not happy with what's available at Countryside," she said. "They want to send their kids to East Lake or Palm Harbor."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

>>What's next?

Exploring options

• District officials want feedback from Countryside and plan to meet with School Advisory Council members at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

• The School Board will take a preliminary vote on current proposals Tuesday. A final vote is scheduled Dec. 7.

Pinellas School District works toward an academically rigorous program for Countryside High 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 2:34pm]

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