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Some Pinellas County school magnet programs have empty seats

Results from the school choice acceptance period in Pinellas County are out. And they reinforce what the application numbers suggested a month ago: Parents like the new fundamental schools-within-a-school, but some of the other new programs received a lukewarm response.

One hundred and two students accepted seats in the new fundamental program at Boca Ciega High, and 71 signed up for the new fundamental program at Dunedin High, according to district numbers provided Thursday. Both programs were listed as having 100 slots.

But three new college preparatory programs at Clearwater, Dixie Hollins and Tarpon Springs high schools fell short of their 95-seat quotas. The programs, called Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education programs, attracted 35 students at Dixie Hollins, 24 at Tarpon Springs and 10 at Clearwater.

School administrators say it's not unusual for parents to be wary of new programs they know little about. And there's still time to fill empty seats.

"We don't have anxiety about anything new because they're new," said Dee Burns, the district's director of student assignment.

School Board member Lew Williams said the issue may have more to do with a lack of marketing than a lack of interest.

"I do remember the discussion where we were saying if we're going to do this, we really need to get it out there," Williams said. "I'm not sure if we did in a timely manner."

But lack of interest is why few parents signed up for the new Institute for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Countryside High, countered parent Lorrie Kohli. She noted that parents surveyed by principal Gary Schlereth indicated more desire for a well-rounded college-prep program, such as the International Baccalaureate program, than for something like iSTEM, which focuses more on math and science.

"There's a very strong demand in this part of the county for IB," Kohli said. But "we didn't get what the demand was for."

At the recommendation of superintendent Julie Janssen, the School Board considered moving the IB program from Palm Harbor University High to Countryside, but it rejected that idea in the face of fierce resistance from Palm Harbor parents.

If necessary, Burns said, the district could open up Countryside's iSTEM to countywide applications and fill empty seats.

Dixie Hollins High School principal Daniel J. Evans said he's not worried about falling short on applicants for his school's new Cambridge program either.

Through various recruitment efforts — including calling more than 100 high-performing students zoned for the school — Evans expects to have about 75 students in the program by next fall.

"We plan to take this initial group of kids and build the program around them and win people over time," Evans said.

Burns said the district is more concerned about older magnet programs that have a pattern of not filling up.

"If the trend is we're not filling these programs, we do want to look at them," she said.

Burns mentioned that Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg anticipated 72 students for its journalism program but got 18.

The numbers released Thursday also showed a low response to the magnet programs — in the arts and in journalism and multimedia — at John Hopkins Middle School, which was hit last year by a steady stream of student arrests and a wave of negative publicity.

Some Pinellas County school magnet programs have empty seats 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 11:05pm]
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