ST. PETERSBURG — For four years, students at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary have been given priority at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle. Both schools offer students a chance to focus more intently on math, science and engineering.
In a workshop Tuesday, the Pinellas School Board will discuss whether to formalize the practice. But board members and parents are divided on the issue.
Fundamental parents worry that fundamental students will get shut out of Thurgood Marshall, but the head of Jamerson's advisory council points to numbers showing that there would be plenty of seats for everyone.
On Tuesday, the board approved on first reading putting the practice in writing, one of several changes to the district's policy on fundamental schools, magnet programs and career academies. A public hearing and board vote on the policy revisions is set for Nov. 8.
Board members weren't aware of the Thurgood-Jamerson arrangement before last year. It developed after Riviera Middle School was closed in 2008. Jamerson students had been given priority at that school.
Board member Linda Lerner said it was problematic that the district's rules did not reflect the practice. "As a board member," she said, "I have to look at the student assignment policies and be sure that they work for everyone in a fair, clear way. What happened here should not have happened."
Board member Terry Krassner supports the arrangement and said she's impressed with how well the two schools work together. "It's going so well," she said.
Jamerson's magnet offers students the chance to work on engineering design challenges, while Thurgood has a science, technology, engineering, art and math summer camp.
Board member Robin Wikle said she is opposed to continuing the relationship, a position she plans to explain during the workshop.
Parents on both sides of the issue are lobbying the board.
"It isn't fair," said Jean Willingham, a member of the Fundamental Schools Advocacy Network. "This isn't the way it's supposed to go."
Fundamental elementary students are guaranteed spots at fundamental middle schools if they rank it as their first choice and apply by the district's deadline.
Sharon Wynne, a St. Petersburg Times writer and parent of a Thurgood student, also circulated a personal e-mail asking fellow parents to contact board members and oppose it.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Sean Singh, chairman of Jamerson's School Advisory Council and parent of one child at each school, asked members to consider the statistics.
Thirty-one of Jamerson's fifth- graders accepted spots in Thurgood's 356-student sixth grade this year, according to the school's figures.
Even if 100 percent of the area's fundamental fifth-graders accepted placement in fundamental schools, Singh said, there would be 329 seats left. "From that perspective, I think we're not taking away any seats from any fundamental students."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.