Schools' excellence within reach
As part of a group of executives participating in Leadership Tampa Bay, I had the pleasure of spending several hours witnessing a working education model at Academy Prep Center of Tampa in Ybor City. Unfettered by educational bureaucracies that tend to stunt progress in too many traditional schools, this middle school succeeds in developing fifth- through eighth-graders into successful young adults.
Most of Academy Prep's attendees live within a 2-mile radius of the campus. All fall within federal guidelines qualifying families for free and reduced-price meals. In their neighborhood, 50 percent of the adults do not have high school diplomas. Most of the students test at or below the 50th percentile in basic math and reading skills at the time of their admission into the school.
Yet, in the eight years the school has been in existence, 100 percent of the graduates are still in high school, and all but two of the graduates graduating from high school this year will be attending four-year colleges and universities next year.
These students attend school 11 hours a day, up to six days a week, 11 months a year. Education includes not only typical academic classes, but also activities such as karate and chess. The chess team finished sixth in a national competition two years ago, and next month is competing again for the national title in Orlando.
Students also attend classes in social etiquette, and every morning before convocation each student must look the head of school in the eye while shaking hands when entering the school building. The eighth-grader who hosted us said she typically has at least one to 1 1/2 hours of homework each night. Any student not on the honor roll attends mandatory study hall. Education, combined with physical training and consistent nutrition, provide a base for development.
Teachers, who are paid on a similar scale as those in the Hillsborough County School District, work full days and stay into the evening one night a week. They still manage to get their planning done, as was evidenced by crisply run classes and the obvious results of the students. Their salary increases are based on merit, not tenure. Parents are responsible for getting their children to school, for paying a monthly activity fee, and for working a minimum amount of volunteer hours.
MaryEllen Elia, school board members, teachers and union leaders — take note. While you debate the merits of spending less time in the classroom for more time planning and arguing about the use of mentors and performance-based evaluation and increases, this school and its sister school in St. Petersburg have figured it out. If we could adopt their winning formula throughout the county, state and nation, we would retake the lead in education we have ceded to other communities, states and countries.
Paul V. Brooks, Valrico
Benefits of AP go beyond exams Nov. 23, letter
I am writing in response to the letter from the Plant High School principal. I couldn't help thinking while reading it how different this school's approach to Advanced Placement is than to its very public legacy of athletics.
Indeed, as a simple find-and-replace exercise demonstrates, the letter makes an eloquent argument for encouraging all students (male and female, one presumes) to participate in football without concern for the impact on outcomes or the team's won-loss record.
One could argue that all should be allowed equitable playing time since it is the experience that matters.
Peter Campo, Tampa
Learning from transit setback Nov. 19, editorial
Lessons not learned
You are correct that there is much to learn from Hillsborough's transit voting debacle. However, at the moment Pinellas is poised to make the same mistakes.
There seems to be a theory that you must spend several billion to have a few miles of rail to be considered an attractive area, but nobody ever tells the public how traffic congestion and future road construction is reduced to compensate for some of the cost.
The proponents always tell us that development will occur around the routes with increased property values, which is true. The only thing they fail to understand is that, unless the development brings new people and new businesses into the area (city or county), it's simply a matter of existing people and businesses moving from one location to another and paying some higher taxes.
Also, federal rules require an alternative analysis of possible routes for rail to ensure that the best routes are selected. Since 2002, Pinellas has spent nearly $6 million in federal grants for consultants to study light rail while additional millions are being spent for the current studies.
It was reported that Hillsborough wasn't going to finish with its alternative analysis until December, a month after the vote was taken. What this meant was it had no specific figures on cost to build and operate, ridership and future subsidies to operate. Pinellas also may consider holding a referendum before its alternative analysis data will be available. This is the typical government approach to spending the public's money: ready, fire, aim!
Jim Harpham, Palm Harbor
With all the privacy violations at the airports, I wanted to share my experience going on board a cruise ship.
First we packed our suitcases with all the clothes we needed. We packed all the toilet articles, in different size containers. We included a large bottle of wine in each suitcase.
We went to the cruise line with suitcases and a carry-on with more makeup in it, checked our bags outside the terminal and said goodbye. We walked in and waited to get checked in. Five minutes.
We went up to the counter and were checked in by a very nice man who never touched us. He looked at our passports and jokingly told us we were traveling on invalid passports. We forgot to sign them. It was a joke because we had gone out of the country before with the same passports and no one caught it going out or coming back into the country.
After the check-in counter, which took three minutes, we walked up the escalator and went through a metal detector with my watch, belt, cell phone and shoes on and were let through.
They took an onboard picture for us, then we went to our stateroom. That was it. Very reasonable. I will never fly again.
Jeffrey G .Mikres, Palm Harbor