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Elementary school at USF okayed

At one time, the stretch of land at the southeastern corner of the University of South Florida seemed destined to be a parking lot. There has been thought of using the land for stormwater retention, fraternity housing or recreation fields.

On Wednesday morning _ as officials from USF and the Hillsborough County schools stood in the scarce shade of some oaks on the site _ the land seemed a perfect spot for an elementary school.

Education officials announced that USF had agreed to establish an experimental public elementary school there on the edge of the university's Tampa campus. The school is a joint venture among the university, the Hillsborough schools and the Museum of Science and Industry, which is across the street from the site.

The $6-million school is expected to open in 1995, and it is envisioned as a place where the education theory taught in USF classes will be put into practice, and where teachers-in-training will learn and work.

"This is such a golden opportunity here," said USF President Frank Borkowski. "Education has come under so much criticism. Everyone has been crying out for reform. This is an opportunity to really strike out in such a progressive way."

Borkowski's approval of the project was essential and long in coming. For years, the project was in a state of limbo despite the enthusiasm of officials with the Hillsborough schools and the USF College of Education. Borkowski said Wednesday he had long supported the concept of the school but was reluctant to commit university land without a thorough study.

Last year, Borkowski appointed committees to study the issue, and the recent reports convinced the president that the plan "could fit very well," Borkowski said.

"This is one of the happiest days of my life," said Hillsborough County School Superintendent Walter Sickles. "This is going to be a beautiful school (with) unique features _ something that will be a light in this nation. It's a tremendous partnership, as I see it."

Equally enthusiastic about the project is William Katzenmeyer, dean of the USF College of Education, who has promoted the idea for years.

Katzenmeyer, who regularly works with area schools in developing innovative partnerships and programs, has written a paper called "Inventing the schools of tomorrow." In it he describes some key concepts to re-creating schools, such as reinventing the learning environment and providing a continuity of care for children. Those concepts have been described as the guiding concepts for the school.

"We need a different kind of environment for students, and we need a different kind of preparation for teachers," Katzenmeyer said. "This is going to be a great opportunity where we have a site right on campus where our teachers can come over."

To make the deal work, USF agreed to supply 8.5 acres for the school. That's smaller than an average elementary school site, but is large enough. USF also brings to the partnership the staff and students of its College of Education.

The Hillsborough schools bring to the partnership a new school that can be designed using innovation and collaboration. School officials, who had been planning for a school in the area for years, will be able to relieve overcrowding at five nearby elementary schools: Lewis, Mort, Shaw, Temple Terrace and Witter.

And MOSI brings to the marriage a reputation for making learning and science fun and meaningful for students.

The partners in the project will devise contracts to detail the agreements for running the school. In short, the partners have agreed to agree on such things as staffing and curriculum.

The experimental school is being referred to as an Elementary Professional Development School, and MOSI board chairman Jake Dial touted the three-way partnership as one of only three of its kind in the nation.

Though the experimental school is unique to the area, local school districts have formed other partnerships with USF and private businesses in recent years. In Hillsborough County, the school district has a partnership with the Westshore Alliance that has resulted in a kindergarten class located in an office building in the West Shore area. Eventually, the partnership might include grades K, 1 and 2.

The Pinellas County schools have had partnership schools since 1989, when a small school for the young children of employees of General Electric (now Martin-Marietta) opened in Largo. Pinellas now has three such partnership schools, including one at Honeywell and one at Bayfront Medical Center. In each case, students in grades K, 1 and 2 attend school in a classroom provided by the business.

Pinellas also has a planned partnership with USF _ a high school where students could take upper-level college courses. The school, called University High School at Palm Harbor, would feature magnet programs open to college-bound high school students in Pinellas.

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