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Pinellas wants students to chart future

Pinellas County school officials think they've come up with a way to better prepare students for college or jobs.

District officials Tuesday night released to the public the latest draft of a plan that would have eighth-graders choosing one of five courses of study, depending upon whether they want to go to college, tech school or work after high school graduation.

Many of the proposed requirements for graduation are stricter than state mandates. For example, Pinellas wants to make it mandatory that a student have a C average to graduate. The state requires only a D-plus.

"We really want to fundamentally change the philosophy of how we deliver education in Pinellas County," said Cathy Fleeger, assistant superintendent of pre-K through 12 curriculum and instruction.

The proposal is being drafted by a 35-member task force that has worked for almost a year. The group plans to make its final recommendation to the School Board in August.

"We want to make sure that students entered high school with a goal and an aim," Fleeger said. "We're trying to give parents and students some assurance that if you plan well and follow (a certain guide), you have a high probability of success."

The cornerstone of the plan is having students choose by the end of the eighth grade which of five "paths" to follow.

The most demanding path is the preferred four-year university or community college and university plan that would require students to complete 26 credits. Those include four years each of math, science, social studies and English, as well as three years of a foreign language. Students who complete this course of study with a B average will likely be accepted to and successful in a university, Fleeger said.

Similar is the minimum four-year university or community college and university plan. That path would require students to complete 24 credits. Those include three years of math, science and social studies and two years of a foreign language. Students who complete this with a B average also are likely to be accepted to and successful in a university or community college, she said.

The next two courses of study are directed more at students who are more interested in technical fields. Both require 24 credits to complete and the main difference is that one would prepare a student to go after a two-year degree after high school graduation. The other would prepare a student to go after a technical certificate.

The fifth choice students could make is for immediate employment or military service after graduation. Students, who would need 24 credits to graduate, would be required to take three years of math and science, which would include a biology course. The biology course would be a Pinellas requirement. The state does not demand it.

"We are raising the expectations for all levels," Fleeger said.

Students would not be locked into a curriculum, Fleeger said, though it might be difficult for one who planned to work after high school, then decided in the junior year to go to college.

The success of the proposal hinges on many factors, including a more prominent role for guidance counselors.

Although eighth grade may seem early for students to begin planning for college or work, Fleeger said many youngsters already do that when they decide to go to magnet programs or college. The goal, she said, is to make all students start planning earlier.