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Family comes 1,000 miles for schools

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Ken and Tari Woodlock quit their jobs, left their loved ones and moved more than 1,000 miles so their son could go to school in Pinellas County.

The only home the Woodlocks have ever known is New Hampshire. That's where their relatives are, where Ken and Tari met, where they thought they would raise their only child.

But their 12-year-old son Kyle has an IQ of 132, "gifted" status. The Woodlocks say New Hampshire public schools don't have advanced curricula that satisfy them. And they can't afford the $8,000 to $10,000 it would cost to send Kyle to private school.

"He needs acceleration," Ken Woodlock said. "He needs a challenge and he's just not going to get it up there (New Hampshire)."

Browsing the Internet earlier this year, Woodlock found some information about a gifted program in Sarasota, and from that decided to study up on other Florida school districts. Woodlock said he was most impressed by the curriculum in Pinellas County and the fact that educators involved with the gifted program here were well-spoken and seemed to take it very "seriously."

"The amount of backing they give education here is great," he said. "It's amazing."

The Woodlocks called Art Dimter, county director for gifted programs, and traveled here from their hometown, Derry, N.H., in April to meet with him. Kyle was later accepted to the gifted program at Kennedy Middle School, not far from the Woodlocks' apartment in the Landings of Clearwater complex on U.S. 19.

Woodlock, 45, quit his job as a manager for a Massachusetts plastic molding company and flew here in June to find an apartment. Mrs. Woodlock, 37, resigned as an administrative assistant for a property management company.

They got here July 3, after hauling their goods in a rented truck for four days. The move and plane trips to Florida cost about $5,000, most of their life savings.

Neither parent has found a full-time job. They wait for replies to resumes and live on what is left of their savings and a severance package from Woodlock's old job.

They say Kyle is worth the trouble, though. "If I've got to come down here and be a flag person on a construction crew, I'll do that," Woodlock said.

Kyle told his parents Thursday, "I'm pretty grateful that you'll go to that extent to get me the education I need."

"It's funny," Kyle said, Florida schools don't have a very good reputation, while schools in the Northeast do.

Kyle's math, science and history courses will be for gifted students, while other classes may be mixed. For the first time in a while, he looks forward to school.

"The best thing about it, I feel, is they group us gifted kids together into one group," Kyle said. "So they relieve the feeling that we're alone."

Alone was something he felt often at his old school in Derry. Aside from the benefits of the gifted program, social problems played a major part in the Woodlocks' decision to move, they said.

To accommodate Kyle's faster learning pace, New Hampshire school officials allowed him to skip sixth grade and go to seventh grade in the 1995-1996 school year.

That, the Woodlocks say, proved to be a mistake.

Most seventh-graders were into dating, Kyle said, while he was into algebra.

A small group of them _ "cooler," older and bigger than the 4-foot-9 Kyle _ chided him constantly. They hit him in the head with paper, destroyed his assignment book, stole clothes from his gym locker and called him "geek" and "dork," he said.

"It really got to me that these people were being mean to my boy," Mrs. Woodlock said.

If pupils here pick on Kyle, "I'm just going to try to take them," he said. "Grit my teeth and bear it."

He has come up against hard times before. His first-grade teacher thought Kyle had a learning disability because he failed to complete assignments and pay attention, Mrs. Woodlock said. The teacher suggested an IQ test.

Instead, they found Kyle was gifted. A school psychologist concluded that his mind sometimes worked faster than his ability to write, making it difficult to express thoughts for written assignments, the Woodlocks said.

"He just needs to be taught differently," Mrs. Woodlock said.

Kyle chose to repeat Grade 7 at Kennedy Middle so he can be with pupils his own age.

Before the Woodlocks left, family members in Derry questioned their decision.

No one said it out loud, but Woodlock got the impression they were thinking, "You're leaving good jobs just for your kid?"

Many asked, "Do you know how hot it gets down there?"

So far, the Woodlocks say Florida is paradise with its beaches and plentiful pools.

But check back with them in a year, Woodlock said. "It'll be interesting to see if it lives up to our expectations."