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For Pinellas Point couple, school choice was fundamental

Dwayne and Immaculate Matt opened the school district's letter and immediately rejected the school assignment for their son.

Shore Acres Elementary was too far for their little Marquis, and the 5-year-old was too young to ride a bus.

So Immaculate Matt shopped for another school. She found what she was looking for at Tyrone Square Mall, where Bay Vista Fundamental and other schools had set up temporary information booths. That was in December 1997, about 11 months before Marquis was scheduled to begin kindergarten.

They heard that fundamental schools "enhanced the capability to learn at a faster rate," said Dwayne Matt, 29. And they heard about the rigidity of the program: mandatory homework, required parent participation and strict discipline. So they filled out an application and their son was among those chosen in a lottery.

Marquis is a typical little boy, his mother said. He has lots of energy. The school's strict guidelines would be good for him, she thought at the time.

Immaculate Matt signed up for a tour, which was conducted by the principal and a parent.

"After going to Bay Vista, I was completely sold," she said. When she drove up, she paid particular attention to how alert the staff was. She even eliminated another school from her list of possibilities because office personnel were slack in recognizing visitors, let alone greeting them and documenting their visit.

She also noticed the students' books and other materials; was the environment fun and creative? She eyed the playground; was it secure and well-supervised?

The Matts wanted a school that would be close to their Pinellas Point home and both of their jobs. Plus, they wanted to keep Marquis focused.

"Busing is more distractions early in the morning," said Dwayne Matt. "Busing is just not good for a young child."

The Matts also thought about the kind of commitment they would need to make when they chose Bay Vista for Marquis, including providing their own transportation and helping with homework each night.

"I have no other choice but to sit down and do homework," said Immaculate Matt. "And I think that (rule) makes the kids better."