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High Schools

By now, you probably know which high school your child will attend. The special programs offered in elementary and middle schools are geared, in part, toward preparing students for high school. But this secondary level also brings a new array of extracurricular activities, varsity sports, pep rallies, prom, class ring, college prep tests, visits from military recruiters and, ultimately, graduation.

And there are even more options academically. The only exception is that there are no fundamental high schools.

Still, most of the public school students, approximately 82 percent, go to zoned schools. There are nearly 16 percent of the ninth- through 12th-graders enrolled in the district's magnet programs.

ZONED SCHOOLS

WHAT ARE THEY? This is sort of a nickname for the system that the district uses to assign students to schools. District officials draw boundaries around neighborhoods, creating a zone. Students living in those zones are assigned to a particular school. Unless you choose a private school or a public school offering a special program (we'll talk about that later), the district chooses the school for you. Unlike elementary schools, it is highly unlikely that the district will change your assignment from year to year.

If your zoned schools is more than 2 miles from your house, the district will provide a bus. Otherwise, students must provide their own transportation.

Although there is a common curriculum among the zoned schools, there also are special features, such as laboratories, television production studios and multimedia stations.

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT MY ZONED SCHOOL WILL BE? Later this month, school district officials will send out the 1999-2000 school assignments by mail. Then they will hold three public meetings: one in north county, one in south county and one in mid-county. The letter will have details about when and where the meetings will be. In February, the School Board will hold two public hearings and officially make the changes.

OK. AFTER I KNOW THE NAME OF MY SCHOOL, HOW CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?: Start on page . For each school, you can find out the student population, school hours, the name of the principal and a description of the zones. Also listed are the types of classes offered.

I'VE READ ABOUT THE SCHOOL, BUT I WANT TO KNOW EVEN MORE: Take a tour. Nothing can take the place of seeing for yourself. Talk to other parents, neighbors and relatives. Try the Internet, too. Also consider going to open house or the school's PTA or school advisory council meetings.

ADVANTAGES: You are guaranteed a spot at the school. The district provides transportation if you live more than 2 miles from the school. For most, the school is relatively close to home. Students with special needs and interests are accommodated. The curriculum is comparable to others in the state. There is a family like atmosphere at some of the smaller schools.

DISADVANTAGES: School assignments can change. If you move to a different zone, your assignment is sure to change, even during the middle of the year. However, staying put is not a safeguard because the boundaries are periodically redrawn.

MAGNET SCHOOLS

WHAT ARE THEY? They could be considered deluxe versions of ordinary zoned schools because magnet schools offer extras in the areas of arts, science and technology. On the high school level, there also are medical, criminal justice and international culture and commerce programs. For example, the arts-intensive programs feature painting, music and dance. Other magnets have elaborate computer labs and multimedia networks. Students still get a traditional education. The school day is split between regular academics and the special program.

Magnet schools originally were designed to lure white students to schools that were predominantly black. District officials upgraded the curriculum to make the schools more appealing. There are nine high schools in Pinellas County that have magnet programs: Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Gibbs, Lakewood, Largo, Osceola in Largo, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg High. Space is limited and regulated by an application process. There are some students in the neighborhood who attend the magnet schools.

IF I AM NOT ZONED FOR A MAGNET, HOW DO I GET IN? Unless you have attended a middle magnet school, getting in is going to take pure luck. First, you must apply. Administrators only accept ninth graders into the program, unless there is a student transferring from a comparable program. There are varying admission requirements for the magnet programs, most of which are based on grades and test scores. Some schools demand interviews and written personal statements. Turn to page to read more details for each school.

Applications were due by Dec. 1, except for the international culture and commerce program at Clearwater High School. That deadline is March 1. It is always a good idea to follow up with a phone call to make sure the school has received your application.

Then it's up to a computer, which assigns a random number to each application and arbitrarily selects students. Race is a factor in the selection process. There is a separate lottery for black and white students because magnet schools must be racially balanced.

But once you are accepted into a magnet program, there is no more lottery for you. As long as your child meets the academic performance and behavior guidelines, your child is locked into the magnet system. There is a practice of nepotism in the magnet system. Siblings are given preference in admissions decisions. If, however, you do not get in, there is a waiting list. Vacancies are filled from that list. Applying early does nothing to boost the chances of acceptance. Remember, students are not accepted beyond the ninth grade unless they transfer from another school with a comparable program.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE AMONG THE MAGNET SCHOOLS? There are major differences among the nine high school magnet programs. Boca Ciega and Palm Harbor University high schools have medical magnets geared toward students who want to become nurse assistants, EKG technicians or home health aides. They also offer classes for students interested in dental hygiene, physical therapy, pharmacy, dentistry, medicine and veterinary. In addition, Palm Harbor carries an International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous academic track that prepares students for college.

Clearwater's program is designed to attract students who want to go into an international business career. Business leaders, university professors and trained instructors teach classes. There also are exchange programs available.

At Gibbs, pupils can study dance, music, theater and visual arts as well as the standard academic program.

Lakewood has a technology-driven curriculum with an emphasis on lab experiments in math and science. There also is a focus on research, computer programming and applications and multimedia and television production.

Largo is the place for students who want to be educators. The teaching arts magnet program focuses on the latest teaching methods and technology used in the classroom. The learning center at Largo is a separate magnet program that pushes students to find, manipulate and apply information to solve real-world problems.

There are some students who want to finish high school in three years. As part of Osceola's early graduation plan, administrators schedule eight-week summer sessions, most beginning before the ninth grade. Students have the option of dual-enrolling at St. Petersburg Junior College during their senior year.

Pinellas Park carries courses for those who are interested in law enforcement or law-related fields.

St. Petersburg High is an International Baccalaureate magnet, which means college-bound students take a rigorous round of liberal arts courses.

Turn to page , to learn more about the schools. Contact the individual school to get admission requirements.

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH MAGNET SCHOOL IS FOR MY TEENAGER? Talk to your child about his or her interests. It is best to enroll at the school that offers courses your child is most interested in because the programs are highly specialized and demanding.

ADVANTAGES: The magnet programs offer courses and activities that are not offered in traditional public high schools. The district provides transportation. Few children leave the program after being accepted, which creates stability. Also, the school is excluded from the district's rezoning process so boundary changes do not apply.

DISADVANTAGES: It is difficult to get in. Some students may not be able to handle the high expectations for performance and behavior.

Satisfied? If so, then the decisionmaking process is over for you. Congratulations!

If you're not, there are other choices available.

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