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Media magnet school short on students

Black students are on a waiting list, but desegregation policies require that non-blacks fill the openings at Melrose.

Melrose Elementary School, the communication and mass media magnet, is underenrolled for the second year in a row.

The good news, says assistant principal Susan Graham, is that this year the school is short by only 32 students, compared with last year's 100. Projected enrollment was 550, but Melrose as of last week had 518 students.

"It's evolving as we speak," Graham said.

The school has the most openings in grades 2 and 3 and a few in grade 5. Kindergarten and grades 1 and 4 are full.

Magnet programs attract students with special curricula stressing math and science, the arts or, in Melrose's case, global studies, Spanish and multimedia technology. The other two elementary magnet schools in south Pinellas County, Perkins and Bay Point, are full with waiting lists.

"My guess about their low enrollment," said Linda Evers, magnet coordinator for Bay Point, "is that the program is new, just two years old, and people don't know about it. They have a wonderful program."

At this point, Graham said that because of court-ordered racial quotas, the school can accept only non-black students.

"We have African-American students on a wait list, but we can't admit them," she said.

"Actually, I'm pleased," she said, "considering all this."

Graham was referring to the temporary campus of 40 portables that house Melrose while their facility is being renovated. She feared that families would be put off by the spartan, barracks-like appearance of the portable village.

Graham said another concern was Melrose's location behind Maximo Elementary at 4850 31st St. S, six miles away from their permanent school.

"I've had 10 to 15 parents who chose not to stay," she said. "It's a longer bus ride from north county. Some are getting on the bus at 7:45 to get here by 8:45."

A fleet of 24 buses delivers most of the students to Melrose each morning. Bused students include those who are zoned for the school and walked to its original location.

Graham said that the curriculum will not suffer because of the dislocation.

"We have a full computer lab, TV studio, a media center, and art and music portables. We actually have more room here."

The permanent school, at 1752 13th Ave. S, is scheduled to be completed in spring 2001. The $4.5-million makeover will reconfigure current space, enlarging classrooms and upgrading the facility. Graham did not know if staff and students would finish the year in the portables or relocate again to the refurbished building.

The school earned a C rating this year from the state, up from a D rating, based on standard test scores and was recently notified that the improvement will bring a reward of more than $50,000 which the school has not decided how to spend.

If enrollment does not increase, at least one teacher will be reassigned.

First on that list is second-grade teacher Mindy Hayford.

Two years ago, she was reassigned from Melrose for the same reason and just returned this year.

"You just have to adjust," she said.

For information about Melrose Elementary School, an application for admission or to schedule a tour, call 893-2175 or 217-7107.