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Magnet school beefs up and won't lose teachers

Melrose Elementary, which stresses global studies, Spanish and multimedia technology, quickly gains 22 students. The school still has 10 second grade slots.

For the second year, last-minute efforts have brought in enough students to keep Melrose Elementary from losing any teachers.

The communications and mass media magnet program started the school year with fewer students than expected, which meant that teachers would be transferred to other schools unless more students came in _ quickly.

After a campaign to get the word out, the school gained 22 students, enough to keep the Melrose faculty intact. The school still has 10 openings, all in second grade.

After Aug. 23, the first day of school for students, Melrose administrators estimated that the school was 32 students under quota, said Susan Graham, the assistant principal and magnet coordinator for the school. That shortfall was less severe than last year, when the school opened with vacancies for 100 pupils.

After the 10-day count, which ended Thursday, the school had picked up students who live within Melrose's designated school zone and others from different parts of Pinellas County who filed applications to attend.

Through applications, Melrose gained three first-graders, one second-grader and four fifth-graders. From its attendance zone, Melrose gained about 14 students who started school after Labor Day, which meant they were not included in the original count, Graham said.

First and fifth grades are now full. But parents interested in enrolling a child in second grade should call the school at 893-2175 or 217-7107. Parents also can tour the school between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The openings are for white students. Under ratios imposed by a federal court order, the school already has as many black students as it can enroll.

Magnet programs attract students by focusing on 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.

Graham, the Melrose magnet coordinator, said recent word-of-mouth efforts by teachers encouraged parents to send their children to the school.

"We're thrilled that we got the students we needed," Graham said. "After we got the word out, our offices were flooded with phone calls."

One of these calls came from Wendy Hessinger, who decided to transfer her fifth-grade son, Quinn, from Grace Lutheran School to Melrose. Since moving to St. Petersburg two years ago, Hessinger said she had always wanted to send Quinn to a magnet school but never had the opportunity.

"Two years ago, I sent in an application for Quinn to go to Bay Point," Hessinger said. "The school told me he was first on the waiting list to get in, but I never received a call back. Then I kind of lost faith in the system."

Hessinger walked into Melrose on Sept. 5 to see if the school would be an appropriate place to send Quinn. As she toured the buildings and talked to teachers, she said she felt welcome and connected.

"I was really impressed by Melrose," she said. "Everyone I met was friendly and helpful."

Hessinger said she will soon file an application for her younger son, Miles, who will be in kindergarten next year.

Because the permanent Melrose campus is being rebuilt, the school has moved to a temporary campus of 40 portables behind Maximo Elementary at 4850 31st St. S, 6 miles away from the past and future school at 1752 13th Ave. S.

Melrose teachers have already started preparing for the next school year, Graham said. They have held weekly meetings to discuss future recruiting techniques, which include discussing the magnet program in preschools and advertising on television and city buses. Teachers also might create CDs or DVDs showcasing the program and their personal talents, which would be distributed at school tours.

"We're confident that the program will sell itself and that we won't have openings for long," Graham said. "Melrose is a great place to be, and people will realize that as soon as they walk through."