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"Niche' schools cater to needs and desires

Sometimes a child just doesn't seem to fit into a regular, magnet or fundamental school program.

Don't despair. There are options in Pinellas County, including independently run charter schools and intermediate schools.

Enrollment procedures differ, so check with school officials if one of the following programs appears right for your child.

Charter schools are funded by the public school system but operate privately. They may select enrollments by age, grade level, risk assessment, academics, interests or by where you live. Charter schools are required to hold a lottery if more students apply than spaces are available.

Here is the current charter school lineup:

+ Academie Da Vinci, Dunedin: grades 1-5; county's first charter school; concentration on fine and performing arts.

+ The Athenian Academy, Dunedin: K-2; bilingual Greek cultural immersion and intensive Spanish instruction.

+ Whole Child at UPARC, Clearwater: prekindergarten; early intervention for children with developmental and physical disabilities.

If your child lacks motivation and needs extra attention and support, intermediate school programs concentrate on strengthening basic skills and personal development. They work with children individually and in small groups, maintain close contact with parents, and coordinate with community agencies and business partnerships.

Clearwater Intermediate and Lealman Intermediate in St. Petersburg serve students in fifth through eighth grades.

PARTNERSHIP SCHOOLS

Six schools partner with area businesses and are usually on or near the business partner's site. Enrollments usually are limited to children of employees of the participating business.

+ Bay Park, satellite of Campbell Park Elementary: K-3; parents must work at Bayfront Medical Center.

+ Honeywell, satellite of Pinellas Central Elementary: K-2; parents must work at Honeywell.

+ Modesta Robbins, satellite of Curlew Creek: fourth and sixth grade; students must meet specific dropout prevention criteria; city of Clearwater and the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation partnership.

+ Morton Plant-Mease/South Ward, at South Ward Elementary: K-5; parents must work at Morton Plant or Mease hospitals.

+ Pinellas County Government/North Ward, at North Ward Elementary: K-5; parents must work for the Pinellas County government.

ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS

Alternative schools are designed for students with behavior problems.

+ North Ward Secondary School, St. Petersburg: a dropout prevention program for middle school students; emphasizes leadership skills, respect, responsibility, critical thinking, problem solving and violence prevention.

+ Safety Harbor Secondary School: a disciplinary program for middle school students with behavior problems; emphasizes student-teacher relationships, substance abuse and violence prevention, and individual and small-group counseling.

+ Norwood Secondary: a dropout prevention service for high school students who have been reassigned at the recommendation of their school and the director of school operations. Emphasizes personal leadership skills and a positive attitude toward school.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Children with special physical or cognitive needs that cannot be met in the regular school program may be eligible to attend a special-education center.

Under the county school choice plan that will go into effect in the 2003-2004 school year, exceptional-education students will be able to choose among schools offering the services listed in the student's individual education plan. Students in very specialized programs will be assigned to a school, as is done now.

+ Calvin Hunsinger School, Clearwater: serves the severely emotionally disturbed, children with special speech and language needs, and occupational and physical therapy. The school also offers job training in food production, vocational woodworking and horticulture.

+ Hamilton Disston School, Gulfport: programs for severely emotionally disturbed, educable mentally retarded, children with specific learning disabilities or special needs in speech/language, vision, hearing, occupational and physical therapy.

+ Nina Harris Exceptional Student Center, Pinellas Park: serves the trainable mentally retarded, profoundly mentally retarded, autistic, visually impaired, the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as children with special needs in speech/language, dual sensory impairment, and occupational and physical therapy.

+ Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Center, Clearwater: programs for trainable mentally retarded, profoundly mentally retarded and autistic, as well as children with speech/language, dual sensory, vision or hearing impairment.

+ Richard L. Sanders School, Pinellas Park: programs for severely emotionally disturbed and children with special speech/language impairment.

For more information about charter, challenge and other specialized programs, visit the school system's Web site at www.pinellas.k12.fl.us or call 588-6033 (discovery/challenge programs), 588-6209 (partnership schools) or 588-6042 (special education).

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