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Clan falls two blocks short of convenience

Editor's note: As an aid to understanding "controlled choice," Neighborhood Times will continue to profile families who are in the hunt for the right school during the next several weeks.

The Pinellas County School Board had to draw lines somewhere in the county to create attendance areas for its new controlled choice plan. In doing so, it was bound to frustrate somebody.

Gail and David Wade, who live in northern downtown Clearwater, found themselves two blocks outside attendance Area C, the district most convenient to them.

Their daughter, Jillian, now 4, will enter kindergarten next fall. If she attends a public school, she will likely do so in Area D, where the nearest A-rated school is north of Curlew Road, nearly 8 miles away. Others are farther north than that.

Their 16-month-old son, Jordan, attends day care in Area C, and Gail Wade works in Area B.

"Can you imagine the morning and evening commute?" she wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "I have timed the drive to the two schools north of Curlew. The closet of the two requires 20 to 25 minutes and the other 30 during morning commute time. Double that time to get back to my son's day care, then on to work."

"The thing that bothers me the most," Mrs. Wade said in a telephone interview, "is they've split our neighborhood down the middle. That was a little disturbing to me. The families in the area, we all know each other.

"For us to go to any (school) events, from a logistical standpoint, it is going to make our lives very complicated. (The children's) school friends will be outside our neighborhood, which adds another layer of complexity."

Mrs. Wade has toured a number of schools in Area D and applied to have Jillian attend a fundamental school. She is 57th on the waiting list there.

She sought advice from Kathy Walker, the county director of student assignment. The Wades can apply for a special attendance permit that would enable Jillian to attend a school outside their district, but could make a choice only after all other students have been placed.

"So basically, I'm at the bottom of the list," Mrs. Wade said. "I've thrown my hands up in frustration. I have no choice but to select a school in Area D or choose a private school."

_ Do you have a story about negotiating the new school choice plan? Please let Mary Jane Park know at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail parksptimes.com; or P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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