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Check out who sets the school's agenda

Situation: Greg Joyce, a Times copy editor, has a kindergartener at one of the two new "choice" schools.

Picking a school for your first child is a lot like shopping for a sweater for your wife at Christmas: You hope you'll find something that fits, but ultimately you're just guessing.

And my wife and I did a lot of shopping on behalf of our soon-to-be kindergartener. We visited some private schools. Considered moving to Hillsborough or Manatee County. Hit the magnet and fundamental schools. I even mentioned homeschooling, but got a look from my wife that is best avoided.

With three kids, private school didn't seem like a viable option. We love our neighborhood and wanted to avoid moving if we could. So we decided to put our faith in the magnet lottery, but visit a few neighborhood schools as a fallback.

That's when we met Denise Miller, the principal at James B. Sanderlin Elementary, a new school on 22nd Avenue S that owes its existence to School Board members, bureaucrats and lawyers. It's a new school with a new program in Pinellas: the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. I'm not sure of all the theory behind its "inquiry-based format," but the school will emphasize learning about an individual's role in the world. Uh-huh.

But the important part of the school was Miller. Her enthusiasm for the program is infectious and her energy to see it and her students blossom seems boundless. (We called her office with a question at 7:30 one night. We expected to leave a message. Instead, Miller picked up on the first ring.)

Because Sanderlin is a new school, Miller got to choose everything from the teachers to the tables.

My wife and I felt that while we may not be experts at what makes a school thrive, we were pretty sure Miller knew and she was in a position to make it happen.

By then, the results of the magnet/fundamental lottery had come back. Our son wasn't accepted anywhere, but was placed on a few waiting lists in the teens or low 20s.

That's when the guessing really began. A 4{-year-old can change a lot in the year between when you list your top school choices and classes actually begin. That's not even taking into account the years until fifth grade _ more than double his life.

So for us, the choice came down to what would fit for kindergarten and what had the best chance of fitting later. In other words, rather than find a school that fit our son, we began looking for a school that was flexible enough to adapt as our son grew. That seemed to be exactly the kind of school Miller had been talking about.

Instead of a good fit, we chose a good tailor: Miller.

Our faith has been borne out: Our rambunctious kindergartener has a great teacher and looks forward to going to school every day. It's not perfect. (Hey, School Board, how can you have an "international" school without a full-time language teacher?) But I have faith that it will get better every year as our other children become school age.

Since choosing Sanderlin we have been contacted by a couple of the magnets/fundamentals, saying they had spots open if we wanted them.

We turned them down.

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