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Schools make calls to fill coveted open seats

Several hundred students have gotten the happy phone call that their number has come up, that they have moved off the dreaded wait list.

They now have a seat in one of the district's most coveted programs for the 2005-06 school year.

These students had applied to magnet, fundamental and career academy programs, so-called countywide programs. In most cases after getting the call, their families had 24 hours to make a decision about whether or not to accept the seats.

The second chance is an annual occurrence that comes on the heels of the acceptance period for countywide programs. As in past years, nearly 10,000 students applied for about 3,000 seats. The seats were filled in a random computer lottery, and parents had a 10-day window in early December in which to accept invitations to the programs.

Because most students applied to more than one school but could accept only one invitation, additional seats opened up after the acceptance period ended. Schools began calling students on their waiting lists in mid December to offer them the seats that had become available.

At the Center for the Arts and International Studies at Perkins Elementary, where 642 students vied for 70 seats, only a few additional seats opened up, program secretary Nancy Gaesser said. More than 400 children are still on the school's wait list. Virtually all of those who dropped away accepted seats elsewhere, Gaesser said.

Only five of the approximately 200 children who were on the kindergarten wait list were called after the list began to move. Two of the five who were offered seats didn't understand they had to call back, Gaesser said. Those seats were offered to the next two children on the list.

A few seats may still become available because some families who accepted seats will decide to make another choice or will move, Gaesser said, but she predicted little movement between now and the start of the next school year.

Mary Reed, data prep clerk at Pasadena Fundamental Middle School, was able to invite about 20 more students when the wait list began to move. Most of them decided to accept the seats, although two or three decided to take offers from other schools, Reed said.

Like most schools, Pasadena Fundamental gave parents several chances to respond.

"We'll try at various times of the day to reach the family," Reed said. "We even try the child's current school to see if the family has a different number. We'll try to touch all bases before we go on to the next person."

Elementary and middle school students stay on wait lists for one year. Because of the intensity of the programs, students stay on high school wait lists until the 11th day of the second semester.

Unlike the elementary and middle school programs, where the wait lists move very slowly, many high school programs clear their lists before the new school year begins. Dee Colon, program secretary at the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High, said the school exhausted its wait list before the holidays.

A few seats are still available and the school is accepting late applications. Some of the late applicants will be invited to occupy the open seats, Colon said.

Thirty-eight students continue to wait for seats in the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High. The school has two wait lists, one for students who meet the program's requirements, and one for students on the cusp. Ten percent of students in the second group are invited, program secretary Elaine Schmidt said.

There is a good chance all eligible students will get seats before August because some students currently attending private schools who already were offered seats may decide to attend private high schools, Schmidt said. Other students may still be called off wait lists at other schools and may opt to take those seats instead.

All of the schools are hurrying to fill their available seats prior to the next step in the student assignment process: the random computer match for attendance area schools, scheduled to take place later this month.

"We want as many students assigned to the countywide programs as possible before they do that," said Christine Lowry, the district's director of magnet and fundamental programs. She explained that a student's choice application is deleted from the system when he or she accepts a magnet or fundamental seat.

She encouraged parents who have not received a call to not give up hope. "There's that real flurry of activity right before the holidays after the acceptance period ends," she said. "You'll see another flurry near the summer when families decide they're moving, and then you'll see another one at the beginning of the school year."