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Application doesn't end choice process

Love the Pinellas choice plan or hate it, there is no denying it has forced parents to become more engaged in their children's schooling.

Under the old system of zoned schools, much of the work was done for you. Parents could simply show up at the neighborhood school and enroll. Choice involves a series of affirmative steps, from shopping for a school to making sure your application is correct.

But no part of the system requires more effort than applying for a magnet program, fundamental school or career academy, collectively known as countywide programs.

Now that the application period for these programs is over, parents need to lock in on the idea that their work is not over. They must call back between March 10 and March 19 to find out whether their child was invited to a program and accept the invitation.

Every year, we hear of a few parents who take the trouble to apply for a countywide program, then forget to call back during the acceptance period. Or they call back but listen to the news that their child got into a program and hang up, failing to actually accept the invitation.

Those are true choice tragedies.

"That is just such a huge point," said Andrea Zahn, spokeswoman for the district's choice program. "They'll call up and listen, and they think just by hearing it that their child's been accepted to that program. They really have to go back and accept the seat."

Are the dates of the acceptance period on your calendar?

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The district received more than 10,300 applications for countywide programs, up about 800 from last year. Based on last year's numbers, those applicants are competing for about 3,500 seats.

But the odds are better than those numbers make it sound because most families apply for seats in multiple programs.

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Next up is the application period for regular or choice attendance area schools, March 21 to April 9.

Now is a good time to take that first step and register your child if he is entering kindergarten in August or will be entering the district from a private school or homeschool. When registering, you will receive the 10-digit student ID number necessary to apply for a school by phone.

Thousands of people out there still need to register.

Using birth records and other indicators, the district estimates about 8,000 kindergarteners will join the system next year. Only half have registered.

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If you've moved or changed phone numbers, be sure to report these changes to your school. Failing to do so could result in missing important communications from the district. For example, your child comes to the top of a school's choice waiting list, and the district calls to see if you want a seat there. If it can't reach you, the seat goes to the next child on the list.

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TIP OF THE WEEK: In addition to a school tour, try attending PTA or School Advisory Council meetings as you sort through your choices. You're less likely to get the school's standard pitch. And, if you pull aside some parents, they may give you the real scoop. For a list of school tours, go to www.pinellaschoice.org.

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