Ridgewood High parents seek ‘clear message’ on options for their children as school closes

The campus is slated to convert into a magnet technical high school in the fall.
Pasco County school district officials are converting Ridgewood High into a technical school. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Pasco County school district officials are converting Ridgewood High into a technical school. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Jan. 17, 2018

Dawn Dunn had some serious concerns as the Pasco County school district races to transform Ridgewood High into a magnet technical high school by August.

Most pressing, she told the School Board on Tuesday, is not having information about what will happen to the Class of 2019, of which her daughter is a leader.

As the transition surges ahead — the board approved new attendance zones eliminating Ridgewood from the boundary map on Tuesday — next year's rising seniors have received precious little detail about whether they can earn a Ridgewood diploma, complete their courses at Ridgewood, maintain their class rank, and other key issues as they look toward life after high school.

So far, Dunn said, her family had received only a postcard saying change was coming. They went to speak to the school guidance counselor, but learned the counselor — along with nearly a dozen other faculty and staff — had left the school mid-year amid the uncertainty of what's to come.

"We are trying to decide whether she should stay at that school," Dunn said of her daughter. "We just need a very clear message of what her options are."

Parent Michael Krietemeyer, who threatened to sue over the changes, echoed Dunn's critique. He noted that his son had lost "another" teacher over winter break, and as a result is losing educational time.

Principal Chris Dunning has acknowledged the departing staff, and said he is filling the spots as quickly as possible.

Krietemeyer called the technical high school concept a good idea and much needed for the community. But closing down Ridgewood with limited preparations for those who wanted to remain overshadows the positives, he told the board.

"My kid is devastated. I feel the same way," he said.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he wants to to be able to allow the Class of 2019 to finish at Ridgewood and earn a Ridgewood diploma.

"These kids have spent four years at Ridgewood High," he said. "It's important enough to me that we're trying to figure it out."

But certain aspects of the plan have the triggered Florida Department of Education rules that are proving obstacles.

Specifically, the district intends to close Ridgewood as a "cost center" and reopen it as Wendell Krinn Technical High. In so doing, it would reset the school's state accountability rating, allowing it to avoid immediately falling subject to turnaround laws if Ridgewood receives another D grade from the state.

But creating the technical center means that Ridgewood would not exist and, as a result, could not issue transcripts or diplomas.

An alternative being looked at is to keep Ridgewood alive on paper for one more year, alongside Wendell Krinn Technical. The issue with that is, Ridgewood would have to remain separate and distinct from Wendell Krinn Technical.

By rule, that means students from the two schools could not take classes together, even if the same teacher instructs them and the classes otherwise would be half empty. The schools also would need distinct administrations, to ensure they really are run independently.

Before making a decision, Browning said he wants to know exactly how many rising seniors are interested in finishing at Ridgewood rather than at Gulf or Fivay high schools, where they otherwise would be rezoned, or at Wendell Krinn Technical for one year of a four-year program.

The numbers would affect the economics of hiring teachers and staff.

Browning said he is negotiating with Department of Education officials, to see if the district can work out a one-year deal to close out Ridgewood. He anticipated quickly getting more information now that the board has approved new attendance zones and families know where they would otherwise be assigned.