The school year is only half over, with classes set to resume next week after the winter break. But Pinellas County school officials, along with thousands of families, are getting ready to spend a lot of time and energy on 2019-20.
January is when the school district registers kids for next year's prekindergarten and kindergarten classes, and also when it accepts applications for more than 70 choice programs located in schools from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg.
The choice process traditionally gets the most attention. And if history is any indication, Pinellas Schools will receive applications over the next two weeks from more than 10,000 students vying to get into a magnet or fundamental program, or a career academy next year. Since students typically apply for multiple programs, the total number of applications usually climbs above 20,000.
Some choice programs attract high interest, so the competition is keen, leaving a certain number of students shut out of their first-choice programs. Other programs have room to spare, and continue to accept applications through rest of the year.
The district has choice options for students in elementary, middle and high school. So most of those applying will be entering kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade in August.
Choice applications will be accepted starting Wednesday and continuing through Jan. 18.
Separately, families planning to send a kindergarten student to their regular zoned school next year can register starting Jan. 14.
And applications for prekindergarten programs run by the school district will be accepted online from Jan. 21 to Feb. 1.
Here are some more details about each category:
The part of the process where the district invites families to shop around is mostly over. Schools opened their doors with dozens of Discovery Nights in the fall, when the district also held three choice fairs.
But officials have made it clear they want people to keep looking if they need to. Parents can contact schools to get a tour, and high school students can shadow other students in magnet programs they are interested in.
A new program, the Conservatory for the Arts at Sandy Lane Elementary in Clearwater, has moved its Discovery Night to Wednesday. The event will last from 6:30-8 p.m. at the school, 1360 Sandy Lane.
When families are ready to apply for a choice program, they should log in to the district's Student Reservation System at reservation.pcsb.org. They will need a User ID and password. Those who don't have them can get them at any school with a photo ID. Only one ID and password is needed per family.
Students can apply for up to five programs and will be asked to rank them in order of preference. Their odds are not affected by when they submit an application.
Many programs have entrance criteria, and many accept only applicants who live in a certain part of the county. The District Application Programs Guide available at pcsb.org/choice has information on the criteria and a map of application zones.
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Students outside the system who are applying to a program with entrance criteria must deliver documentation of their eligibility to the program office by the end of the school day on Jan. 25.
A vital part of the process is accepting an invitation. Families must log back into the Student Reservation System between Feb. 13-22 to do this. Those who get an invitation and do not accept during this time, will have their invitations canceled.
Signing up for kindergarten
To kick off the registration process, the school district has scheduled a number of events under the heading "Ready, Set…Kindergarten." The events will be held at elementary schools on Jan. 15, 16 and 17.
Families who attend can register a child for kindergarten for 2019-20, explore classrooms, meet teachers and find out how to get children ready for kindergarten.
A schedule of events is available at pcsb.org/KG.
Reserving a prekindergarten spot
Like those using the choice system, families interested in enrolling children in prekindergarten can use the district's Student Reservation System at reservation.pcsb.org.
There are two kinds of programs. Pre-K3 is for children who will be 3 years old on or before Sept. 1, while Voluntary Prekindergarten, known as VPK, is for children who will be 4 on or before that date.
After applying, parents will need to log back into the reservation system from Feb. 25 to March 8 to accept an invitation to a program.