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Playing Pinellas’ school choice lottery: tips and a helpful chart

The application period for magnet programs, fundamental schools and career academies begins today and ends Jan. 17.
During the application period for school choice programs in Pinellas County, students can rank up to five programs in order of preference. If a program gets more applicants than it has seats available, a computer lottery is used to select which students receive invitations. Applications will be accepted today through 5 p.m. Jan. 17. [Times (1999)]
During the application period for school choice programs in Pinellas County, students can rank up to five programs in order of preference. If a program gets more applicants than it has seats available, a computer lottery is used to select which students receive invitations. Applications will be accepted today through 5 p.m. Jan. 17. [Times (1999)]
Published Jan. 8
Updated Jan. 8

Most students will get what they ask for when applying to get into a Pinellas County school choice program this month. In fact, the great majority will.

But many will be denied.

Around this time last year, 8,251 students entering elementary, middle or high school submitted applications. They applied for magnet programs, fundamental schools and high school academies that focus on specific careers.

But when the lottery results came out in February, only 6,179 of those students got an invitation to the program they listed as their first choice, leaving one in four disappointed.

While many families end up perfectly happy with a school that wasn’t their first choice, the prospect of losing out on an option you really wanted comes with some anxiety.

There are ways to improve your chances in the school choice lottery — first by navigating the system correctly, then by being strategic in your approach. And if you’re going to get strategic, it helps to know which programs are the most popular with Pinellas families.

Our accompanying chart can help (Scroll down to see it).

It tells you how many students applied to each program over the last two years and how many ranked each program their No. 1 choice. The chart also details how many students were invited to each program and how many accepted those invitations. The Pinellas County school district provided the numbers.

To get you started, here are some basic and advanced tips:

The basics

Applying. For a student to get into a program for the 2020-21 school year, an application must be submitted between Jan. 8-17 using the Student Reservation System. Applicants can rank up to five programs in order of preference. If a program gets more applicants than it has seats available, a computer lottery is used to select which students receive invitations. The lottery considers all first choices first, followed by second choices, then third choices until all seats are filled.

Following up. The school district doesn’t automatically call, email or send individual letters to alert families about whether they got into a choice program. It’s up to you to return to the Student Reservation System between Feb. 10-21 to see if your student received any invitations or landed on any waiting lists. Families must accept an invitation before 5 p.m. Feb. 21, and are advised to print or email a confirmation.

Signing up. If you subscribe, the district will send you email reminders about when the application and acceptance periods start and end. Click here to start.

Double checking. Each year, many students apply to programs for which they are ineligible. Check the program requirements or call the school before applying. Otherwise you could waste one of your choices on a program for which your student doesn’t qualify. To find out whether a program has entrance criteria, check the District Application Programs guide for programs with an asterisk next to the name. For more detail on what’s required, consult the procedures manual for District Application Programs.

Six things to consider

1. As we’ve noted above, thousands of families win spots by going for it all — putting their top choice first and hoping for the best — even if it’s one of the most coveted programs in the district. But consider making a less competitive school your second choice in case you’re one of the 25 percent who miss out on getting your top one.

2. Some have had success with another strategy: making a less competitive but acceptable school their top choice. While you may miss out on hitting the “jackpot,” you increase your chances of winning a spot in a choice program.

3. Picking five super-competitive programs could result in no invitation at all; the lower they are in your ranking, the lower your chances of getting in. To help gauge how competitive a program is, consult the chart below. Note whether applications have increased year to year, and compare the number of applications among programs. Compare applications to the number of invitations and check the column that tells you how many applicants ranked that school as their No. 1 choice.

4. The best shot to get into competitive programs is at the entry-level grades — kindergarten, sixth and ninth. Kindergarten is particularly open because fewer students at that level have “priority status.” (Students get an edge when applying by having attended a fundamental school, having a parent employed at a school, having a sibling at a school, living nearby, or being in an elementary or middle school that automatically “feeds” into a school at the next level.) Remember that fundamental schools are tougher to get into past the elementary years if you’re not already in a fundamental.

5. If you didn’t get a seat in a special program in kindergarten, try again in fourth grade. Florida’s class-size amendment increases the number of students in each class to 22 in fourth grade, up from 18 in the lower grades. That potentially opens a few more seats. It’s worth calling the school to check.

6. Pinellas has added a number of new choice programs in just the last four years, which generally improves your chances of getting in. Also, remember that students on the waiting list have a chance to get a seat. For various reasons, some families end up declining their invitations, so seats can open up. It’s worth calling a school to find out how many students typically are pulled from the waiting lists each year.

Questions? Contact the district’s Student Assignment office or visit pcsb.org/choice.

(Note: Asterisk indicates a program was not in existence that year)

High school programs

Applications 2018 Applications 2019 No. 1-ranked applications Invited 2019 Accepted 2019
Academy for Aquatic Management & Environmental Technology, Lakewood High 89 77 7 75 15
Academy of Architecture/Robotics/Construction - Construction Technology, Dunedin High 32 69 7 68 11
Academy of Architecture/Robotics/Construction - Drafting & Design, Dunedin High 82 132 32 131 34
Academy of Architecture/Robotics/Construction - Robotics Technology, Dunedin High 110 144 19 143 18
Academy of Culinary Arts, Northeast High 202 207 53 50 45
Academy of Engineering, East Lake High 509 544 262 262 233
Academy of Entertainment Arts, Dixie Hollins High 202 226 78 181 77
Academy of Finance, Northeast High 301 292 90 91 83
Academy of Information Technology, Northeast High 287 310 54 85 53
Automotive Academy, Northeast High 116 116 32 32 29
Boca Ciega Fundamental School-Within-A-School program 409 432 91 264 105
Business/Economics/Technology Academy, Gibbs High 197 166 30 164 33
Cambridge Program, Dixie Hollins High 211 209 73 119 54
Cambridge Program, Clearwater High 214 230 46 185 38
Cambridge Program, Tarpon Springs High 157 163 29 143 27
Career Academy for International Culture and Commerce, Clearwater High 141 154 15 152 48
Center for Advanced Technologies, Lakewood High 369 331 111 195 112
Center for Construction Technologies, St. Petersburg High 177 164 51 49 48
Center for Culinary Arts, Dixie Hollins High 130 140 38 136 37
Center for Education and Leadership, Seminole High 200 177 70 177 84
Center for Wellness and Medical Professions, Boca Ciega High 480 495 232 233 211
Center for Wellness and Medical Professions, Palm Harbor University 668 687 382 202 184
Criminal Justice Academy, Pinellas Park 495 452 102 176 94
Dunedin High School Fundamental School-Within-A-School program 199 212 58 209 71
Exploring Careers & Education in Leadership, Largo High 460 421 161 199 154
First Responders program, Pinellas Park High 320 307 86 174 104
Institute for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Countryside High 311 245 84 209 97
International Baccalaureate, Largo High 352 313 107 155 86
International Baccalaureate, Palm Harbor University High 380 384 180 214 148
International Baccalaureate, St. Petersburg High 455 409 207 186 136
Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy, Tarpon Springs High 68 96 27 93 33
Lakewood High Center for Journalism and Multimedia 121 103 7 99 12
Leadership Conservatory for the Arts - Instrumental Music, Tarpon Springs High 96 83 46 82 47
Leadership Conservatory for the Arts - Vocal Music, Tarpon Springs High 30 38 6 38 8
Osceola Fundamental High 1134 1015 591 491 454
Pinellas County Center for the Arts, Gibbs High 119 404 125 135 98
Pinellas Virtual School - full-time high school 39 33 3 20 2
Commercial & Digital Arts program Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 29 135 26 30 26
Construction technology program, Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 22 84 6 14 9
Electricity program Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 5 59 10 17 13
Nursing program, Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 54 193 39 32 31
Marine service program, Richard O. Jacobson Tech High * 68 17 23 19
Veterinary sciences program, Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 83 212 59 67 57
Gaming, Simulation & Programming, Richard O. Jacobson Tech High 122 268 83 30 27
Veterinary Science Academy, Tarpon Springs High 162 169 45 168 47

Middle school programs

Applications 2018 Applications 2019 No. 1-ranked applications Invited 2019 Accepted 2019
Azalea Middle School - Middle Grades Engineering Gateway to Technology 210 259 43 175 59
Center for Advancement of the Sciences and Technology, Bay Point Middle 640 542 159 157 132
Center for Gifted Studies, Dunedin Highland Middle 202 215 90 166 109
Center for Gifted Studies, Morgan Fitzgerald Middle 172 196 103 151 92
Center for Gifted Studies, Thurgood Marshall Middle 363 310 127 157 129
Center for Innovation and Digital Learning, Tyrone Middle 378 368 84 120 88
Center for Journalism and Multimedia, John Hopkins Middle 60 29 10 29 8
Center for the Arts, John Hopkins Middle 194 154 41 154 60
Clearwater Fundamental Middle 717 806 491 261 246
East Lake Middle School Academy of Engineering 408 496 343 139 132
IB Middle Years Programme at James Sanderlin K-8, an IB World School 549 514 138 66 63
International Studies program, John Hopkins Middle 144 95 7 95 16
International Studies program, Largo Middle 120 180 41 180 65
Madeira Beach Fundamental Middle (6-8) 851 884 444 234 215
Pinellas Park Middle - Cambridge program 152 154 85 154 100
Pinellas Virtual School - full-time middle school 59 71 5 2 2
Tarpon Springs Middle - Cambridge program 69 75 5 75 10
Tarpon Springs Middle - Leadership Conservatory/Cambridge 109 122 36 122 55
Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle 898 807 340 179 166

Elementary school programs

Applications 2018 Applications 2019 No. 1-ranked applications Invited 2019 Accepted 2019
Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary 433 425 118 109 105
Center for Advancement of the Sciences and Technology, Bay Point Elementary 242 207 39 103 55
Center for Journalism and Multimedia, Melrose Elementary 37 24 1 24 3
Center for Mathematics and Engineering, Doug Jamerson Elementary 498 488 171 92 87
Center for the Arts and International Studies, Perkins Elementary 549 475 158 87 81
Curtis Fundamental Elementary 361 408 289 87 83
Gulf Beaches Elementary Magnet 199 217 52 48 43
IB Primary Years Programme, James Sanderlin K-8 IB World School 522 504 131 52 51
International studies, Mildred Helms Elementary 78 91 27 40 31
Kings Highway Elementary Magnet 95 80 41 51 43
Lakeview Fundamental Elementary 368 319 35 46 34
Madeira Beach Fundamental Elementary (K-5) 547 583 311 69 62
Montessori Academy, Gulfport Elementary 173 123 17 104 29
Pasadena Fundamental Elementary 463 466 141 73 69
Pinellas Virtual School - full-time elementary school 19 25 0 0 0
Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary 176 212 137 57 54
Midtown Academy - Center for Cultural Arts * 103 20 34 25
Convervatory for the Arts, Sandy Lane Elementary * 46 6 46 9
Center for Gifted Studies, Ridgecrest Elementary 62 35 28 27 23
Center for Gifted Studies, Midtown Academy * 27 10 10 3
Center for Gifted Studies, Elisa Nelson Elementary * 61 50 31 25

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