Hundreds of Pasco County elementary students could find themselves reassigned to new campuses in fall 2022 under a plan working its way through the School Board.
The proposal, first floated in late 2019, would transform Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey and Centennial Elementary in Dade City to magnet schools focused on a science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) curriculum.
The schools would have no attendance boundaries, and accept students by application only. Children living in the current zones could apply for the new programs, which are expected to tie into similar offerings at Bayonet Point and Centennial middle schools, or go to other schools to be determined by a future revision of attendance boundaries.
Five of the schools closest to Marlowe sit below 80 percent capacity. The three campuses nearest to Centennial are right at or slightly above 80 percent.
District officials have worked quietly on this concept for a couple of years. It resurfaced Tuesday as the School Board considered a new job description for teachers who want to work in STEAM schools.
Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, objected to the board’s adoption of the job description, suggesting it would drive a wedge between “basic” teachers and those designated for specialty magnets. Peace contended that teachers were approached about the idea inappropriately, without union representatives, and called on the board to delay considering the item.
“Interviews took place in an unacceptable manner for jobs that do not yet exist at schools that have not yet been closed,” Peace said. “The cart is being put before the horse.”
Superintendent Kurt Browning defended the action, saying the administration wanted to properly lay the groundwork for expectations as the district grows its magnet offerings in response to parent desires.
“This is not intended to be divisive,” Browning told the board.
Rather, it’s a way to create a path for teachers interested in the magnet programs, he said, adding that none would lose their jobs if they were not interested teaching the STEAM model. They would be placed at different schools.
Board member Colleen Beaudoin said it’s important that the district not give the impression that it is creating an elite class of teachers. Samantha Del Valle, assistant director of leading and learning, assured the board that the only goal was to lay out a path for teachers to know more details about applying to the new magnets.
Though staff members spoke with certainty about the initiatives, board members signaled they still needed more information. They noted they have yet to approve the changes to Centennial and Marlowe, and suggested that many questions remain before the item comes up for a vote, perhaps in April.
Board member Megan Harding called for a workshop on the topic.
“I would like to be able to answer questions when teachers come to me,” Harding said. “It is important that the Centennial and Marlowe communities hear this as well.”
When the board discusses magnets, Beaudoin said, it also should look into the possibility of adding seats to Sanders Memorial Elementary, which has the STEAM magnet that Centennial and Marlowe would be based on. She also called for more information on Krinn Technical High School, another magnet, which has seen lower than expected enrollment.