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Applying for a choice school in Tampa Bay? It’s time to get in gear.

Campus tours and other events are happening now, and application periods for the 2022-23 school year are fast approaching.
The Center for Innovation & Digital Learning at Gulf Beaches Elementary is one of 81 choice programs offered by Pinellas County Schools for the 2022-23 academic year.
The Center for Innovation & Digital Learning at Gulf Beaches Elementary is one of 81 choice programs offered by Pinellas County Schools for the 2022-23 academic year. [ Times (2016) ]
Published Oct. 13

Every year, thousands of Tampa Bay families decide to explore educational options beyond their zoned public school. For them, October through mid-December can be a crucial time for gathering information, visiting schools and figuring out where to apply for the following fall.

While the start of next school year is months away, the process requires parents and guardians to get engaged now.

Florida’s education leaders fancy the state as a haven for school choice, and districts have picked up on that theme by offering new programs every year. The process for the 2022-23 school year is already underway. Here’s what parents need to know in each local district:

Hillsborough County

In this image from a Hillsborough County school district video, a dance class works on technique. Arts programs are part of the menu of choice options available to Hillsborough students.
In this image from a Hillsborough County school district video, a dance class works on technique. Arts programs are part of the menu of choice options available to Hillsborough students. [ Hillsborough County Public Schools ]

What’s available: More than 80 magnet programs at 38 district schools offering studies in areas such as art, science, technology, engineering, math and international studies. For elementary and middle school programs, students are admitted based on a lottery. Entrance to high school programs is based on certain criteria. Families also can apply for 10 attractor programs specializing in subjects such as gifted studies, engineering, finance and film production. Admission into these programs also is based on entrance criteria.

Upcoming events: Several “Magnet World Tour” events — most of them virtual — are scheduled in October, November and December, where families can learn about each program and get information on the application process. The district will hold a live “World Tour” event, the first of its kind, featuring food trucks, games and other activities on Nov. 5 at a location to be announced. An additional live event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 13 at WestShore Plaza. For more details, visit hillsboroughschools.org/magnet.

When to apply: The first application window opens at 5 p.m. Oct. 29 and closes at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 11. A second application period will be announced later. Families will know by late January whether their child got into a program.

Where to go for help: Call the district’s Choice Information Line at 813-272-4692 from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, or visit hillsboroughschools.org/magnet.

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Pinellas County

A mother and son walk to Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary in St. Petersburg, one of several fundamental schools that are popular with Pinellas County parents. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
A mother and son walk to Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary in St. Petersburg, one of several fundamental schools that are popular with Pinellas County parents. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

What’s available: A total of 81 magnet, fundamental and career programs at elementary, middle and high schools across the county. Magnets offer a focus in particular subjects, including the arts, gifted, international studies, health and wellness, literacy and the “STEM” subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. Fundamental programs offer a “structured environment” with a separate dress code from other district schools, daily homework and required attendance at monthly parent meetings. Areas of focus for high school career programs include architecture, construction, automotive service technology, culinary arts and more.

Upcoming events: Discovery Nights, where families can visit schools in person and talk to educators, are scheduled from Oct. 18 through Dec. 14. Three information fairs are scheduled as well: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Tarpon Springs High, 9-12:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Largo High, and 6-7:30 p.m. at Northeast High in St. Petersburg. For more information on these and other events, including a full schedule of Discovery Nights, visit pcsb.org/DAP. (The letters stand for District Application Programs.)

When to apply: From Jan. 5 through 5p.m. Jan 14. Applications are made online only using the Student Reservation System at reservation.pcsb.org. Each student may apply for up to five programs. When a program has more applications than seats available, a computer lottery will determine which students are invited. Families must check back during the acceptance period Feb. 7 through 5 p.m. Feb. 18 to see if their child was invited into a program, and to accept the invitation if they wish.

Where to go for help: Visit pcsb.org/DAP, where the District Application Program Guide offers comprehensive information on each program, an extensive Q&A, rules for applying and important dates. Families also can contact the district’s Student Assignment office at DAP@pcsb.org or by calling 727-588-6210 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

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Pasco County

Starkey Ranch K-8 School, which opened in the 2021-22 academic year, is one of many choice options in Pasco County.
Starkey Ranch K-8 School, which opened in the 2021-22 academic year, is one of many choice options in Pasco County. [ Pasco County Schools ]

What’s available: 16 kinds of magnet and school choice options offered at dozens of schools, including gifted studies, fine arts, accelerated studies through the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge programs, career and technical programs and schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. They are offered through the school district’s Pasco Pathways program.

Upcoming events: Two Virtual Pasco Pathways Expos are scheduled, one for the east side of the county and one for the west. Representatives for 32 of the programs will be at the West Pasco expo from 5-8 p.m. Nov. 15. The East Pasco expo will be held from 5-8 p.m. Nov. 18, with representatives from 25 programs attending. Parents or guardians should register for the sessions at pasco.k12.fl.us/expo, and they will need to login during the event to access the sessions they want to attend, which include pre-recorded informational videos and live Q&A with school experts.

When to apply: Jan. 6-20. From Feb. 23 through March 4 will be the window where families will be notified of application results and be asked to accept invitations to programs if they wish.

Where to go for help: Visit the district’s school choice page, which includes links to a comprehensive program catalogue, answers to frequently asked questions and information on how to apply.

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Hernando County

Chocachatti Elementary, a Hernando County magnet school, offers a 4-H program during the school day.
Chocachatti Elementary, a Hernando County magnet school, offers a 4-H program during the school day. [ Hernando County School District ]

What’s available: Magnet programs at Chocachatti Elementary, Challenger K-8 School and Nature Coast Technical High. Chocachatti offers the Micro Society model where some lessons occur in a miniature society setting with students filling different roles. The curriculum also includes performing arts. Challenger has a science and math focus but also offers electives including band, Spanish, art, marine biology and zoology. The offerings at Nature Coast include Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses and a variety of career and technical programs such as culinary arts, engineering, aerospace technology, automotive maintenance and digital video production.

Upcoming events: No in-person events are planned at the schools, which will publish orientation information on their websites.

When to apply: Oct. 12 to Nov. 14 using the SchoolMint website. Chocachatti and Challenger have mid-November deadlines for parents to submit portfolios demonstrating their student’s abilities. Under the district’s Controlled Choice Plan, families can use a separate open enrollment period (Jan. 4 to Feb. 11) to apply for other programs like Cambridge and International Baccalaureate.

Where to go for help: Visit the district’s school choice page.

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