1. The Education Gradebook

District looks to increase accelerated options for students

Aiming to provide more accelerated academic options in west Pasco, school district officials have won approval to add the advanced Cambridge Program to Anclote High, Paul R. Smith Middle and San Antonio Elementary schools.

The San Antonio initiative would feed into Pasco Middle and Pasco High, which have offered Cambridge curriculum since 2014. Providing the model at Anclote High and Paul R. Smith Middle could help attract more students to those schools, which have hundreds of vacant seats.

Many parents threatened with having their homes zoned out of the Mitchell High School and Seven Springs Middle School attendance boundaries had said a specialty magnet program might help make the campuses to the west more attractive.

"The idea of placing high-rigor programs at Anclote High School and Paul R. Smith Middle School is one of our top priorities," superintendent Kurt Browning said in a news release.

The Cambridge program is considered to offer challenges similar to those in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. Some educators view it as more accessible to students of all academic levels because the courses do not carry prerequisites. Students also may sign up for single classes, and not for an entire curriculum.

The application period for other district magnet schools recently ended. More than 1,400 students applied to the various programs, including those at Sanders Memorial Elementary, Bayonet Point Middle and Centennial Middle schools.

District leaders continue to discuss ways to refine existing magnets and to identify and create new ones.

PERFORMING ARTS CENTER: Once planned to rise on the Pasco-Hernando State College Porter Campus in Wesley Chapel, a state-funded performing arts center is getting closer to fruition at the county's newest high school instead.

PHSC trustees voted Jan. 17 to enter into an agreement with the Pasco County School District to place the center at Cypress Creek Middle-High School, slated to open next fall on Old Pasco Road. The School Board approved the deal in December.

Originally conceived as a $60 million building suitable for concerts, graduations and other large events in the growing Wiregrass Ranch community, the project now looks to be a scaled-back version, focused primarily on performing arts in education. Its public uses would be more limited.

That's because the Legislature, which provided $15.5 million toward the project during the tenure of House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, has not added any more money to the endeavor. And no more is anticipated.

The money is to be spent on the stated objective, though, so the two agencies have agreed to collaborate to get the biggest bang for the bucks. The school district had available land, leaving more cash for the building.

Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told the School Board that the district and college will begin more formal discussions of how to get the center built, now that the agreement is in place. They have left open the possibility of looking at other sites if any arise, but none are expected.

TEMPORARY ASSIGNMENT: Beth Brown, a Pasco County educator for 24 years before retiring in 2015, will guide Crews Lake Middle School as acting principal for the next two to three weeks.

A onetime middle school principal and area superintendent, Brown will help keep the school focused as it struggles with the Jan. 20 death of principal Adam Kennedy, who crashed into a semitrailer truck while heading to work.

"Beth's experience and demeanor will serve the students, teachers, staff and district well during this very tough transition period," superintendent Kurt Browning wrote Monday in an email to School Board members and key staffers.