1. The Education Gradebook

Pasco students again can opt out of low-performing schools

Published Feb. 21, 2017

After a year hiatus, Florida's program allowing students at persistently low performing public schools to choose higher achieving nearby schools with space is again available.

This year, children at five Pasco County schools that earned an F or three consecutive D grades from the state are eligible for the Opportunity Scholarships. The district has offered families the option of two C-rated campuses near each school.

Transportation is provided.

Students at F-rated Calusa Elementary may choose between Cotee River and Mittye P. Locke, while those at F-rated Hudson Elementary may pick between Shady Hills and Cypress.

Children assigned to triple-D rated Gulf Highlands have Cotee River and Deer Park elementary schools as choices, while those zoned to Gulfside may select Anclote or Mittye P. Locke, and those attending Pasco Elementary may switch to San Antonio or Chester Taylor.

This program represents the vestiges of Florida's original voucher system, which was found unconstitutional. It allows for limited public school options to get out of Florida's lowest scoring campuses.

State officials did not employ Opportunity Scholarships in 2015-16, because the state's accountability system was in transition.

Pasco County families have not used the scholarships in large numbers over the years. In 2014-15, 197 students from seven schools transferred under the program. More than a third of those students left Gulf Middle School, which has since improved its outcomes.

Families have until Saturday to return their transfer requests.

ONE MORE HOUR: Eleven Pasco County schools that landed on the state's lowest 300 list for reading performance in 2015-16 will provide an added hour of daily reading instruction for fourth and fifth graders beginning this fall.

The School Board recently approved the longer hours, and discussions are continuing to make sure younger siblings will have a program to attend during that hour.

Some schools also have asked to extend the instruction into lower grade levels, particularly to retained third graders, but the cost remains a potential barrier. The district's finance staff is still working on fitting the expense into the budget.

Nine of the schools are new to the lowest 300: Calusa, Centennial, Chasco, Gulf Trace, Richey, Northwest and Seven Springs, all now ending at 4:40 p.m. for fourth and fifth graders, and Pasco and Hudson, ending at 3:40 p.m. Repeating in the program are Lacoochee and Cox, also ending at 3:40 p.m.

The district will provide transportation.

RENOVATION RUCKUS: Plans to upend Land O'Lakes High School for needed remodeling remain a year off, but that hasn't stopped some parents from agitating for details now.

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They've begun an online petition, in which they demand to know more about the administration's preparations and discussions to relocate the school's 1,800 students during demolition and construction.

"We do not agree with the School District's plan to grossly disrupt the education of our children by relocating them to different schools for the 2017-2018 school year," the document reads. "As parents, we have sacrificed and endured a lot of hardships to ensure that we give our children the proper complete high school experience. This completely undermines all of that."

At a basic level, they simply want to be included in the decision making.

"We just feel this whole process has not been very transparent and its going to affect our kids and more importantly their education," organizer Abhi Visuvasam wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "I have a lot of support already, and more coming."

More than 200 people have signed. Many have written comments saying they do not want disruptions to their children's education, and suggesting alternatives such as portables, for which the district has said it lacks space; an alternate bell schedule that works around construction times; or simply doing the work with the children in place, which district officials have said would extend the project length and expense.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said his operations team is continuing to explore approaches to the project, but didn't have any answers yet. He expected to put forth a plan for consideration within weeks.

PROMOTED TO PRINCIPAL: Stanley Mykita has been chosen to lead Wesley Chapel Elementary School.

Mykita, 52, has worked for the district since 2003, when he joined the system from Hillsborough County schools. Most recently, he has served as assistant principal at San Antonio Elementary, where he twice served as interim leader. Mykita replaces Aimee Mielke, who held the post only briefly after a transfer from Connerton Elementary, where former Wesley Chapel principal John Abernathy moved.


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