1. The Education Gradebook

Pasco's first magnet school opens online application period


At midnight, as November became December and applications for Pasco County's first magnet school opened online, Lindsey Davis clicked "Submit." Her 7-year-old son, Grant, shares a crowded first-grade classroom at Oakstead Elementary School with three dozen students, said Davis, 36, of Land O'Lakes. An opportunity to give him more hands-on learning, she said, was something she had to seize.

The application period for Sanders Memorial Elementary STEAM Magnet School, combining sciences and the arts for kindergarten through Grade 5, is open through Jan. 15 to children who live anywhere in the county.

"Everything I've heard about this school, I think it defines my son," Davis said Monday, wearing a hard hat and strolling the school construction site on a tour offered by School District officials. "He's a thinker, he's into arts, he's into everything this school has to offer. So when I heard about it, I jumped on it, literally at 12 (a.m.)."

Construction noise rang out as architect Ted Williamson of Williamson Dacar Associates explained how the $27 million school's design will encourage collaboration.

Classrooms will have video monitors and sliding-glass doors that open to create a space where students in multiple classrooms can work together.

Outdoor spaces, such as an arts patio and an environmental center where students can study wetlands, will facilitate hands-on learning. Teachers can decide how to use open spaces on school grounds, such as creating a garden plot.

Simple touches, such as windows that let students peer into the workings of the school's mechanical room, encourage curiosity about technology, Williamson said.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he was "beyond excited" to "mark the beginning of expanded educational choices for our students" at the Land O'Lakes school.

Soon-to-be Sanders principal Jason Petry said his vision for the school includes the "4 C's": communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, as well as seamless use of technology. All students will be issued an electronic device.

School admission will be based on a lottery, with additional weight given to children within the Connerton and Oakstead elementary school boundaries — because of overcrowding — and children of Sanders employees. Those applying do not need to provide qualifications to win admission. Once admitted and enrolled, students will not have to apply again.

The district aims to notify parents of lottery results by early February. Families who are not selected may participate in the district's other school choice process, which begins Feb. 1.

Bus routes will serve students within 5 miles of the school. Those outside the zone must provide their own transportation or use bus hubs at Trinity, Moon Lake or Veterans elementary schools.

Parent Dawn Pacy, 25, said after the tour that she might apply for her 6-year-old son, A.J., who attends Imagine Charter School in Land O'Lakes.

"I like the tech feel and the arts feel of (Sanders)," she said. "I love his charter school, but I think this might be a new step and growth for him."

Cynthia Armstrong, a county School Board member, said the school's built-in collaborative space "is really going to allow us to do something different."

"We're going to make sure students are challenged and excited to come to school in the morning," she said.

Lindsey Davis wasn't the only one to apply right away. By Tuesday afternoon, the district reported, 650 students had applied for the 762 total spots.

"I'm just hoping for the best," Davis said. "Fingers crossed."

Contact Claire McNeill at or (813) 909-4613.