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Application window for gifted Midtown Academy could open this spring

Are you a south Pinellas County parent of a gifted student seeking full-time gifted services? Stuck on the wait list for Ridgecrest Elementary? Or, if you're already at Ridgecrest, are you tired of driving to Largo?

Don't hold your breath, but the Pinellas County school district is exploring the possibility of opening up a second application period this spring for south county gifted students to enroll at Midtown Academy, which could become a full-time gifted elementary school beginning this August.

Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett shared the news at a Concerned Organization for the Quality of Black Students (COQEBS) meeting Wednesday morning at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg. The group asked district officials to present on the status of Midtown Academy, currently a choice Kindergarten through eighth grade school that has struggled academically and faces dwindling enrollment.

Pinellas County School Board members at a workshop last week were in favor of closing the middle school and reassigning those in sixth and seventh grade out of the 78 students left, claiming that the lack of a well-rounded curriculum was a disservice to students.

Board members, however, weren't sold on turning the school into a gifted center for students in grades 1 through 5, similar to Ridgecrest.

The district is not accepting any Kindergarten students at Midtown Academy and would grandfather in the current 190 students in first through fourth grades. Those students would be taught standard curriculum and would be separate from gifted students who would get full-time gifted services.

If discussion is favorable at a March 20 workshop, then a policy could go before the board for a first reading at a board meeting April 10. If passed, the district would hold a second application period for south county families of gifted students to enroll this August.

The school, formerly home to Southside Fundamental Middle, has a capacity of about 500 students. Its application zone would mirror that of the south county gifted middle school, Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle.

Corbett also said the district would consider expanding the proximity preference beyond the standard 20 percent cap to take in more gifted students who live closest to the school.

The district has not selected a site for a north county gifted center, although that could come in 2019.

Corbett said there are about 1,400 gifted students zoned for south county schools, yet just 9 percent of Ridgecrest's gifted enrollment comes from that area.  He said the district would aim to have about a third of those south county gifted students enroll at Midtown if approved by the board.

Former St. Petersburg mayoral candidate and community activist Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter said at the meeting that she is against the district's efforts to change Midtown Academy. She said the district's hustle to convert the failed charter school into a district-run school two weeks before the 2016-17 school year was a "lifeline."

"Fix what you got here and not inconvenience these parents any more," she said.

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