CLEARWATER — Pinellas County officials hope to bolster high school career and magnet programs while helping underperforming schools by offering middle school students more programs in engineering, academics and the arts.
At its workshop Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board will discuss four new middle school “district application programs” — the new, umbrella terms for fundamental, magnet, career academies and any other programs for which parents must apply — and a host of other changes. Collectively, those efforts are meant to boost enrollment in high school programs and attract more high-performing students to two low-performing middle schools that underwent major restructuring this year after years of low test scores.
During the 2014-2015 school year, Azalea Middle in St. Petersburg will have an “Engineering Gateway to Technology” program; and Pinellas Park Middle students will begin working toward a Cambridge Pre-Advanced Certificate of International Education — an internationally-recognized diploma, similar to an International Baccalaureate diploma, that students earn with their high school diploma that counts for college credit.
Tarpon Springs Middle, an A school, will add a Leadership Conservatory for the Arts, and East Lake High’s award-winning engineering academy in Tarpon Springs will have six to eight classrooms for a middle school version of the program, though School Board members have yet to decide how that program will be organized or what students will take part.
“The goal is to create logical feeder patterns for our programs and provide as many choices as possible for parents and students,” said Bill Lawrence, the school district’s director of Student Demographics, Assignment and School Capacity. “We’re trying to expand the programs we already have by making sure the middle school preprograms are nearby or on the campus of the high schools those students would go to. ... Long, long-term, we may be able to expand to elementary schools.”
Students who complete Azalea Middle’s engineering program would be able to matriculate into the companion program at Boca Ciega High, and students in the Tarpon Springs arts program could continue at Tarpon Springs High. Pinellas Park students can continue studying in the Cambridge program at Dixie Hollins High in St. Petersburg, Clearwater High and Tarpon Springs High.
The new programs also present opportunities for high school students in need of community service hours to work with middle school students and help them feel more comfortable transitioning out of the eighth grade, said Pinellas Park Middle Principal Dave Rosenberger.
The new programs are part of an overall initiative to increase career academies and magnet courses at each of the 141 schools in the county over the next two years. They’re also intended as a way of attracting new students to Azalea and Pinellas Park middle schools, and there has even been talk of expanding the schools’ zones, Rosenberger said. In the 2013 school grade report released by the state department of education last month, Azalea scored its second consecutive F and Pinellas Park its third consecutive D.
“Kids are no longer thinking short-term about surviving middle school, they’re truly making a commitment to their education,” Rosenberger said. “This will have a significant impact on our reputation, and so much of a success of a school is based on one’s outlook and the climate on campus. We’re going to see a significant shift that academics is important and good behavior is important.”
The school district also plans to launch a promotions campaign for current application programs at 11 other “high-needs” schools, increase the rigor of Bay Point Middle’s Center for Science and Technology in St. Petersburg and John Hopkins Middle’s arts and media programs in St. Petersburg and expand the number of feeder schools for middle and high school programs. That means more K-5 school programs in science, technology, engineering and math, additional elementary and middle school International Baccalaureate programs and more K-5 magnet arts programs in north Pinellas.