Friday, Nov 28, 2014

Pinellas may end preferred admissions to engineering magnet

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LARGO — Students at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary in St. Petersburg have long been ushered into seats at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, one of the most sought-after schools in Pinellas County, but some education officials worry that’s a detriment to neighboring schools’ success.

The Pinellas County School Board took the first steps toward doing away with that link between the two schools at its Tuesday meeting, voting to set a date for a public hearing on new feeder patterns for the math and engineering-focused elementary school and adding more discussions on the idea to its Sept. 17 workshop agenda.

Part of a mass effort to attract more students to underenrolled magnet and fundamental schools across the county, students at A-rated Jamerson Elementary may stop getting priority registration status at Thurgood Marshall, instead being guaranteed a seat at either Bay Point or Azalea middle schools in St. Petersburg, where the school district plans to improve science, technology, engineering and math programs.

Parents attending Tuesday’s meeting said that option isn’t good enough.

“The benefit is enormous, the cost is nothing, and I fail to understand why our school board would insist on breaking the hearts of hundreds of dedicated families,” said Dana Douglas, whose son is a rising eighth-grader at Thurgood Marshall who attended Jamerson Elementary.

Hundreds of students are on the waiting list for Thurgood Marshall, an A-school focused on math and engineering that draws gifted, magnet and fundamental students, School Board members said at their workshop last week. Cutting the link between the two schools would open more seats for others wanting the same quality education. The move would also send more students to Bay Point’s Center for Science and Technology and the new engineering program at Azalea, said Bill Lawrence, the school district’s director of student demographics, assignment and capacity.

“I’m serious about creating a strong school district, not a school district of haves and have-nots,” said Superintendent Michael Grego.

Since the proposal to stop giving priority registration to Jamerson students was introduced in 2010, parents with children at the elementary school, which is less than a mile away from Thurgood Marshall, have argued that the link between the schools is exactly why they sent their students to Jamerson in the first place. It also saves them from paying for private schooling or sending their children to schools with low grades. Azalea Middle earned its second F grade this past school year, and all teachers and administrators had to reapply for their jobs. Bay Point Middle’s school grade improved from a D to a C.

“My parents would be very upset if I came home with a grade of a C or an F, so why would you want me to go to a school with those grades?” Erin Singh, a rising fifth-grader at Jamerson Elementary, asked School Board members Tuesday. “I would like to go to a good school with good grades and get a good education so I can become a veterinarian.”

The school district may consider giving Jamerson students with siblings at Thurgood Marshall priority registration status and reminded a roomful of unhappy parents that any changes wouldn’t happen until the 2014-2015 school year.

It would be unfair to make the switch if Bay Point and Azalea’s programs weren’t up to par with Thurgood Marshall’s, Grego said. Students could still apply for special assignment to the school, like any other student in the county, Lawrence said. Board members, while supportive of the plan to break the link between Thurgood Marshall and Jamerson, said they would consider the feedback they’d received.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

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