TAMPA — Notebooks and backpacks have been purchased. The outfits for the first day of school have been selected.
But even before parents embarked on the annual tradition of back-to-school shopping, the toughest decision facing them already was made: where their children will attend school this fall.
“It was a tough choice,” said Lindsey Singleton of Tampa. “I want my son the get the best education possible.”
Singleton said she weighed several factors when it came to choosing a school for her 6-year-old son, Jayden, who will enter first grade. A magnet school topped the list; a school ranking of B or higher came second. Singleton said she also considered enrolling Jayden in a private school for a second year.
The myriad of school choices in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, along with other factors such as the districts in which families live, prompt parents to do their homework for their children's education.
Singleton said she eventually enrolled Jayden at Colson Elementary School in Seffner after his application for a magnet school was declined.
“He's never been in a public school,” Singleton said. “We're going to get him in a magnet school next year because he's very smart.”
Angela Church of Plant City said her decision was easy. She lives in a district where her daughters, Alaina, 5 and Calista, 6, can be enrolled in Knights Elementary School.
“It's an A-grade school,” Church said. “I feel like they're going to get a good education. I want them to go to a school with an A grade, because you know the teachers there are doing their jobs.”
Singleton and Church were among hundreds of people who attended a back-to-school fair at the Glazer's Children Museum on Saturday. Dozens of vendors gave out free school supplies while Lowry Park Zoo, Busch Gardens, the Patel Conservatory and others provided entertainment.
Workshops on healthy eating, martial arts and art projects were held. The line to get inside the downtown Tampa museum wrapped around the block. The two floors of the museum, 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, were packed with families picking up free items and giveaways.
Natalie Jerabeck of Port Richey was left holding four bags filled with back-to-school knicknacks while her sons, Alexander Yohn, 11, and Levi Yohn, 10, checked out the museum's interactive exhibits.
Jerabeck said she had difficulty this summer deciding where Alexander would go to school. Her son, she said, was involved in a bullying incident, so she considered enrolling him in a virtual classroom program that offered online courses.
Instead, Jerabeck said she selected Hudson Middle School and will see if Alexander is more comfortable there.
“There was great debate in our household,” Jerabeck said. “We did consider the virtual school this year, but I just didn't know enough about it.”
Charter schools are another option, one that Singleton considered for her son, Jayden. Florida is at the forefront of the charter school movement and Hillsborough has 42 of them. Woodmont Charter School was the main sponsor of Saturday's fair at the museum.
The relationship between charter schools and the Hillsborough County School District is harmonious. The district even has created a position — director of charter school programs — for a person who serves as a liaison between the groups.
Charter schools have been controversial in other districts because they hire their own teachers, design their own academic programs and take money that otherwise would go to the district.
Singleton said she wanted Jayden to take a more traditional route by attending a public school. Jennifer Genovese of Spring Hill said she, too, prefers public schools for her daughters, Tabitha, 8, and Elizabeth, 7.
Both are attending the Challenger K-8 School of Science and Math, a magnet school.
Genovese said she worked with her daughters to create their portfolios during the application process because she wanted to make sure they attended a magnet school.
“Challenger was in our sights from the beginning,” she said. “If not, it would've been a private school. It's hard, it really is, to get your kids into the school you want.”