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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Pinellas schools launching online academic planner

St. Petersburg - CLEARWATER - Starting this fall, eighth-grade students throughout Pinellas County will plan their entire high school careers through an online academic planner that can be accessed and changed from home.
The program, called Counselor Connect, will help students track their academic progress and achieve one of two high school diplomas that will be issued next school year: a "scholar" diploma for students planning to continue their educations after high school and a "merit" diploma for those planning to enter the workforce. The diplomas, which were established by the Florida Legislature, have different qualifications tailored to a student's needs after high school. A scholar diploma will require Algebra II, high school biology and history, at least one college-level academic course and some foreign language study, while a merit diploma would require the basic 24 high school credit hours and at least one industry certification.
Now that students' high school careers will be more specific to their plans after graduation, they need a planning system that's easily adaptable, said K-12 Guidance Supervisor Andrew Weatherill. Pinellas's program is the first of its kind and replaces the outdated paper models that students have to update every year with guidance counselors.
"Most districts are using a paper format; some may use a similar program, but it's not as personalized," Weatherill said. "Students will be able to be an integral part of their academic careers, and we're hoping that will increase engagement and motivation from the students."
The program allows parents and students to design their four-year high school plans according to their career goals - whether they need to achieve an industry certification or gain acceptance at a university. It also projects their grade point averages, allows them to send online messages to school guidance counselors and finds scholarships for which they might qualify. Students also can set goals through the program, such as achieving the GPA needed to get into their colleges of choice, track their progress and receive suggested plans on how to achieve them.
The school district is spending $110,000 in grant money on the program, though it won't cost the district that much money every year, Weatherill said.
The program will help guidance counselors work with students and track their progress more efficiently but won't result in staff cuts, said Superintendent Michael Grego.
"We're trying to be extremely progressive in our approach to serving parents and students and guiding them through these new degrees," Grego said. "Now they can access their information after-hours and have a virtual counselor that can eliminate any surprises."
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