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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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Safe schools, career training high on Pasco parents’ wish list

Citing later state testing windows as a primary reason, the Pasco County school district has done away with senior week off, moving final exams later in the spring and scheduling graduations in June instead of the end of May.

The School Board officially blessed the change Tuesday, without comment.

Board members signaled their support for the idea a couple of weeks earlier. They liked that the change would ensure more time for instruction, with testing at the end of the school year rather than with days or weeks remaining.

Officials also noted that the past model, where seniors did not attend the final several days of the second semester, cost the district thousands of dollars after a state audit determined the district had to repay funding for over-reported attendance in 2015-16.

They did not want to repeat that unanticipated budget loss.

The proposal did not win over everyone.

Some parents emailed the superintendent and board members to suggest the change, particularly for 2019, was not fair because they already had made plans based on an adopted calendar. Some argued that their children should get the same perks as the seniors who came before them.

But none attended the board meeting to request changes to the proposal, which takes effect in August.

SCHOOL SURVEY RESULTS IN: Pasco County residents want to see safer schools and more opportunities offered to students who aren’t necessarily college bound.

Those are two key takeaways from a two-week community survey in which nearly 3,700 residents submitted more than 28,000 comments on how to improve the Pasco County school district.

Hoping to generate new ideas, the administration asked two open-ended questions to kick off the conversation they are calling "ThoughtExchange."

They asked for ways to improve, and for suggestions of new programs.

"ThoughtExchange is our way of getting our community to share their ideas with each other, and for the most popular ideas to filter to the top through the rating function," superintendent Kurt Browning wrote in the introduction to the survey result materials.

Many of the results adhered closely to discussions already taking place in the county or state. For instance:

• Floridians began an in-depth conversation about school safety soon after the February school shooting in Broward County. The Pasco survey indicated a high concern that some schools are "WIDE open and too easy to access."

• State lawmakers inched closer to creating a financial literacy graduation requirement, to help teens better understand basic concepts such as keeping a budget. The Pasco survey revealed strong interest in courses for "real life," with many respondents agreeing that "these things start at home, but reinforcement helps."

• The Pasco School Board authorized a new technical high school for the west side of the county, to open in August. Its survey showed support for more career education, so "students who don’t go to college can still be successful in life."

In the materials, the district notes it plans to explore improvements in these and other areas, including more social and emotional supports for students, and greater parental involvement.

AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS: Two Pasco County middle schools that dismiss before 2 p.m. daily plan to offer after-school programs in the fall, offering a supervised option for the youngsters who might otherwise have little to do until their parents get home from work.

Beyond the Bell is slated to operate at Rushe and River Ridge middle schools for four hours each class day after the final bell rings. It would cost $50 per week, with lower fees for students who want to come for single days or special activities.

The district has not offered an afternoon program for middle schools in more than 20 years. It attempted to open one at Pine View Middle twice in the 1990s, but shuttered the effort amid low enrollment.

"We weren’t able to be self-sustaining," said Mary Grey, director of the district’s Pasco Learning & Activity Centers of Enrichment (PLACE) program.

After surveying families in the Rushe and River Ridge communities, which requested the after-school homework help and activities, Grey figured the initiative will gain more traction.

"Times have changed," she said, noting that many parents have greater interest in ensuring their children have something constructive to do with some supervision.

Still in the planning stages, the program is expected to have teachers help with school work, and have other staff lead enrichment activities that could include music, art, robotics, sports and languages. It would run on school days only.

The schools will use classroom space for Beyond the Bell, and also provide access to computer labs and other resources, Grey said.

"We’re not going to be jammed in anywhere," she said.

To begin providing information publicly, PLACE already has launched a website and Facebook page. Just from that, Grey said, "we are already hearing from parents at other schools" who are interested.

She said the plan is to see how it works at Rushe and River Ridge, and then decide whether to expand.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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