Navigating the Pinellas School Choice Process

Ever since my 4-year-old began preschool in August, I have been on a research quest to find an elementary school for him to attend next year. I knew I could definitely cross out homeschooling (not my gift), private schools (not in our budget), and charter schools (not for us), leaving us the Pinellas County Public School System.

Surprising to most people, public school has always been our our primary choice. My mom spent her career teaching in the Duval County System. As a special education and reading teacher, she conveyed an enthusiasm for public education to all. I attended public, non-magnet (neighborhood) schools in Jacksonville (Terry Parker represent!), while my husband went through Pinellas ones (Clearwater High alum). We both had success at the University of Florida and have post-undergraduate degrees. Clearly, the public schools worked for us, and we have high hopes they will help our son succeed.

Even as strong supporters of local, neighborhood schools, people keep telling us not to ignore the special programs outside of our zoned school. Since our local elementary is not an “A” or “B” school, we are looking into the District Application process for Magnet and Fundamental schools. It can be daunting, so I thought I would share with you how we are handling it.

Factors Important to Us:

  • Great academics
  • Creative learning
  • Diversity
  • Safety
  • Proximity to our home

Does a school exist with all these things? We are going to find out!

Making a Plan

Application Process

I attended an information session about the application process, and discovered it is uncomplicated and easy. The application period runs January 10-19, 2018; you must fully complete the application during this time. You need your parent portal username/password (available at any school in the county if you don’t have one already), general information about your family, and the (up to) five schools to which you want to apply.

Information Fair

The harder task is to choose which schools are right for your kid. I attended the Pinellas Schools Information Fair to get a better idea of the county’s 17 elementary programs. Representatives from each school were on hand to answer questions, and they distributed brochures showcasing the schools’ distinctive programs. I brought my pre-kindergartener with me, and he loved doing sample activities using each magnet’s curriculum. It was doubly helpful for me to see which programs engaged him, and which ones he didn’t care about.

Discovery Nights

This combination narrowed our focus to a few schools, which we plan to visit either by scheduled tour or a Discovery Nights program. Discovery Nights help parents explore programs in greater detail. Each school hosts interested families on a scheduled night, beginning at 6pm and lasting for 1-2 hours. In the midst of Discovery Nights, we attended our first one this past week. The school had its act together: kids described their school activities and performed a drum circle, teachers raved how much they loved coming to work, and we ogled the technology and intentionality the school showed us. If the remaining schools are as awesome as this one, we will have a difficult time deciding our lottery preferences.

 

School Tours

If you can’t make Discovery Nights or already missed one, you can contact the school directly to schedule a tour. Some schools have regularly scheduled tour times and others do them by appointment. In fact, some representatives at the School Fair encouraged tours over the Discovery Nights because it’s the same information disseminated, but the schools will be full of kids. This will give parents a better perspective as to how the schools actually function. Further, each school has a contact person who can answer questions about its choice program.

Acceptance Period

The acceptance period for families who entered the lottery and were invited to join programs is February 14-21, 2018. Everyone must log into the system to accept an invitation during this period. If you forget, then the invitation is voided after the 21st.

Another Option – Controlled Open Enrollment

If we don’t win the lottery for our desired magnet programs, and decide our zoned school isn’t for us, then we can try our hand in controlled open enrollment to other schools within our district. This allows kids to transfer into any county school with open seats, and as of last year, lets students transfer into other county’s schools. Districts usually receive more requests than seats available, especially at the top non-magnet schools, so it’s not our best option. Also, if we elect this option, we will need to provide our own transportation, which is a bummer. We are luckily in a position to be able to do this when so many cannot.

I hope this helps a little in interpreting the Pinellas District Application process. I’ll keep you posted on if our son gets into any of his choices, and whether we accept. It’s exciting and scary to have a kid old enough to be in school, and I’m figuring it all out with you.

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