A change coming at Buchholz?


Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Buchholz High School would close its magnet programs to applicants from other school zones under a plan to ease overcrowding at the school.

Facts

New plan to ease overcrowding

  • Alachua County school officials say a plan to stop admitting outside students to Buchholz High School's magnet academies in finance and entrepreneurship will ease overcrowding. A look at the numbers:


  • Buchholz High enrollment: 2,245 students


  • Number above capacity: About 200


  • Number of students enrolled in academies in finance and entrepreneurship: 355


  • Number of those students from outside the Buchholz zone: 202


  • Number of students with other exemptions to attend: 75


  • Number of students expected to be affected by the plan: 134

Buchholz would accept new students only from within its zone into the school's academies in finance and entrepreneurship. The school also would limit students from outside zones seeking other exemptions to attend, such as those who moved outside the zone late in their school careers.

Alachua County school officials will present the plan Tuesday to the School Board but could implement the plan without a formal vote. The move comes as officials dropped a proposal to redraw school zones, which drew heated opposition from parents at a meeting Monday.

The new plan would affect only incoming freshmen and students seeking new exemptions, a group believed to number about 130 students. Current students from other zones could continue attending Buchholz.

"All we're doing is limiting new students," Alachua County schools Superintendent Dan Boyd said. "We're not pulling any child there out of the program."

School officials are considering a similar plan at Santa Fe High School. A proposal to redraw zone boundaries has been dropped, except for a plan to redirect students to Westwood Middle School from Fort Clarke Middle School.

The Buchholz academies in finance and entrepreneurship currently have about 355 students enrolled. More than 200 of those students come from an outside zone - about the same number that the school is above capacity, according to the district.

District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said stopping outside enrollment was considered less disruptive than moving the academies. She said the district expects there will be enough interested students within Buchholz to take the spots of outside students.

"You've got students coming from out of the Buchholz zone to a school that is already overcrowded," she said.

Boyd said a report on the plan will be presented to the board for its informal approval at a Tuesday meeting. He said he didn't believe a formal vote had to be taken, but the district's attorneys were looking at the issue.

"I don't know if we even need to bring it before the board," Boyd said.

Buchholz established the Academy of Entrepreneurship in 1993 for students interested in starting their own businesses and working as executives. The Academy of Finance was started in 1994 to prepare students for careers in business such as accounting and financial planning.

Finance students run a division of the Florida Credit Union at the school known as the Bobcat Branch. Entrepreneurship students run the Spirit Spot, a retail outlet.

As magnet programs, students from outside zones who meet minimum grade point average requirements and receive teacher recommendations can apply. Accepted students qualify for transportation to school.

Keith Lerner lives in the Gainesville High School zone and has one son currently attending the finance academy and another who graduated from the program. He said shutting the academy to students from outside zones would reduce the number of students who are truly engaged in the program.

"Students are much more likely to be successful if they're in a program that they're interested in," he said.

Lerner worries that not enough students in the Buchholz zone will be interested in the program, forcing reductions in faculty or other changes.

Judy Lundell, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Buchholz, said she'd favor a plan that limited the number of outside students but didn't exclude them entirely. Even allowing a handful of students would ensure that those most interested in the program can attend, she said.

"Don't eliminate it - cut it down," she said.

School officials have dropped a plan to shift students in Haile Plantation to Gainesville High from Buchholz and make other changes in zones. Gainesville High is just below capacity and Eastside High School has room for more than 200 students.

School Board member Eileen Roy said she had concerns about redrawing zones and favors the new approach. The academies' strict standards mean at-risk students within the zone are turned away, she said, while outside students can attend who have higher grades but less actual interest.

"A lot of the kids use the academies as an excuse to get into Buchholz," she said.

The plan comes as a Feb. 15 deadline looms for students to submit applications to the academies. The district is scheduled to send acceptance letters to students March 7.

Johnson said the plan needs to happen in advance of next year's full implementation of a state law limiting class sizes to 25 students. Reducing overcrowding at Buchholz will make it easier to fulfill the mandate, she said, which applies to core subjects such as English, foreign languages, math, science and social studies.

Boyd said the district considered moving the academies to a less-attended school, but have faculty, supplies and equipment already in place at Buchholz. But he said the decision to locate magnet programs in the growing western part of the county, made before his tenure, seems questionable in retrospect.

"When you have a school in the highest growth area, you sure don't put a magnet program there," he said.

He said students from outside zones will still be able to attend Loften High School, which has a professional academies magnet that includes a concentration in business. But the district will consider limiting outside enrollment in Santa Fe High, which has a magnet Academy of Agriscience.

Lerner said he was concerned that the entire idea of magnet programs in the district could fall by the wayside.

"This is the beginning of the end of magnet programs as we know them in Alachua County," he said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville sun.com.

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