UF considers P.K. Yonge’s purpose, application process

Penny Schwinn said P.K. Yonge may begin introducing the new admissions process this winter.
Penny Schwinn said P.K. Yonge may begin introducing the new admissions process this winter.
Courtesy of UF

UF officials may pilot a new application process for P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School this winter, according to an update received by the University of Florida Board of Trustees (BOT) on Thursday. 

Penny Schwinn, UF’s Vice President for PK-12 and Pre-Bachelors Programs, told the board she has taken community feedback into account in a new plan to improve P.K. Yonge’s state high school ranking. The plan involves the possibility of replacing the school’s current lottery admissions with selective admissions. 

As part of the school’s mission as a research school, P.K. Yonge’s student population reflects the state’s demographic composition in gender, race/ethnic origin, family income, exceptional student status, and level of academic achievement. 

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Schwinn first introduced the idea of selective admissions at the BOT’s March meeting, which was followed by an outpouring of pushback from alumni, P.K. Yonge parents and other community members who said the change would subvert the school’s mission to “design, test and disseminate innovations in K-12 education through serving a diverse student community.” 

Schwinn told the BOT on Thursday that the school has two missions, which sometimes compete with each other: reflecting the state demographics to “prove the possible,” and ranking in the top 10 high schools in Florida. 

P.K. Yonge ranked #64 of Florida high schools in the 2021-22 school year, #38 the year before, and #65 the year before that. Sarah Lynne, an associate professor in UF’s Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, noted that those rankings are attached to percentiles, which consistently place P.K. Yonge in the top 3-6% of the state’s high schools. 

“For us to be mediocre, and say we are to accept mediocracy, is not acceptable to this board,” Hosseini said at the meeting. “And that’s just not for P.K. Yonge. That’s for everybody in this university… we will not accept for P.K. Yonge to say we’re good enough right now.” 

In an April 29 virtual meeting, UF faculty senate chair Danaya Wright suggested that if P.K. Yonge were to proceed with selective admissions, officials should consider applying that change only to incoming sixth and ninth graders, to reduce the impact on “lifers” who attend the school from kindergarten through high school. 

The board was receptive to Wright’s idea at the time, but no clear application change plan has been publicized. Schwinn gave the BOT a plan of action on Thursday that includes a thorough evaluation of P.K. Yonge’s elementary, middle and high school programming this summer. 

Schwinn’s plan for the summer also includes the formation of a high school, middle school and elementary school planning committee and an “extensive project plan for the school year” as well as initial recommendations for changes to programming, structure and operations. 

The first round of programmatic shifts would take effect in the fall, and in winter the school could pilot a new application process. Schwinn said a second round of new programming would be piloted in the spring semester, and professional development and programming would be next year’s summer projects.

UF Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini
Courtesy of UF UF Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini.

Schwinn said community feedback has brought up some key questions for officials to consider: 

  • Is P.K. Yonge a UF-preparatory school? 
  • Is this a gradual transition? 
  • How far back will the school honor the commitment to current middle or elementary school students? 
  • Is P.K. Yonge expected to maintain its current enrollment of 380 elementary students, 420 middle school students and 520 high school students? 
  • How will the school gauge its progress to goal when U.S. News & World Report’s high school rankings lag by two years? 
  • Does Gainesville’s competitive and limited market impact the decision? 

In over 800 comments Schwinn said she received, she said the community feedback “indicated a strong preference” to maintain P.K. Yonge’s current model and honor the commitment of all currently-enrolled students. 

Schwinn said based on Alachua County students’ proficiency, 18-25% of all “college ready” students in the county would need to enroll at P.K. Yonge to fill all 520 seats. 

“We want to really think about, what is the true purpose of what P.K. Yonge is, what it can be, and how UF can really support the mission and vision of the school,” Schwinn said. “I also think that we heard very, very clearly that what we want is to continue to march towards excellence. That’s what the University of Florida stands for, and that’s absolutely something that should be an unwavering bar.” 

On June 6, the city commission of Gainesville passed a resolution encouraging the UF Board of Trustees and administration “to not interfere with the P. K. Yonge High School admission process.” 

At the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Ken Cornell asked to mirror Gainesville’s resolution in a non-agenda item. 

BOCC Chair Mary Alford said she was in the last P.K. Yonge class to give preferential admission to children of UF professors, and that in the years following she saw the school and its research become more effective. 

Alford asked to attach her own cover letter to the resolution when it is sent to UF President Ben Sasse, BOT Chair Mori Hosseini, Schwinn and Wright. 

Hosseini mentioned at the meeting that he had received Gainesville’s resolution but said UF has already done a lot to support the school and help the community. He said he wished the city would have sent a “thank you” letter when UF built a new gymnasium for P.K. Yonge, a school which Hosseini said allows students to perform at the top of their game even when they cannot afford private schools. 

“I cannot accept that people don’t want us to look at what can we do to improve the education of their children. And this is what we want to do,” Hosseini said. 

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Bill Whitten

Setting aside questions of the validity of the “ranking” system itself, Hosseini’s characterization of PKY as “mediocre” is absurd. Finishing 65th out of nearly 1200 schools is solid achievement, not something to sneer at. Parents have been CHOOSING to send their kids to PYK for decades. It is a model school – delivering quality education to a diverse population. That’s what it means to be a school of choice.

Hosseini says he wants to “improve the education” of the children, yet what improvements does he propose? He believes that the way to improve is by excluding YOUR kid. Don’t make the school better, make the students better. He doesn’t want those other kids dragging down ours. His version of “choice” is for him to choose which students to educate.

Leslee

There is no new gym built at PK!!

Geraldine Klarenberg

That comment surprised me as well! (And, what does that have to do with the admission process anyway)

Last edited 27 days ago by Geraldine Klarenberg
Ken Grauer, MD

Current PKY “lifers” were told at the June 13 BOT Meeting by Ben Sasse “Not to worry — because nothing will be done immediately”. That is not at all reassuring to families with one or more children currently enrolled in PKY — given extensive challenges and planning entailed (often over a period of several years) — until finally being accepted to attend PKY, with the “promise” of being able to continue through K12. The ONLY way for current students and their families “not to worry” — will be IF Ben Sasse, Penny Schwinn and the UF Board of Trustees can assure “lifers” and their families that UF will keep its promise to allow completion through K12 without “kicking these students out” if at some point within the next 1, 2, or more years they are unable to satisfy the “new criteria” implemented for selective admissions. I did NOT hear anything mentioned regarding efforts to keep this UF promise at the Thursday BOT meeting. It is one thing to strive for elite ranking by gradual implementation of selective admissions over a period of years — and another thing to renege on the UF promise that was given to students and their families, that once accepted to PKY, these students would have the right to continue through to K12.