Community voices rise against P.K. Yonge selective admission idea 

The SAC meeting was packed with concerned parents and citizens.
The SAC meeting was packed with concerned parents and citizens.
Photo by Glory Reitz

Community members with ties to P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School flocked to the school’s School Advisory Council (SAC) meeting on Tuesday.  

Several parents were crying by the end of the meeting, where many of them had come to voice their disturbance at the idea that P.K. Yonge High School could switch from public to selective admissions. 

Director Brian Marchman said the SAC meeting's purpose was to listen to the school community.
Photo by Glory Reitz Director Brian Marchman said the SAC meeting’s purpose was to listen to the school community.

Penny Schwinn, UF’s vice president for PK-12 and pre-bachelor’s programs, proposed the idea to the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees in its meeting on March 8. 

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P.K. Yonge operates under UF’s College of Education, with a mission to “design, test, and disseminate innovations in education through serving a diverse K-12 community,” according to its website. 

The high school portion of the school is currently ranked No. 38 in Florida out of 1,130, placing it in the 97th percentile. Schwinn said 35 of the 37 high schools ranked above P.K. Yonge have some form of selective admissions. 

Though the school has been specifically aimed at reflecting the population up to this point, Schwinn said that goal is in tension with UF’s goal of being the best. 

“One of the things that continues to come up is the idea of proving the possible,” Schwinn said in the March board meeting. “If you have a reflection of the state without having selective admissions, and it is truly a reflection of the state, can you prove the highest achievement that is possible with that group of students?” 

Schwinn provided the board of trustees with three options for getting P.K. Yonge into the top 10 schools in the state. First was to maintain the current structure and improve, which Schwinn said she does not think is realistic. Second was to keep K-8 reflective of the state and make 9-12 grades selective. 

A third option, which Schwinn did not recommend due to its tendency to create a division between “haves and have nots,” was to create dual programs at P.K. Yonge, with only one being selective. 

The board of trustees did not vote on any decision for Schwinn’s proposal, but BOT Chair Morteza “Mori” Hosseini spoke positively of the selective admissions idea and asked Schwinn to come back with a “road map.” He said UF needs to have the best in the world and be able to share that best with the rest of the country. 

Thirteen community members spoke at the SAC meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz Thirteen community members spoke at the SAC meeting.

UF president Ben Sasse also voiced his approval of the proposal and emphasized that there would be no change to the K-8 admissions. 

“The debate we’re having is, do folks who are not on a UF track learn that news between senior year in high school and freshman year in college, or might they learn that news between eighth and ninth grade,” Sasse said. 

Some concerned citizens began an online petition to address the issue. 

Within 36 hours of its creation, the petition had over 600 signatures, many including additional comments about how much they value the education they or their children received at the school and their concern at the idea of making admission selective. 

Many parents also attended P.K. Yonge’s SAC meeting on Tuesday, 13 of them standing to speak against the selective admissions idea. 

The meeting’s purpose was to gather the community’s opinions to pass on to the board of trustees. SAC Chair Marisa Stukey said the school’s director is in regular contact with the decision-makers at UF, and that he may provide the board of trustees with a briefing as well. 

Kara Dawson said P.K. Yonge's mission involves providing excellent education to all students.
Photo by Glory Reitz Kara Dawson said P.K. Yonge’s mission involves providing excellent education to all students.

Kara Dawson, a parent of two P.K. Yonge “lifers” and swim coach at the school, said she would rather UF consider a charter school where it can prove that selective admissions can lead to good test scores. She urged that P.K. Yonge should be allowed to continue fulfilling its mission of bringing excellent education to all students. 

“If they do that, I hope what they’ll do is take the long view that P.K. has been here before their time, and P.K. will be here after their time,” Dawson said. 

Jenny Archer said her daughter, a current P.K. Yonge student, will be in the first class that would go through the high school’s selective admissions application. 

“She might not make the cut. And even if she did, I would never want her to spend her high school years in a pressure cooker, fighting for someone else’s ideas,” Archer said. 

The “About” page of the school’s website says the public school format strives “to serve all students while facing the same challenges and constraints that confront all public schools in Florida.” 

The site touts P.K. Yonge’s position as a one-school district, which allows possibilities for “creative educational solutions” based on new research findings. As a part of the University of Florida’s College of Education, the school also collaborates with UF researchers to develop “innovative solutions to 21st century challenges for students of all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.” 

According to the website, P.K. Yonge students commute from over 30 surrounding small and rural cities and towns. 

“Establishing a school culture where students from all backgrounds and circumstances come together to learn and grow in a positive, safe, and nurturing environment is a core part of P.K. Yonge’s mission and a source of pride for the school,” the website reads. “The diversity of our student population is the foundation of our relevance to the broader conversation about K-12 education.” 

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JeffK

It’d be nice to know how they deal with student behavioral issues currently, compared to the other public schools. And share that information. But it’s likely PKY doesn’t attract the same students, anyway. It’s going to be families who take education more seriously, not a true cross section of the county, today and tomorrow.

James

I would hope that a selective school would deal with behavior sternly. That it would be a model to be driven throughout the state. My belief is that behavior is the biggest issue facing public schools and that the School Boards do not come anywhere adequately close to dealing with it. Enforcing acceptable behavior isn’t within todays progressive agenda. Thus public education is greatly diminished for students who are there to learn and advance into n life. My sympathy has run out.

C.L. Guy

On the face of this, which do you think an experimental laboratory school linked to a university better achieves its purpose to advance educational effectiveness and innovation; with a general population representative of all the people or one that is a selective slice likely to be the more academically gifted, less special needs, more privileged, and advantaged population?

Last edited 1 month ago by C.L. Guy
JeffK

Is it currently general pop, or strictly voluntary, space allowing? Again, I don’t think the less academically serious families are currently applying their kids there, are they?

C. L. Guy

That may well be correct. Did UF say what the selective criteria would be? An implication of the aspiration would likely be academic merit or promise.

Bill Whitten

A truly terrible proposal. PKY currently ranks in the top 3% WITHOUT selective admissions. That is wildly successful by any standard of measure. If you improve your ranking by simply excluding some “lower” kids, what does that prove? Now, if they want to selectively admit all bottom 50% kids and prove their methods still get top results, that will impress everyone.

JeffK

Is it really randomly selective now? But only from the pool of edu-serious families?

Bill Whitten

There is certainly a degree of self-selection involved. Since the family must apply to get in the current selection pool, the student body doesn’t truly reflect the overall community. Those not wanting to attend or unwilling/unable to go through the application process are self-selecting out. My assumption (which could be wrong) is that PKY attempts to build a representative class from that pool.