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Pinellas students adjust to changes as school year opens

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PINELLAS PARK — More than 100,000 Pinellas County students returned to school Monday for an academic year that administrators said will be full of changes.

“Honestly, our biggest challenge is just juggling it all,” said school board Chairwoman Carol Cook. “But all of the changes we’re making are good changes that are really going to help us in the long run, and it’s exciting. Some of the things are coming to us at the last minute, but overall we’re operating much smoother than years past.”

Cook, who helped students find their classrooms Monday morning at Pinellas Park Middle School, which has a new principal, Dave Rosenberger, and has replaced nearly one-third of the staff this year due to poor school grades. Multiple other schools are adding tutoring programs, career academies and clubs that focus on science, technology, engineering and math careers. Others will be adding an extra hour to their school day to help students catch up in reading, and 58 low-income schools will also offer free lunch to all students — increasing the workload on food service staff.

School resource officer Deputy Bo Bauman, however, said he could already tell that the new administration and programs being offered at Pinellas Park Middle will make a significant impact on the “culture” of the school. Within minutes of the 9:30 a.m. bell signaling the start of the day, nearly every student was in homeroom on time — a feat that would have been “unimaginable” last school year.

“This time last year we would already have kids in the office for being disruptive, kids wandering around the hallways saying they’re lost or can’t find their classroom even though you’ve pointed them in the right direction multiple times,” Bauman said. “We used to be very busy at this school, but even in the first few hours you can see a change in attitude.”

Keva Vo, 13, said she was most excited for school to start because she’s entering the eighth grade, her last year at Pinellas Park Middle. But that excitement wasn’t without trepidation.

“I haven’t met our new principal yet, but he seems really nice and smiley,” Vo said. “I’m just worried about homework; it’s supposed to be a lot harder this year.”

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