UPDATED: October, 2012
One of the most coveted “choice” programs in South Palm Beach County is Don Estridge High Tech Middle School.
Open since 2004 on the former IBM campus that was the birthplace of the company’s personal computer, “the Don” now trains kids for a world of innovations.
Estridge offers a well-rounded curriculum – the core math, science, English and social studies, plus electives that include drama, art and music, even a jazz band.
Infusing it all: the latest technology.
Math teachers have smart boards that project problems onto a big screen. The kids give their answers via handheld clickers that also store data, which the teacher can use to create individualized study plans.
The broadcast studio is equipped with an editing suite.
The school has mobile laptop labs, four big tech labs, computers and wi-fi everywhere. A digital surveillance “Big Brother” system monitors behavior in the hallways and courtyards.
The difference between Estridge and other “choice” programs is that it isn’t specific to a subject area.
“We are not preparing the kids for a career in technology. We’re preparing them for high school and college, using technology to benefit their education right now and later on,” said Jamie Thyng, the school’s choice program coordinator.
After school, Estridge sports teams have won eight county championships.
The admissions process
Now here’s the rub: Admission to Estridge is mostly via lottery – luck of the draw.
A percentage of seats are set aside for:
- Kids whose parents work at the school
- Kids from “like” elementary schools – Boca Raton Elementary and Poinciana in Boynton Beach
- Siblings of students who are enrolled in the school the same year
- And the “Principal’s 10 percent List”
That last one needs some explaining. Despite the name, the principal doesn’t really choose these names. The school administration pulls a list of applicants by test scores (fourth-grade scores of 4 or higher on FCAT reading and math) and those who make Estridge their first choice. From those who qualify, names are chosen at random from that pool.
The rest of the available seats are filled via lottery.
There are typically about 1,200 applications – for 425 sixth-grade seats.
Thyng wants every parent to know that there is nothing you can do to get your kid into the school. Not a letter of recommendation from the governor. Not offers of free trips and other goodies for school administrators: “It does no good.”
Parents can’t even reach the principal about admissions, and letters get directed to Thyng. In fact, the names are chosen by the Palm Beach County School District, which hires an outside firm to conduct the lottery.
Here’s the timetable:
- Applications are due to the school district by Dec. 14. Thyng advises sending them early via registered mail or dropping them off at the district office in West Palm Beach in person. The school will not accept them. You can also apply online.
- After you send in your application, you’ll get a confirmation postcard or email within three weeks.
- The lottery is done in March. Letters go out to the kids who are in around April. After that, there will be a few more rounds of admissions as some who are accepted will decline – usually about 10 percent.
- In August, as students don’t show up, more will be admitted. But this year, they won’t take new students after the school year has started.
Location – 1798 NW Spanish River Blvd.
Uniforms – No. Minimal dress code requires girls to wear sleeved tops. No open-back shoes. Jeans and T-shirts OK without rips or inappropriate slogans.
Transportation – Activity buses leave at 6 p.m. for kids participating in clubs, sports, etc., after school.
School day - 9:30 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. Before-care available starting at 8 a.m.
Nice touch – Instead of a bell, the school plays music to signal that it’s time to change classes.
- Visit the school’s website.
- Read about the school’s namesake, Don Estridge, here.
- Read more about choosing a middle school and find links to all the local options on BocaParent’s Middle School page
Editor’s Note: As a “Dragon” mom, I can tell you that the Don is a great school. The teachers seem to really want to be there. They work hard to make the lessons engaging for the students and they seem to treat the students with a great deal of respect. The students are learning valuable technology skills, to be sure, but I’ve been impressed with the arts offerings and the excellent teachers in drama, music and art. It makes for a well-rounded education.
- CHARLENE PACENTI