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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

P.K. Yonge community opposed to proposed selective high school admissions

The UF Board of Trustees presented plans to raise P.K. Yonge’s high school state ranking

<p>P.K. Yonge pictured on Saturday, April 20, 2024.</p>

P.K. Yonge pictured on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

P.K. Yonge faculty, students and parents disapprove of UF Board of Trustees presentation looking to change P.K. Yonge high school to a selective admission program, claiming it will ruin diversity at the school. At the March 8 UF Board of Trustees meeting, Penny Schwinn, UF PK-12 vice president, presented a plan to raise P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School ranking in the state of Florida.

Currently, the school is ranked 38 out of 1130 in the state. However, when removing schools using selective admission processes, such as magnet schools, P.K. Yonge ranks number three for public Florida high schools.Schwinn proposed P.K. Yonge high school move to a selective admissions process, so the school’s ranking can be reflective of UF.

 “Our current high school ranking of number 38, [we] heard very loud and clear that’s not where we want to be,” Schwinn said. “We need to be in the top ten period. No question.”

With 35 of the 37 schools ahead of P.K. Yonge using selective admission, Schwinn recommended UF’s developmental research school follow suit. The two schools ranking higher without selective admissions are in high-income areas, Schwinn said.

“If we are thinking about P.K. Yonge being a top 10 high school in the state of Florida, it would require selective admissions,” she said.

At the high school level, Schwinn said there is an expectation of rigorous courses, such as advanced placement and dual enrollment courses, that prepare students for high college achievement.

“Ninth grade is really that make or break moment where you have to be able to move at a rapid pace in order to meet the expectations that are in the top 10,” Schwinn said. 

Taking and passing AP courses and exams is pertinent to the top 10 score. State assessments, such as the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking are important to school rank, but Schwinn said the majority of the weight falls on college readiness courses and exams. 

Another option presented by Schwinn suggested a dual model with a normal high school program and a selective admission program.

“Then there is this idea of a dual program. I’m going to be a little less enthusiastic about this one. So, I’m going to reveal my bias there but that is this idea to simply create two split schools,” she said. 

The non selective high school would be representative of Florida and Gainesville demographics and diversity. The selective admissions school would likely not be as reflective. 

“Candidly, what ends up happening is a very clear have and have not situation, where the one school gets all the resources and feels really, really good because you want to get it to the top 10,” Schwinn said. “Then the other one gets what’s left.”

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Schwinn recommended P.K. Yonge high school uses the total selective admission process and not the dual program option. 

UF President Ben Sasse clarified students currently enrolled in P.K. Yonge high school would not have to apply to the school. The change would be effective for incoming freshmen starting for the 2025-2026 school year, should the school change to selective admission. 

“This isn’t going to affect anybody who’s today in grades nine to 12,” Sasse said.

P.K. Yonge community input

P.K. Yonge’s school advisory council held its quarterly meeting to address school business and planning April 16. 

Many members of the school community came out to voice their concerns about the 2025-2026 high school planning process. The crowded meeting became standing room only by its 5:30 p.m. start.

Brian Marchman, P.K. Yonge’s director and superintendent, began by explaining why the UF Board of Trustees is pushing for a raise in the school’s ranking. 

“We’ve all followed UF’s meteoric rise in the rankings and we’re expected. We are the University of Florida’s lab school. We’re expected to have similar stature of our mothership,” Marchman said. 

Marchman credited P.K. Yonge’s staff, students and parents for their work to raise the school’s ranking. However, he said there is tension between having a high ranking high school and a high school reflective of Florida’s diverse population. 

“Whether those things can be reconciled, and that you can be both elite and inclusive, and that’s where the tension comes from,” he said.

Following Marchman’s comments, the school advisory council opened the floor to community comments. Thirteen people spoke for two minutes each, all dissenting from selective admissions for the high school. 

Kevin Flavin, the husband to P.K. Yonge faculty member Angela Flavin and a father to two children in high school, gave an emotional testament against the proposed selective admission process. 

“What concerns me most about the things I’ve heard in the past 24 to 48 hours is that there’s a concept that there needs to be a top 10 ranking that’s been arbitrarily harvested from a study that’s been produced and published by U.S. News and World Report,” Flavin said. 

Nathalie Clement, a P.K. parent, is worried selective admission would get rid of the community diversity, which is why she chose to enroll her daughter at P.K. Yonge instead of a private school. As an immigrant, she wants her daughter to grow up exposed to different cultures and ideas. 

“For me, the diversity is number one. I do believe selection is going to be reducing this diversity, particularly on the economic level,” she said.  

Abigail Pruden, a current P.K. Yonge junior who’s attended the school since kindergarten, is opposed to the selective admissions process because she fears the school would lose its diversity. 

“I’m vehemently opposed to the selective admission process because it annihilates the diverse aspects of P.K. that so many people love,” Pruden said. “From racial and ethnic diversity to socioeconomic diversity to learning diversity, there are so many people with a variety of learning abilities here.”  

Concerned parents created a petition asking to be included in the UF Board of Trustees decision on P.K. Yonge. 

“At this point, we believe there are more potential harms than benefits to the selective admissions plan, and we would recommend high school admissions be left as they have always been,” the petition reads. 

Contact Megan Howard at Follow her on X @meganmhxward.

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Megan Howard

Megan Howard is a second-year journalism major and the K-12 Education reporter for The Alligator. When she's not writing, you can find her rewatching the Eras Tour movie or reading The Hunger Games series.

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