SEBRING - A nationwide college readiness program is set to be introduced in all Highlands County middle and high schools next school year, even though an unexpected glitch has cut state funding for the Sebring secondary schools.
Advancement Via Individual Determination or AVID helps students in the "academic middle" who have college potential and equips them with the skills necessary to be successful in more rigorous coursework, said John Varady, who is a coordinator with the Heartland Educational Consortium and the district director for implementing the program.
The selection of students is still going on, he said.
"Some students have been invited. Parent nights have been held at some schools." He said the schools should have their selection in place by the end of this school year.
The program, which is open to sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth grades, will be offered through an elective class and participating students will have to take at least one advanced class.
Each AVID class will have around 25 students, and students will learn study, leadership and organizational skills in the class. The students also will have tutorials twice weekly during the school day, which will be conducted by South Florida State College students "trained to guide students to find the answers on their own," states an earlier news release.
District school teachers also will be trained, and each school gets to develop its own school plan, according to its needs, Varady added.
While a nearly $3 million federal grant is paying for the program in some area schools, including Avon Park Middle, Avon Park High, Lake Placid Middle and Lake Placid High, state money was supposed to fund AVID in Hill-Gustat and Sebring middle schools and Sebring High School.
That's until Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed the $523,203 appropriation for the 2013-2014 budget, money the Legislature had actually approved for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The Highlands County School District's Director of Secondary Programs Ruth Heckman explained that while the school district had requested the money be appropriated over a three-year period, the Legislature's appropriation was for this fiscal year.
A request to roll over the money, so it could sustain the program over three years, got vetoed.
Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said in an email that the governor's veto message said AVID was nixed because it is a local project.
"I would point out that the same project was not vetoed when the Legislature funded it last year," she added. "The governor has the prerogative to veto what he wants and we'll try to make the case next year that our students are better served when they have access to more learning options and tools. "
Despite this new development, the Highlands County School Board agreed Tuesday to go ahead with the program in all the schools.
School board member Jan Shoop said the school district will have to find a way to pay for the program at the Sebring schools but felt the program was important enough to keep.
"There is a lot of work that has already gone into it," she said.
At Tuesday's board meeting, the principals of Hill Gustat Middle School and Sebring High School told the school board that they would rather have the AVID program than pay for some other things, Shoop said.
The federal grant will fund the program over a five-year period in the schools it covers in Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto counties and at South Florida State College.
The federal grant was written by AVID National, which is headquartered in California. School districts enter into agreements with AVID Center for materials, membership and professional learning. Districts provide public school teachers and tutors.
While school teachers and administrators are recommending students for the programs, parents who want more information can call their respective schools, Varady said.
The elective will be year-long and students will progress through AVID from middle to high school although the program is "absolutely optional" and students can drop out if they feel it's not right for them, he added.