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Parents, students, alumni and community members outraged by proposed ‘selective admissions’ process to P.K. Yonge

The P.K. Yonge School Advisory Council met Tuesday night to discuss the proposal to make the school’s historically inclusive admissions process more selective.

In September 2023, University of Florida President Ben Sasse appointed Penny Schwinn into a newly created position, vice president of pre-K through 12 and pre-bachelor’s programs. During the UF Board of Trustees meeting on March 8, Schwinn suggested changing P.K. Yonge’s high school admissions process after the board requested she find solutions to boost the school’s ranking since it is affiliated with the university.

With the proposed changes, students would be admitted based on highest academic performance and standardized test scores. Traditionally, admission into P.K. Yonge is through a lottery system to ensure that the student body reflects the diverse demographics of Florida's school-age population. This has been in order to meet the requirements of the Sidney Martin Developmental Research Act of 1991 and is a point of pride for the school.

“P.K. Yonge has proudly accepted its mandate to enroll a student population that is reflective of the state of Florida’s population,” said Nancy Dean during the meeting, who previously taught regular and Advanced Placement English at P.K. Yonge for 34 years. “This makes the school’s job a little more difficult but much more rewarding.”

On Saturday, apetition was created by the P.K. Yonge community calling on UF and the Board of Trustees to share more information about the potential change and recommending that they leave the high school admissions process as it has always been. In three days, the petition garnered over 600 signatures from students, staff, alumni and parents. Hundreds of those who signed the petition left comments about their disappointment on the subject.

“I am very grateful to my time at PK Yonge for exposing me to a vast array of people from many different walks of life,” wrote Chanterelle Davis, an alumna of P.K. Yonge. “I would hate to see this community disrupted for the sake of an arbitrary ranking.”

During the UF Board of Trustees meeting on March 8, Schwinn said the proposal to change the admissions process came from “dual, and sometimes competing missions” for P.K. Yonge’s high school to reflect the state population while also ranking within the top 10 schools in Florida.

“For our current high school ranking of number 38, heard very loud and clear, that that’s not where we want to be,” Schwinn said, referencing the school’s current ranking within Florida according to U.S. News and World Report. “We need to be in the top 10. Period. No question.”

Out of the 37 schools currently ranked higher than P.K. Yonge, all but two rely on selective admissions for their rank. The two highschools that do not use selective admissions come from predominantly wealthy districts.

Brian Marchman, the director and chairman of the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, began Tuesday’s meeting with an anecdote about a conversation he’d had that morning with his 11-year old son, Landon. Marchman said his son approached him and asked how he felt about selective admissions. In response, Marchman said his opinion was the least important on the matter.

Marchman said he then asked his son what his opinions were.

“Dad, I think I’m gonna be okay, but I’m a little worried about some of my friends,” Marchman said his son told him.

“I want you to know that I’m here for Landon’s friends,” Marchman said to the crowd as he proceeded to list his son’s friends by name.

Though no formal decisions or policies have been made about moving P.K. Yonge from a reflective student body to a selective highschool, dozens attended the school advisory council meeting to express disapproval. Twelve community members signed up to comment at the end of the session, all of which were to oppose the selective admissions process and raise criticism for the lack of transparency and community input on the situation.

“My daughter in 7th grade, Grace, would be in the first class to have to apply to 9th grade if the current proposal were to go through,” said Jennifer Archer. “She dreams of being in the PKY marching band. She loves the anime club. But Grace might not get in. 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 idea of success.”

The other testimonies during public comment included concerned parents, former teachers, disappointed alumni and saddened students.

Many parents expressed feeling uninformed about these proposals for their “lifers” or what students who complete or are completing K-12 at P.K.Yonge are affectionately known as.

“When were you planning to inform the parents and more importantly the kids who are going to be impacted?” said Nathalie Clement towards the council, “And how were you going to deliver that very difficult message to hear for a teenager?”

One public comment of concern came from faculty member of the UF college of education, Angela Kohnen, who expressed concern for the quality of education for teachers who are studying education at P.K. Yonge that would be sacrificed by changing the admissions process.

“These teachers, we educate to work with all children and believe in all children,” said Kohnen, a UF associate professor in the area of literacy and English education.

She then expressed apprehension as a parent.

“I hear everyone in agreement here, but who should we be talking to, Brian?” said Kohnen to Marchman. “Who needs to hear this? Because this is happening behind our backs and I don’t think this room is the room that needs to hear this, and we need to figure out who does because it feels like it’s being done to us in a state that apparently has parents' bill of rights.”

One alumna, Janet Hayes, who entered P.K. Yonge in 1965 as the only African American girl in second grade, said her friendships have stayed with her throughout her life.

“The thread that keeps this fabric together has been the mission of P.K. Yonge to represent this state to bring a harmonious community.” Hayes said.

The desire to keep P.K. Yonge representative of different demographics was echoed by alumni, parents, former staff members and current students as well.

“I think that P.K.’s academic standards need to be higher, but selective admissions isn’t the way to make that happen,” said current P.K. Yonge sophomore, Rachel. “It's really unfair to the whole goal which was to match the demographics and make this a learning environment where kids are able to grow.”

All public comments were followed by applause and at promptly 7 p.m. the meeting was adjourned.

Sabrina is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing