Get Your Kid a Great Education from International Baccalaureate Programs in South Tampa

All parents want the absolute best for their kids, which is why families looking for a place to live often put quality schooling at the top of their Needs list.  In South Tampa, there are several excellent private schools providing top-notch experiences for students at all levels.  But when planning for the future, it’s also worth considering International Baccalaureate programs, which offer a more challenging course of study within the public school system.

The idea for the International Baccalaureate (or IB) was born just after World War II, and its goal has always been to educate globally conscious citizens as a way to foster cooperation and peace.  In practice, this means not just encouraging awareness of other cultures, but fostering critical thinking, research, and writing skills – which are great for promoting world peace and excelling in the 21st century job market.  The programs tend to attract gifted and ambitious students with engaged parents, giving kids who join them a great social advantage on top of a good education.

IB has been established in Tampa high schools for years, but have recently expanded at the elementary and middle school levels (  South Tampa is home to IB programs at MacFarlane Elementary (1721 North MacDill Avenue), Roland Park K-8 (1510 North Manhattan Avenue), and Robinson High School (6311 South Lois Avenue).  The IB programs for Elementary and Middle School Students are what’s known as the Early Years and Middle Years programs, and include things like early language training (most often Spanish or French) and an array of arts programs that are, sadly, less available than they used to be in more typical public school programs.

After all that preparation, High School is where the IB program really comes into full force.  Earning an IB diploma requires an array of tests and projects, including 200 hours of extracurricular work and community service, special courses in logic, and an extended essay. Robinson High is already regularly listed as one of the best high schools in the nation, so you can imagine that adding the IB program gives students an educational experience above and beyond what you can expect almost anywhere else.

Because these programs are designated Magnet schools, they’re accessible to students who live outside of their regular feeder areas.  But those living within those areas have priority, as do students already in magnet programs For example, if your kid’s in a magnet elementary school, they’ll have priority in getting into a magnet middle – so living in South Tampa and starting early are important to getting into MacFarlane, Roland, and Robinson.  The application process, through the School Choice program of the Hillsborough Public Schools, is about as complicated as you’d expect (link  Still, to get a private-school quality education without those hefty tuition bills, a little paperwork seems worth it to me.

Flood Insurance Deregulation – The (Abstract) Good, The (Obvious) Bad, and the (All-Around) Ugly

As the Biggert-Waters act of 2012 goes into effect, the tragic stories keep coming in, well, a flood –insurance quotes going from $5,126 to $36,584 in three weeks (, and people preparing to leave their homes (link: rather than deal with higher rates in coming years.  But is the reality of the end of flood insurance subsidies as bad as it sounds, or is it all hype?  And what does it mean for the real estate market in Florida, and South Tampa?

Passed in July of 2012, and officially the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, Biggert-Waters is probably the biggest news in the housing market since the bubble burst in 2008. It all started with the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which put the public National Flood Insurance Program $18 billion in the hole. Over the next few years, the program stayed unbalanced, and its deficit is now $24 billion. The solution was to cut the large Federal subsidies that had been keeping insurance premiums artificially low in high-risk areas – and that’s exactly what Biggert-Waters does. The consequence (which somehow even the law’s authors claim not to have realized at the time Link: is that premiums for millions of homeowners nationwide are going to skyrocket over the next few years – and a lot of that rise will be centered in Florida.

It’s hard to swallow now – but long-term, the end of federal subsidies is good for the economy, for homeowners, and for the South Florida housing market, for a lot of reasons.  The biggest one is this – the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the public entity providing ‘insurance of last resort’ for all these years?  It was never actually solvent – it never had the money to provide the insurance it was promising.  As State Senator Garrett Richter explains here (link:, a real hurricane catastrophe in Florida would have required that the state borrow to fund damage claims, leaving every state resident making huge debt payments (up to 83% of then-current Citizens premiums) for up to 30 years.  The same problems that plagued Citizens also applied to the Federal Flood Insurance program, which was actually one of the biggest Federal government liabilities this side of Social Security.

So, those in favor of fiscal responsibility should be applauding Biggert-Waters for getting rid of some of the most risky big-government subsidies around.  And ultimately, by letting people know in big, bad numbers just how risky their location is, accurate insurance rates might even save lives.  Finally, the biggest beneficiaries will be people living in lower-risk areas – such as most of South Tampa (See map of high risk areas here.  They’ll see little or no change in rates, and their homeowners’ tax dollars won’t be going to subsidize the property of those living in higher-risk areas anymore.

But big-picture politics and abstractions about fairness aren’t much comfort to people facing quadrupling premiums in the next four or five years, and the chances of delaying the law’s biggest effects are narrowing by the day.  Despite a lot of talk about delay, neither the Federal or State legislature have identified any clear way to soften the blow (link:

South Tampa Inventory

South Tampa’s inventory includes an array of vernacular styles. Mid-Century Modern, Spanish Revival, Coastal to Bungalow in over a dozen neighborhoods.

South Tampa Housing Market Heats Up

Bit by bit, around Florida and around the country, the tender shoots of a recovery in the housing market are pushing tentatively towards the light.  But in Tampa Bay, those shoots are already beefing up and putting down roots – and in strongholds of value including South Tampa, things are looking a little bit like Jack and the Beanstalk.

The summer has been hot in more ways than one.  Stats from Florida Realtors show that in July, single family home sales were up around 20%, while average sale prices were up 18% and inventory has plummeted 17%.  Those numbers are even more dramatic in Tampa Bay, where July saw a year-over-year price bump of 27% on average, with volume up 20%.

But as anyone moving in this market knows, the biggest impacts of the bounce are clustering in South Tampa and a few other areas just outside of downtown.  Developers are scrambling to grab land in the area south of Kennedy Blvd, and if you’re a sports fan, you might have heard that Rob Gronkowski stands to make a tidy profit off the South Tampa property he bought just a year ago.  Some guys have all the luck, huh?

Of course, these areas never lost as much value in the first place as some of the less stable areas of Tampa Bay.  I’d say there are a few factors in both the area’s stability, and its popularity as a destination for money on the rebound.  Access is an obvious one – most South Tampa addresses put you within 15 minutes of downtown.

But I’d say the root of the area’s value is more subtle.  With an abundance of lifestyle amenities on the main thoroughfares and well-tended homes in the neighborhood, South Tampa marries access with a small-town feel.  You won’t find that in the uplanned, chain-store dominated sprawl of Clearwater or Temple Terrace.  The variety – from business networking at Buddy Brew Coffee to downing a Guinness at MacDinton’s – means South Tampa has a lot to offer both young singles and professionals with growing families.  And ultimately, whatever the ups and downs of the giant, confusing financial machine that has so much sway over the real estate market, that’s what really matters – you want a great house in a place where it’s great to live.  South Tampa definitely qualifies.

The resurgence of Mid-Century Modern architecture

The resurgence of Mid-Century Modern architecture and how it lends itself to “Green Building” – ideal for Tampa climate:

America has had its share of enduring architectural movements, from Greek Revival to Spanish Colonial to Arts and Crafts.  Those are all styles, by the way, that describe both new and existing homes that you’ll see on the market.  For obvious reasons, architectural movements – unlike transitory fashions in clothing, for example – leave signs of that last for decades or centuries.

One of the most distinct architectural trends of the 20th century, though, is also one that has had a less prominent impact in America.  The Modernist movements in art and design probably make you think first of European names like Le Courbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe, whose minimalist buildings centered on open spaces, curtain walls, and innovative use of light.  While there are some remnants of the European modernist architects in the U.S., for instance the Eichler Homes in parts of California, naturally their work was less widespread here than back home.  Luckily, America had its very own modernists – Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie school, associated with names like Richard Neutra, William Krisel, and John Lautner, produced houses that minimized ornamentation, aimed to meld with the landscape, and made smart use of space and light.

mid-century modern home south tampa

Today, midcentury modern buildings continue to hold up as examples of some of the most beautiful architectural design anywhere.  But they’re more than just great-looking – the use of natural light, cantilevered roofs, and attention to landscape also make them some of the smartest and greenest houses ever built.  Here’s a great rundown from the architectural firm Build of 10 Forgotten Lessons of Mid-Century Design, including some decidedly ‘green’ features like roof eaves that provide shade in summer while letting in light during cold winters.

Maybe that green sensibility is why Midcentury Modern has been making such a comeback in both product design and architecture.  (Then again, the Mad Men factor doesn’t hurt, either).  South Florida has more than its share of surviving Modern homes and buildings, since the area boomed in the 1950s and 1960s when air conditioning made things a little more livable. That means Tampa Bay got hyperactive Atomic Age wonders like the Thunderbird and Bilmar Beach resorts on Treasure Island – but also more than a sprinkling of understated Prairie Modern homes, with flat lines and expansive views.

And appropriately enough, the Modern look isn’t confined to beautiful history pieces.  The lessons are being adapted to more and more new construction Modern homes in Tampa, too.  Keep an eye out, and you may find a modern new construction gem tucked in just about any corner of South Tampa!

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