TAMPA — Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has been named the 2018 Florida Superintendent of the Year, in part because of his efforts to attack the achievement gap between black and non-black students.
The announcement by the Florida Association of School District Superintendents came Wednesday morning during the organization's joint meeting in Tampa with the Florida School Boards Association. He will represent Florida in a national competition in Nashville, Tenn. in February.
Grego said he was "overjoyed" and surprised by the honor.
"I look forward to representing the state of Florida at the national level," he said. "Anything I can do to represent the state I'm honored to do that."
Grego came to Pinellas in September 2012. He has launched several initiatives, including Summer Bridge, a six-week program that works to prevent students from losing academic steam over the summer break. Also on his watch, the county's graduation rate improved to 80.1 percent, up from 72 percent when he took over.
In a statement, the FADSS highlighted Pinellas' Bridging the Gap initiative, a 10-year plan unveiled in May that aims to address the achievement gap.
The plan focuses on six areas: graduation rates, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identifying students for exceptional student education services and minority hiring.
Diana Oropallo, FADSS communications and business development director, said the plan, "stood out because of the impact that it's had."
"He has had a storied career as a leader in education in so many different areas," she said of Grego.
The plan was created after a year of negotiations in a 16-year-old lawsuit that accused the Pinellas school district of shortchanging black students.
The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students, known as COQEBS, took over as plaintiff in the case in 2010.
The group's president, Ricardo Davis, said that while he is cautious because the plan is still in its early stages, he acknowledged that Grego has led the School Board in policy making.
"I think the Bridging the Gap plan and the leadership he's exhibited in that area has obviously bolstered his performance" as a district superintendent, Davis said.
Former Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia won the 2015 Florida Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists in the national competition that year.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent Albert Carvalho won the state and national award in 2014. Another Miami-Dade superintendent, Rudy Crew, also had both titles in 2008.
Grego, 60, began his 37-year career in education in the Hillsborough County school district as a teacher, advancing to become assistant superintendent for technical, career and adult education and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
After 28 years, he left to serve as superintendent for the Osceola County school district, a post he held for three years. He also served as Florida's Interim Chancellor of K-12 education for six months in 2011 before coming to Pinellas.
Pinellas School Board chairwoman Rene Flowers, who knew FADSS would be honoring Grego, invited St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and St. Petersburg director of education and community engagement Leah McRae to the event. They, along with Grego's top staff, attended the ceremony.
"I am ecstatic," Flowers said. "I am very happy for him. He, in the last six years, has done in my opinion a tremendous job."