Struggling Plato Academy Pinellas Park vows to boost school culture, attendance

Pinellas County school district headquarters in Largo. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Pinellas County school district headquarters in Largo. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published September 18 2018

After their school earned a D grade for its first year in operation, educators from Plato Academy Pinellas Park presented an improvement plan to Pinellas County school officials on Tuesday, pointing to plans to improve school culture and crack down on attendance problems.

The School Board will vote on approval of the plan at its next meeting, set for a week from today.

School principal Lisa Cunningham said there were multiple factors staff believes contributed to the school's low state grade for 2017-18: Loss of staff mid-year, excessive absences, and room for growth in building morale and relationships with student families.

The plan outlines how the school will remedy those issues, as well as its academic goals for the current year.

Last year, 65 percent of students in third grade, and about 52 percent in fourth grade, earned a passing score on the state's English test. In math, 73 percent of third graders were proficient, compared to only 42 percent of fourth graders.

The goal for this year, according to the plan, is for at least 70 percent of third graders to pass English, and at least 75 percent to earn a score of 3 or higher in math.

The plan lists no specific goals for fourth grade students for this year. However, it states overall learning gains will be at least 51 percent in English, and at least 56 percent in math. Those figures for last year were 42 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

To meet those measures, Cunningham listed other ideas to improve attendance, discipline and parental involvement.

She said the school this year began pushing the importance of "bell-to-bell attendance" to cut down on high numbers of tardy students and early pickups.

"That has helped tremendously this year, just a month into school," the principal said, adding that systems have been put in place to notify parents after three, five, 10 and 15 absences.

The hope is to lower the amount of students who miss 10 or more days of school from 25 percent to less than 15 percent, according to the plan. That's a hefty goal, given that the school this year added grades 5 through 7, gaining more than 100 students. Now, enrollment is about 430.

Board member Joanne Lentino suggested the school hold an evening or weekend meeting for families, where staff could further stress attendance goals.

"Early learning is critical," she said. "The data really needs to improve."

The plan lists benchmarks for student discipline, aiming for 85 percent of students to be referral-free and have a behavior grade of satisfactory or above.

Action steps to reach those goals are monthly character awards and other recognition programs for students who improve their grades and conduct, the plan said.

Cunningham noted that the school will hold at least one conference and two "data chats" per year with each student's parent or guardian, to ensure the student is on track.

Another goal in the plan is to have at least 90 percent of families participate in at least one school activity or function.

"We just really try to let the parents know that we are working with them," Cunningham said. "We are all three working together, the students, the school and the families."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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