Big names working to create charter school seats for black students in Pinellas
An effort to create more charter school seats for black students in Pinellas County is drawing some big names.
Among them: attorney Guy Burns, who represented the plaintiffs in the Crowley case; Doug Tuthill, the former Pinellas teachers union president who is now president of the Step Up for Students voucher organization; former St. Petersburg city administrator Goliath Davis; former state Rep. Bill Heller; and Linda Benware, a former Pinellas school district administrator who was the first principal at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, a highly successful charter school.
The effort is a spinoff from the Crowley suit, which charged the district with discriminating against black students. In last summer's settlement, the district promised to give "full and prompt consideration" to charter school applications that are "located in and designed to serve student needs in the black community." It also agreed to an aspirational goal of at least 500 new charter seats for black students in the next five years.
Burns told The Gradebook that the group is trying to "encourage those who have an interest (in starting charter schools) and helping them work through the process." A recent workshop on the topic drew 61 people.
Burns said more details will be forthcoming in a few weeks.
Some charter schools have floundered with low-income, minority students, including the Imagine charter school in St. Petersburg, which has earned two F grades in a row. The student body there is 69 percent minority and 74 percent eligible for free and or reduced price lunch.
But other charter schools are credited with big gains among minority students, such as the KIPP schools that set up their first Florida campus in Jacksonville last year.
Burns said the achievement gap and graduation rate statistics for black students in Pinellas are fueling the movement for more charter seats. "People are looking at that and saying we need to do better, and want to do better, and this is a way we can do better," he said.