WARNING: The following item is about the Pinellas School Board's "strategic plan" for 2007 to 2012. A snoozer of a topic? Normally. But consider that this is the place where the school district tells the public what it values and where it plans to focus in the near term.
Now the item...
Despite concerns by its chairperson at a workshop Tuesday, the School Board removed some prominent references to black students as it examined its new "strategic plan." In the original draft unveiled last month by Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, the No. 2 goal of the district was stated as follows: "The District will close the achievement gap between black and non-black students."
Wilcox argued that black students make up nearly 20 percent of the district’s enrollment and that they are affected more by the gap than any other group. But the goal prompted concerns from School Board Attorney Jim Robinson as well as some board members, who indicated the district was promising too much. Remember that the school system is defending itself in court against allegations that it has failed to properly educate black students. As proof, the plaintiffs cite the presence of the achievement gap. The district’s defense is that the gap is caused by multiple factors, many of which are beyond its control, and it could never hope to close it alone.
Some board members also voiced concerns that the focus of the goal was on one group of students when gaps exist between other ethnic groups as well. So the "strategic plan" was amended. Now the board says its No. 2 goal is to "work to close and eliminate the achievement gaps." Also removed in another part of the document were references to the district's long-running desegregation case, and to closing the gap between "black and non-black" students.
Not to worry, district officials say. Black students are included in the many passages that talk about helping all students succeed. But chairperson Mary Brown voiced concerns, saying that by removing the references to black students, "it isn’t as obvious that the concern is there." Brown, the board's only black member, acknowledged that the district is making a large effort to improve black student performance. But her comments raised the hackles of board member Jane Gallucci, who said, "I don't want it left on the table that this board is not concerned about (black students). This board IS concerned."
- Tom Tobin, Pinellas County education reporter