Florida Board of Education approves improvement plans for struggling Pinellas schools
Three of Pinellas County's most struggling schools -- Campbell Park, Fairmount Park and Melrose elementary schools -- as well as two others with low performance on state standards -- High Point Elementary and Azalea Middle -- won state approval Wednesday for their latest improvement plans.
With the approvals came superintendent Mike Grego's assurances that the schools, particularly Fairmount Park and Melrose, would dramatically increase their state grades within two years.
"Melrose is going to be a tough one, but, we all should be guaranteeing gains at these schools" faced with turnaround plans, Grego told the Florida Board of Education.
He emphasized several steps the district has taken to raise achievement at these and other schools, such as changing its hiring procedures to place high performing teachers in the most needy schools. He said new principals with successful track records are in place, and they have new latitude to remove teachers who are not getting the work done at any time in the year.
"If they feel like that fit is not the right fit, the change will be made immediately," Grego said, adding that if principals don't do the job, they too could face removal.
Such work has helped the district move forward, he said, noting for example that six elementary schools fell off the state's lowest performing 300 list. But he acknowledged that more must be done for low achieving schools and students.
"There are struggling students, yes, in the schools we're going to be discussing," he told the board. "We are going to recognize and not let go of ... the struggling students who are also at A and B schools. There are struggling students at all schools. We do need to be conscious of that."
State Board members sounded enthusiastic about Pinellas' efforts and gains to date. They also asked pointed questions, though, about how Pinellas would make sure that the best educators are in the schools with highest need, and that those who have not done well will not remain in leadership roles.
Grego defended past principals who worked long hours in the schools, aiming to improve them.
"This work takes a lot out of people," he said, and sometimes they have reached the end of their skill set. Perhaps, he said, it is time to pass the work to a new leader. "Do we penalize that principal for giving that school three years? My answer is, no."
Board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey asked how Pinellas will track performance through the year, so it has no surprises about outcomes at the end of the year. Grego talked about using assessment data, as well as tracking things such as community support and school climate -- things that have sometimes been lacking at the schools. He said a leadership team meets regularly to talk about performance, with access to student results that are updated daily.
Overall, Grego said, the district aims to "get out of the business of D and F schools" by implementing fundamental reforms districtwide. "We will certainly make you proud," he told the board after winning the approvals.
"We will hope not to see you next year," vice chairman John Padget replied.
"It's always good to see you," Grego answered.