John Hopkins Middle families sue Pinellas school district for ending reading program
Both of Tracie Boykin’s sons have had trouble reading.
Her oldest, Jahlon Holland, got help from a reading program called First 25 while he attended John Hopkins Middle. That program is no longer available for her younger son, Jadarius Boykin, a current sixth grader at the school, who is struggling in all of his classes.
The Boykins, along with John Hopkins classmate Malik Williams and his mother Camille Archie are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Saturday against the Pinellas County school district for allegedly conspiring to end the program that aimed to help disadvantaged black students. The lawsuit also names superintendent Mike Grego, deputy superintendent Bill Corbett and area superintendent Bob Poth as individual defendants.
The families are represented by Todd Hoover, the co-founder of the before-school program that had a three-year run before it ended in 2015.
“I’ve been mad ever since,” Tracie Boykin said. “When I found out they were taking that away, it crushed me. (Hoover’s) a good dude and he’s willing to help our kids.”
According to the lawsuit, Hoover received permission in 2012 from former district superintendent John Stewart and district attorney David Koperski to start a weekly, voluntary reading program. More than 300 students have since participated in the program.
The suit says the program became so successful, 75 percent of students improved their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading scores after participating. According to the suit, John Hopkins principal Barry Brown offered the program $10,000 from Title I resources to expand the reading program to reach more students.
Seeking financial support from the school district, the suit says in April 2015 area superintendent Poth requested a plan from Hoover and co-founder Alonzo Sullivan for a pilot program, although Poth later allegedly ignored and avoided discussing the program with co-founders.
The suit said Brown feared that if he voiced his support for the program too strongly, he could jeopardize his employment and he “did not want to become a casualty in the war.” The suit said Brown explained that district leadership was not supporting the program, “because district leadership did not like Mr. Hoover.”
Brown later informed Hoover that the district was discontinuing the reading program at John Hopkins.
A Bay News 9 broadcast showed school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf explaining that a volunteer coordinator at John Hopkins noticed the program was out of compliance with the district’s volunteer procedures but was willing to work with the program and bring them into compliance.
Regarding the lawsuit, “We feel strongly that this case has no merit,” Wolf wrote in an email. “District and school representatives have tried to work with Mr. Hoover and Mr. Sullivan in an effort to help them be successful partners with Pinellas County Schools.”
She said she could not comment further on the case.
Hoover disagreed with Wolf's comments from the Bay News 9 broadcast, adding that he and Sullivan had level 2 clearances to be volunteers in the school district.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s me necessarily. I have a hard-charging personality,” Hoover said. “I think it’s anybody, any outside person who comes in and says, ‘I know how to fix that problem.’ I think they just come down on people like that.”