Notes from Tuesday's Pinellas School Board workshop
Tuesday's nearly six-hour School Board workshop covered a wide range of topics. Here are a few notes to keep you updated.
Gifted education for all students, not just the gifted ones
Although the "school-wide enrichment model" has been in Pinellas County classrooms for the past three years now, the founder of that model, Joseph Renzulli, director of the Neag Center for Creativity, Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut, stopped by to break down how it works to the School Board.
The idea is to train teachers to have enjoyment, engagement and enthusiasm for learning, which leads to creative teaching ways that are sometimes reserved for just gifted children. The model also aims to seek out gifted students who are disadvantaged.
So far, 8 Pinellas schools focus mostly on the creative part of the model, and 45 elementary schools with lower gifted enrollments have the model to seek out other gifted children.
Board member Linda Lerner called the model a "breath of fresh air." The model does not come with a price, as Renzulli referred to it as "missionary work."
Dr. Phil-backed virtual doctor visits for employees?
Humana is the district's health care provider, and on Tuesday, its representatives unveiled a new pitch to board members. Doctors on Demand is a form of telemedicine, where patients can speak with a doctor over a video connection to get a diagnosis for a $40 fee.
But when TV personality Phil McGraw's face flashed on the presentation as Doctors on Demand's advisor, board members were concerned.
McGraw is not respected by the mental health community, Lerner said, and his involvement made the service too "promotional." Rene Flowers agreed with Lerner. Ken Peluso, a retired chiropractor, said the board should follow Humana's recommendation.
No final determination was made on offering the service to employees. If adopted, the service will be available in January.
Alternatives to out-of-school suspensions
The pressure is on for Pinellas to steer away from staggeringly high out-of-school suspension rates and toward restorative justice, which emphasizes the importance of building positive relationships and correcting bad behavior. According to the latest data, suspensions are down across all student groups, but white students are being suspended way less than students of color, who now make up a larger percentage of suspended students.
Restorative justice practices are being piloted at Gibbs High, Dunedin and Azalea middle schools and Lealman Innovation Academy. If a student is given an out-of-school suspension, he or she can now spend it at Pinellas Technical College in St. Petersburg, Bayside High and Clearwater Intermediate. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is giving free rides for students with ID to those sites.
So far, about 20 students have taken advantage of the alternative placement at those sites. However, as board member Terry Krassner pointed out, several of those students attend those schools.
Don't forget adult education
Pinellas' career, technical and adult education is one of the largest programs in the state, with enrollment hovering around 15,000 students a year. But enrollment in General Educational Development (GED) classes is declining, and the director, Mark Hunt, believes its because the test is hard to master.
English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) classes are booming, doubling in size in the past four years. Classes for Spanish, Arabic and Vietnamese speakers are in demand, and Hunt said more advertising should be done to attract these communities. Many schools offer adult ESOL classes with tutoring available for their children.
Achievement gap between black and non-black students:
At the district's first Bridging the Gap forum at Largo High last week, officials collected 287 sticky notes with suggestions about how to bring black students up to their peers. While some parents were in attendance, the majority present were district staff.
The next Bridging the Gap forums will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Gibbs High and on Nov. 15 at Tarpon Springs High.
School Board attorney David Koperski also filled the board in on how negotiations were going with the plaintiffs of two cases who say the district isn't doing enough to educate black children. He said the plaintiffs wanted more of an emphasis on recruiting black teachers.
At-risk, over-aged students
There are 1,093 students district-wide who are defined as at-risk, over-aged students who are two to three years behind grade level and hahve failed their most recent English language arts exam on the Florida Standards Assessment. Nearly 45 percent of those students are under exceptional student education.
Pinellas' associate superintendent of teaching and learning, Pam Moore, said before- and after-school activities could help catch kids up to speed at the elementary level, and credit recovery and flexible schedules help in middle and high school. District officials say they are keeping track of these students by assigning an adult to be responsible for that child.
And if those alternatives don't work out at their original school, students can be moved to an alternative school setting. Beginning Nov. 7, 30 overage fifth graders and two teachers will be moved to Lealman Innovoation Academy.
In other news...class size
Pinellas got in trouble last year for violating state class size rules. This year, officials think they're in the clear, although they did have to use 32 more co-teachers to meet the requirements.
Pinellas is using 163 co-teachers, up last year from 131. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said between three charter school closings displacing 800 students and absorbing another failed charter school with 400 students, meeting the Friday deadline was a "constant moving target." He noted that 20 percent of students in the district do not attend their zoned school, which makes for a more mobile district.
To meet the deadline, Corbett said officials went class by class to meet the requirement, but in some cases used the school-wide average. He said Pinellas is considering becoming a "district of choice" next year, which would allow parents to send their child to any school of their choosing in the state.
Already, 35 out of 67 school districts are doing this to use the school-wide average. Pinellas and Orange counties are the only large school districts not participating.
...and Superintendent Mike Grego's evaluations
Board members' evaluations of Grego were posted on the workshop's page, but not discussed at the meeting. For the fourth year in a row, Grego earned near-perfect marks on his evaluations, which entitles him to a 2.3 percent raise (a $6,100 pay increase). Pending teacher ratification (ballots are due Wednesday) and School Board approval, Grego's salary would increase to $274,810.48.