Second 'Bridging the Gap' forum draws large crowd
More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at a public forum to get input about the Pinellas County School District's plan to close the achievement gap.
The gathering, held at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, was the second of four scheduled by the school district. Superintendent Mike Grego first unveiled the "Bridging the Gap" plan in 2013, but district officials have updated it, as well as the district's overall strategic plan.
Bridging the Gap includes five areas in which the district wants to close the gap between black students and their classmates. Those include: graduation rates; grade-level proficiency on state exams; participation and performance in accelerated classes; disciplinary infractions; and eligibility for special education programs. (In the last two categories, black students are overrepresented.)
Grego told the audience Tuesday that the school district is in "problem-solving mode." He asked participants to write their comments and suggestions on sticky notes and attach them to posters related to the categories of the plan. Many of the comments collected were lengthy. Some were simple: "Make learning fun."
One sticky read: "Are school counselors/teachers receiving training to minimize their bias? Often teachers and counselors don't think minority students are capable."
Another said: "Get parents as excited about their child's educational experience as they are about participation in sports."
Another said: "We need to look at what's going on in the elementary and middle schools. Why can't they read when they enter high school? That's the biggest gap we need to bridge."
Still another read, in part: "Identifying professional development as the appropriate action step for so many of these rows is problematic for many reasons. It identifies teachers as the problem and the district as the cure. It downplays institutionalized racism."
District officials have two more scheduled meetings. They also have said that they plan to hold additional community meetings.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the 1964 federal desegregation case, Leon W. Bradley Jr. vs. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County, were frustrated that the school district scheduled the first four meetings without consulting community groups. Roger Plata, one of the lawyers, also has voiced concern that the first two meetings seemed to be largely attended by school employees.
Lisa Wolf, a spokeswoman for the school district, said that school groups were invited "by design" to get input from the people who work on the "front lines." Invitations were sent to about 30 schools for Tuesday's forum.