UF researchers are working in Melrose Elementary
University of Florida researchers are working with students at Melrose Elementary as part of a small pilot reading program.
Researchers started working last month with 30 students who have struggled the most with reading. They were invited by superintendent Mike Grego after he saw some positive results that researchers had working with about 20 students from Campbell Park Elementary who were participating off-site at a St. Petersburg church.
As first reported by POLITICO today, the researchers are now seeking state funding to expand their pilot program.
Don Pemberton, director of the College of Education's Lastinger Center for Learning, said they were approached by Kevin Gordon, a provost at St. Petersburg College, and Clarence Williams, a pastor at Greater Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church after the Times started publishing its yearlong investigation, "Failure Factories." The series showed how the district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for five elementary schools that became predominantly poor and black. Those schools are Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose. The stories also detailed how violence and disruption in the schools soared and experienced teachers fled after 2007.
Today, the five schools are performing below dozens of other elementary schools in Florida with similar or worse demographics.
The Pinellas County School Board once had a partnership with the Lastinger Center to provide training to teachers in struggling schools, including the five in south St. Petersburg. But district officials abruptly ended the program in 2011 after school board members complained about the cost, about $1 million a year. The initiative offered a free master's degree to teachers who stayed in the schools for five years. A study released last year showed that students of teachers trained by the program in districts throughout Florida, including Pinellas, did 8 percent better than expected on standardized reading tests and 23 percent better in math.
The new intensive reading program is called Winning Reading Boost. It focuses on foundational skills, Pemberton said.