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Another county's loss could be much-needed gain for Pinellas schools

There seems to be a lot of frustrated people in Osceola County.

And that should make people very happy in Pinellas.

There seems to be an awful lot of regret and remorse in Osceola.

And that should make them grateful and excited in Pinellas.

If you paid no attention to the hiring process of a new superintendent for Pinellas County schools, this is probably the one dynamic you should focus on:

A lot of people miss Mike Grego in Osceola, which is just south of Orlando and Orange County.

I mean, really miss him.

The Pinellas School Board voted unanimously to hire the former Osceola superintendent on Tuesday, and a contract is all that stands between him and a nameplate on the door.

Now, admittedly, Grego has a tough job ahead of him. Pinellas has fallen behind a lot of other metro areas in terms of reputation and results in schools. He's inheriting problems with a declining enrollment and a shrinking budget.

The achievement gap in Pinellas is wide and long-standing, and the lack of faith in leadership is impossible to calculate.

On the other hand, Grego had many of the same issues when he was hired in Osceola in the summer of 2008. And for the most part, he handled it all impressively.

Chew on these numbers for a moment:

• The year before he was hired, the graduation rate in Osceola was 69.3 percent. By the time he left almost three years later, the rate was 82.6 percent. Osceola went from being below the state's average graduation rate to being above it. In three years.

• School grades in Osceola were close to abysmal in 2008. The state's grade point average for elementary schools in the district was 2.95. For middle schools, it was 2.06. For high schools, it was 1.75. Three years later, the GPAs for elementary and middle schools had risen to 3.47 and 3.0. For high schools, it had gone from 1.75 to 3.75.

• According to School Board figures in Osceola, more than 60 percent of the district's students are Hispanic or African-American, indicating Grego should have some insights on the issue of an achievement gap in Pinellas.

So if his results were so terrific, why did Osceola let him get away?

Grego has never publicly discussed why he resigned last year, but news reports indicate he was disturbed by perceived job threats, mistrust and lack of support from School Board chairman Cindy Hartig.

Based on subsequent events, you might surmise Grego was right about Hartig.

Osceola County paid an outside firm to conduct a national search for Grego's replacement, and Hartig dismissed the results without conducting any interviews. She later persuaded the board to hire a local middle school principal who had not even applied for the job and was going to have to retire in two years.

Within 12 months, the new superintendent angrily complained about Hartig's leadership and accused the board of micromanaging. He resigned a few weeks later. Months after that, Hartig was trounced in her re-election bid by a real estate broker.

Now Pinellas has had its own share of superintendent and School Board battles, and its own bouts with remorse and regret in recent years.

Hopefully, this time, we may just benefit from someone else's mistake.

Another county's loss could be much-needed gain for Pinellas schools 08/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 9:57pm]

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