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Failure Factories schools earn F's from the state

Melrose Elementary School is one of five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Melrose Elementary School is one of five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Melrose Elementary, one of five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, earned the lowest reading scores in Florida among traditional schools, according to results released Friday by the state Department of Education.

The other four schools — Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood and Maximo — were ranked among the lowest 23 elementary schools statewide based on reading scores. All five schools earned F grades for the 2014/15 school year.

The Pinellas County School District has faced increased scrutiny following a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation, "Failure Factories," which showed how the school district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to deliver promised resources for elementary schools that became predominantly poor and black. The series also detailed how violence and disruption in the schools soared and experienced teachers fled after 2007.

District officials have sought to reassure the community about the schools, pointing to an increase in money and resources in the last two years. Superintendent Mike Grego, who was hired in 2012, has added mental health counselors and classroom aides. Last month, Grego also hired Antonio Burt, a former principal and "turnaround" leader, to oversee improvement efforts and provide day-to-day guidance to principals.

The schools, too, have made subtle changes to engage students. Some Melrose students are getting recess, and, at Lakewood, principal Cynthia Kidd has added African American literature into the curriculum.

At Melrose, just 10 percent of students passed the standardized reading exams. At Maximo, it was 15 percent. Fairmount Park was at 17 percent.

Campbell Park and Lakewood scored on par last year with two Hillsborough elementary schools, Potter and Kimbell. Each had 19 percent of students pass the reading test, according to the data.

State officials have advised that the school grades released Friday should be considered a baseline.

The results cannot be compared to prior years because students took a new test, the Florida Standards Assessment. The grading formula also lacked a key component, learning gains, which measures how much a student improved from one year to the next. Grades for the 2015/16 school year, which are expected this summer, should provide a fuller reflection of school performance.

Low-performing schools won't be penalized because of the results.

Staff writer Michael LaForgia contributed to this story. Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com. Follow @Fitz_ly.

Failure Factories schools earn F's from the state 02/12/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2016 2:34pm]
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