TAMPA — The Middleton High School community meeting started more like a pep rally than a discussion about strategies for improving the East Tampa school.
Hillsborough Superintendant MaryEllen Elia touted the school's number of Advanced Placement classes (18), its cosmetology course, its award-winning robotics team and its dramatic drop in referrals. She repeatedly blamed the media for any perceptions that Middleton is a bad school.
"We've been putting an emphasis on Middleton," she said. "And I apologize that you didn't already know that."
About 150 parents, students, alumni and local residents attended the meeting in Middleton's cafeteria on Saturday. They hoped to spark ideas for sharp improvement at Middleton, which is entering a key year. For the second year in a row, D-rated Middleton fell into the "Intervene" category under the state's accountability system. Without notable progress, the school could face a state-mandated reorganization or closure.
Middleton, a formerly segregated school, produced generations of black leaders in East Tampa before being closed in 1971 under a court desegregation order. Alumni pushed to reopen the school seven years ago.
Since then, it has struggled to lift itself off the bottom rung of a state watch list based on test scores. But Elia pointed out that Middleton, although it received its sixth straight D grade, has never received an F. Seven other public high schools in the county also received D grades last year.
The school is in a state of transition because Elia recently reassigned its principal of two years, Carl Green, to Brandon High School. His replacement hasn't been chosen yet, but several at the meeting said Saturday they see his departure as a fresh start.
Students, their parents and grandparents, and community leaders took the microphone with suggestions during public comment that lasted almost two hours. They said Middleton's students need to learn values, that their parents need to get involved and that the school should be more safe and welcoming.
Former Middleton student Nicolas Rivera explained his frustration with his AP biology class. He said he didn't learn much and the teacher didn't motivate students.
"Something needs to be changed," he said. Nicholas, a rising 11th-grader, transferred to the new Steinbrenner High School in Lutz because of his frustrations with Middleton.
Calvin Simmons, president of Middleton's alumni association, presented a list of 10 specific recommendations he hopes the School Board will implement.
It includes selecting a group of parents and alumni to help choose the new principal, forming an advisory committee that will meet each month and adding more vocational courses.
And although he wants to see a lot of change, he said he also appreciated learning about the school's achievements.
"It will make the students feel better about attending this school," he said. "That might motivate them to go from a 'D' to a 'C'."
Times staff writers Tom Marshall and Ron Matus contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.