Friday, August 17, 2018
Education

The comeback at North Shore Elementary is real as families rediscover their neighborhood school

ST. PETERSBURG — In his 13 years living in northeast St. Petersburg, Kenneth Strickland had heard rumors about the city’s public schools being subpar. So two years ago, with a real estate agent, he drove through the Westchase area in Hillsborough County, thinking he might have to move to find good schools for his toddler twin boys.

Then Strickland found Friends of North Shore Elementary, a new group of current and prospective parents rallying around the zoned school for the wealthier neighborhoods of downtown St. Petersburg, the Old Northeast, Snell Isle and Northeast Park. Instead of applying to competitive programs at magnet and fundamental schools or enrolling in a pricey private school, they were taking a chance on the school they would often drive past on First Street North.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Surrounded by choices, some Pinellas families just want the school down the street

The group created a nonprofit and gave more than $27,000 for the school’s needs, renovated the front office for curb appeal and introduced a smorgasbord after-school activities from band to yoga. They made folders and brochures and held events at Green Bench Brewing to combat the rumors that nearly drove families like the Stricklands away.

Instead of accepting coveted seats at Bay Vista Fundamental and Jamerson Elementary, the Strickland twins started kindergarten at North Shore in August. They do yoga, STEM team, Challenge Island, soccer and Spanish after school.

And more families are following suit, proving that for all the Florida laws that dictate how to improve schools and all the millions spent on those efforts, there’s simpler formula that also works. Often, a committed and organized group of parents can make all the difference.

"It was probably a bit of arrogance on our side … to go in and try to fix the school," Strickland, now the president of Friends of North Shore Elementary, told a cafeteria full of optimistic parents and squealing children at an open house earlier this month. "We actually had, all along, a great school in our neighborhood. It was a perception issue."

• • •

Things were very different at North Shore’s open house in 2015.

That was the first year Friends of North Shore was involved. Skeptical parents with not yet school-aged children packed the room. A full panel of Pinellas County school district officials came to answer their pointed questions and concerns.

Yes, the school had earned a D grade from the state. Yes, the school receives Title I funds for having a high population of low-income students. And yes, the school did not have an "attractor" program or a feeder to a magnet middle school.

The school had lost nearly 100 students in five years, and it was up to the Friends of North Shore Elementary group to replenish it with new families.

Two years later, it seems to be working.

North Shore’s kindergarten enrollment has grown 23 percent, from 56 to 69 students, the fifth-largest increase of any neighborhood elementary school in Pinellas County over the last two years. The school hired another kindergarten teacher to meet the demand.

North Shore also has attracted prominent families, including those of Hank Hine, the executive director of the Dali Museum, and Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays.

At least one nearby private school has noticed the movement. Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg said it knew of one family who left for North Shore.

"We are glad our local public school has community support," said headmaster Mike Murphy. "We believe what is good for the community is good for Shorecrest and St. Petersburg."

That’s validating for North Shore’s principal, Cooper Dawson, who has led the school since 2013 and says she’s wondered for years why more families weren’t enrolling there.

"I think now that people consider public school an option, or at least North Shore an option, where they probably haven’t in the past," Dawson said. "It does make me feel good. … You want parents to have a real option."

Marci Girard Emerson, one of the founders of the Friends of North Shore movement, ended up sending her son to Canterbury School of Florida this fall. The tipping point, she said, was Canterbury’s religious bent.

"I still believe in the school," Emerson said of North Shore. She still keeps track of finances for the school’s nonprofit.

"I still believe that more families need to know the stories behind it," she said.

• • •

For all of North Shore’s new promise, change has come more slowly on some fronts.

The school currently has a C grade, though officials say that may change when the new wave of students take state assessments beginning in third grade. And other factors still work to keep neighborhood kids out of the school.

Special programs, including the magnet at Perkins Elementary and Bay Vista and Lakeview fundamental schools, still remain popular choices for families in the North Shore zone, while a sizeable number of North Shore students still come from the zones for Sexton, Lakewood, Maximo and Woodlawn elementary schools.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

But more families living in the North Shore zone are looking at their neighborhood school in a favorable light. While slightly fewer public school students live in the North Shore zone this year — 499 compared to 534 in 2015 — more of them are going to the school.

Now, 52 percent of those students are attending North Shore, compared to 49 percent in 2015.

Dana Crum brought her 4-year-old daughter, Addison, to North Shore’s recent open house. Addison felt at home that night, pulling books off the shelf in the media center and playing with other students in the cafeteria.

North Shore, Crum said, is at the top of her list, with Jamerson.

"I like the hometown feel," she said. "Makes me feel like when I was a kid."

Crum said she wasn’t considering Sexton Elementary, the school for which she is zoned.

And that’s where the Friends of North Shore Elementary will set its sights next: other neighborhood schools that could use a little love. The thinking is if neighborhood schools became the number one option for families in the zone, it would free up fundamental and magnet schools for families who don’t have many options.

"At the end of the day, it’s about building a community identity, a true sense of neighborhood and bringing families together," Strickland said. "Traditionally, neighborhood schools have been really good at doing that. It’s something this community has been missing for a long time."

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

 
Comments
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco schools don’t plan to move teachers over state scores

Florida school districts recently received their teachers’ state "value-added" scores, and some scrambled to reassign those who got poor marks out of schools in turnaround status.But Pasco County wasn’t one of them, despite state rules relating to pe...
Published: 08/15/18