Monday, November 20, 2017
Education

Black leaders encouraged, but not convinced by plan to close achievement gap

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To improve the academic fortunes of black students, Pinellas County needs a high-level administrator to focus on the achievement gap and an outsider to take a hard look at the entire school system, two leaders in the black community said Wednesday.

Goliath Davis and Ricardo Davis said Wednesday that they were encouraged by some steps taken by superintendent Mike Grego to tackle one of the county's most pressing issues. But after decades of failure by the school system, they didn't think his plan, Bridging the Gap, was "robust enough."

A point person and an objective outside view could help, they said.

"It's not clear who is responsible for doing what by when," said Ricardo Davis, president of Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, known as COQEBS. He and Goliath Davis, who are not related, discussed Grego's plan during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

The plan, which Grego unveiled in September, calls for close monitoring of struggling black students, with an emphasis on parental involvement and mentoring. It also pushes students into voluntary after-school and summer programs.

Grego said Wednesday that two administrators oversee Bridging the Gap; one of them spends about 90 percent of her time on the issue. That arrangement was determined, in part, because of a suggestion from COQEBS, he said.

But he said he didn't like the idea of just one person "owning" the issue. "I think it has to be owned by the entire school district," he said.

The COQEBS leaders emphasized that the group wants to work with Grego on efforts to close the achievement gap. They applauded him for coming out with a new plan, but said they saw some potential pitfalls.

Goliath Davis said that he feared Grego didn't have a staff in place with the ability to "deal with the magnitude of the issue." Administrators in the system will have a tendency to protect their own interests, he said.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on parental involvement, yet it's unclear whether some parents have "the capacity to do what we're asking," Goliath Davis said. Many are products of the same failed school system, he said.

Ricardo Davis said that the plan doesn't seem to be underpinned by successful practices within or outside the school system, despite the fact that most other large urban school districts in Florida have notably better outcomes with black students.

In reading scores, for instance, black students in Pinellas were 8 or more percentage points behind black students in Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Orange counties last year. They lagged even further behind their white peers.

Grego said he disagreed that the school district hasn't looked at best practices elsewhere. His staffers have researched efforts in Broward County and Maryland. Just recently, he said, Pinellas administrators visited Seminole County to check out a special curriculum.

Grego said he wants to build something sustainable to narrow and close the achievement gap. The district has oversight, he said, from a variety of places, including COQEBS.

"There's enough oversight. What really needs to be done is the actual work," he said.

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