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Close Imagine Charter, Pinellas superintendent says

LARGO — Saddled with its third F grade in four years, Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg could soon be history.

Pinellas County superintendent John Stewart told board members Monday that he recommends shuttering the elementary school as soon as possible. He also warned of staffing changes at six other low-performing schools.

Stewart's comments came less than two months after asking the board to renew Imagine's contract with the 300-student school for one year. At the time, board members complied by a 5-1 vote.

"There will be persons who ask why didn't you do that three months ago," Stewart said during Monday's school board retreat. "We didn't do that three months ago because there was no grade that was issued to them."

When school grades were issued last week, Imagine dropped from a D to an F.

Results from the school's 2011-12 FCAT testing showed 54 percent of Imagine's third graders scored a Level 1 in reading, the lowest possible score. It was the worst third-grade reading performance of any school in Pinellas except for Life Force Academy, which the board already closed.

Told of Stewart's comments, Imagine principal Angela Prince noted that many schools throughout Florida dropped a letter grade due in part to new FCAT standards. "Unfortunately, we were a D and we dropped to an F," she said.

"I do still feel strongly that our school is making progress," Prince said, withholding further comment until she hears directly from the school district.

Stewart said that if the board votes to close the Imagine, it would be given 90 days to shut down. The board's next meeting is July 24, but Stewart was unsure if he'd have the recommendation ready by then.

But Imagine won't be the only school coming under scrutiny before school starts in August, Stewart said.

He told board members he also wants to "restructure the staffs" at six schools that made the state Department of Educations' list of the 100 lowest performing: Fairmount Park Elementary, Melrose Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, Lakewood Elementary and Campbell Park in St. Petersburg, and High Point Elementary in Clearwater.

When asked afterward exactly what he meant by "restructure," Stewart said there would be no change in the principals at those schools, but he did expect some staffing changes.

He told board members that his staff had difficulty moving six teachers from Melrose Elementary who were on improvement plans — an issue he credited to "the bargaining agreement" with the teachers union.

He said that too often other schools don't want to take teachers who are being mandatorily transferred out of their schools.

"I think it's time to step outside the bargaining agreement and say, 'Cease and desist, these six schools are going to get the kind of attention they need,' " Stewart said.

Leaders from the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association were not in attendance, and PCTA president Kim Black could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Board member Terry Krassner spoke up and pointed out that many high poverty schools like the six mentioned are often already reeling from the effects of teacher turnover.

"They don't typically have the same staff two years in a row," she said.

Stewart said that he would provide more detail about plans affecting those schools following additional board discussion.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Close Imagine Charter, Pinellas superintendent says 07/16/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 16, 2012 11:41pm]
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