Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fairmount Park Elementary Children's Initiative coordinator resigns amid inquiry

ST. PETERSBURG — The man who oversaw a pilot Pinellas school program modeled after New York's popular Harlem Children's Zone project resigned amid an investigation into his handling of financial and enrollment matters, records show.

Javontae Wright, 28, coordinator for Fairmount Park Elementary's Children's Initiative, resigned on June 16, the day after the district launched an inquiry and placed him on administrative leave.

Wright declined to talk in detail about the matter, but he called his resignation "the right thing to do." He said that although he is pursuing another career path, he plans to stay involved in the community.

"There are no hard feelings from me to the School Board," he said.

Farimount's Children's Initiative was launched this past school year with 72 children and a promise to help struggling families navigate the life issues that might otherwise detract from their ability to help their children succeed academically.

According to the investigation made public Thursday:

• A grandmother told an administrator that she paid Wright a $75 fee to enroll her grandchild in the program, which is free. When questioned, Wright said the money had nothing to do with the initiative, according to the report.

• Wright requested $92.77 reimbursement from the district for a buttercream sheet cake and ice cream, which was paid for with food stamps. When confronted, according to the report, Wright said he didn't mean to submit the receipt, which appeared to be altered.

• Ten students, all too old to be eligible, were enrolled in the Children's Initiative summer program. The slots were designated for students ages 4 and 5. When the error was discovered, the students were reassigned to a separate summer program, according to Valerie Brimm, Wright's supervisor.

She said none of the allegations called for a criminal investigation.

In 2007, three months before being hired by the school district, Wright was featured in the St. Petersburg Times' "Paycheck to Paycheck" series, which highlighted his struggle to make ends meet as a single parent.

Before joining Fairmount, he coordinated the school district's 5000 Role Models of Excellence program. Personnel records show he was reprimanded for repeated tardiness, absenteeism and "failure to call or document absences."

In May 2010, according to a letter Brimm wrote, Wright promised to arrange transportation for 250 students to attend a Black Coaches Association event, which St. Petersburg's mayor and several leaders from the Tampa Bay Rays and other organizations were attending. But only five students showed, all brought by a Lakewood High assistant principal. Wright did not attend either.

Brimm, director of strategic partnerships for the school district, said Thursday that she thought many of Wright's problems in the 5000 Role Models job stemmed from his having to split his time between several schools.

Wright has since been replaced by Amanda Dryden, who taught first-graders during the Children's Initiative's inaugural year.

Brimm said initial data on the pilot program indicate that students from kindergarten through second grade showed across-the-board improvement in reading and math, especially when compared to their peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

School grades released last week showed Fairmount going from an F-rated school to a D school. "Changing of leadership had no impact on what was produced," Brimm said.

The Children's Initiative plans to expand to 108 students in the fall, including a new 18-member class of 3- and 4-year-olds.

The Harlem Children's Zone program began in the early 1990s and targeted children and families in one New York City block. The effort focused on providing families with services that could reduce the obstacles poverty presents: failing schools, crumbling housing, violent crime and health issues. By 2001, the project had expanded to 100 blocks serving more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults. Today, it starts with the Baby College, a series of parent workshops for kids up to age 3.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

Fairmount Park Elementary Children's Initiative coordinator resigns amid inquiry 07/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102