Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New Gibbs High principal vows to take the Pinellas school from an "F" to a "B"

ST. PETERSBURG — Dirt-road sprints. Four blocks at a time.

Again. Again. Again.

The kid at Gibbs High was fast enough to get to the state track championship his junior year, but not fast enough to make the finals. The following summer, he pushed himself harder.

Now 45, Kevin Gordon still has a need for speed. As Gibbs' new principal, he must revive an F-rated school.

In his head, a stopwatch is ticking.

Since mid June, the 1982 Gibbs graduate has been working 11-hour days, preparing the foundation for a "100-point challenge" to his faculty. Under Florida's school grading formula, that's how many points it will take to lift Gibbs from an F to a B.

Gordon says Gibbs can do it in one year.

• • •

Gibbs has stumbled despite being part of the lifeblood of the black community. It has floundered even though the Pinellas school district spent $56 million rebuilding it. Walk into the spotless main office, with its royal blue carpet and hovering lights, and more than a dozen portraits of former Gibbs principals — most of them black men, distinguished and driven — stare.

They can't be happy.

In 2008, only 29 percent of Gibbs sophomores were reading at grade level. Among black sophomores, the number falls to 13 percent.

"I want Gibbs to live up to the pride that the community has in Gibbs," Gordon said.

He is soft spoken and low key. He is careful with his words. As a senior at Gibbs, he was named "best dressed," and if anything, he is more crisply tailored now.

He has been married three times. He has four sons, ages 27, 23, 10 and 6.

His parents are nurses. His father is a Gibbs graduate.

He says Gibbs is home.

A yearbook photo shows him on the basketball court, where he also starred, taking a shot while plowing through a defender. "No stopping me now," the caption says.

Gordon was the type of athlete "who would do fantastic even without a coach," said former track coach Gary Dedinsky, who was at Gibbs 33 years before leaving for Clearwater High in 2006. "You didn't have to think of motivational games to keep him interested."

A hamstring injury kept Gordon from the state track finals his senior year. But he was impressive enough to earn a track scholarship to Florida State, where he became an All-American.

His deep ties to Gibbs are giving him an early boost.

"He's a Gibbs alum," said supporter and St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis. "I'm sure he'll do all he can to muster the resources to motivate the kids and the parents to work hard."

"He'll be a role model," said Cassandra Jackson, a Gibbs parent and president of the football boosters. He can say, "I attended Gibbs. I was successful. I went off to college."

But Jackson and others also tempered their expectations.

Gordon can't do it alone, they said. A lot depends not only on what he does with Gibbs, but what the state and district do.

Said former Gibbs parent Sami Scott, "Without the resources, (Gordon) is just a body with a title."

• • •

Gordon earned an economics degree. He aimed for a career in finance.

In 1987, he was working at SunTrust bank when he was asked to do a business education activity at St. Petersburg High. In the classroom, something clicked.

"It was like, 'Wow, I really like this,' " he said.

Gordon taught social studies in middle school for six years.

He was an assistant principal at Clearwater High for seven years and principal at John Hopkins Middle for two.

At Gibbs, he's making $90,521 a year.

In 2005, then-superintendent Clayton Wilcox transferred Gordon from John Hopkins to High Point Elementary. Gordon said he doesn't know why Wilcox made the decision. He said he was disappointed.

"We were right in the middle of making some major changes," he said.

In the end, though, it prepared him well for Gibbs, he said.

Like Gibbs, High Point's demographics have been shifting rapidly, with more poor and minority students. During Gordon's term, they made strong gains in reading.

Gibbs will get a reading blitz, too, he said.

The school will hire more reading teachers; use more sophisticated tools to pinpoint reading deficiencies; and require history, science and other teachers to weave reading instruction into their content.

Gordon also vowed a different approach to student discipline, which teachers told him was their No. 1 priority. For students, there will be more awareness of expectations and consequences. For staff, more monitoring and enforcement.

Those changes can help Gibbs erase its scarlet letter, Gordon said. And there's no reason it can't happen soon.

Trying to climb from an F to a B in one year might be ambitious, he said. But it's not unrealistic.

"We tell our teachers we want high expectations for our students," he said. "Why should we be any different?"

Times staff writer Donna Winchester and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at or (727) 893-8873.

New Gibbs High principal vows to take the Pinellas school from an "F" to a "B" 07/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 10:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What ever happened to the Zika epidemic?


    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika, sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz Institute in Recife, Brazil. Cases of the virus are down dramatically this year in Florida, the result of awareness efforts, experts say. But the public, they add, should not let its guard down. [Associated Press]
  2. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again


    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.
  4. What you need to know for Monday, Sept. 25


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Craig Butz, executive director of Pepin Academies and former professional hockey player, died in a crash with a boat Saturday. His daughter Teagan, 4, remained in critical condition Sunday afternoon. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   TIMES, 2013]
  5. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.