After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that aims to tackle the achievement gap in 10 years and settles a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students.
"I'm an optimist. I think this is going to work," board member Linda Lerner said. "I like things that are clearly put. And I think we have the sustainability and continuous quality improvement."
Representatives from the Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students, known as COQEBS, were present for the board's discussion and its 7-0 vote. The group took over as plaintiffs for the lawsuit in 2010 and spent the last few months in sometimes tense negotiations with the district.
After the vote, COQEBS members, their attorney, School Board members and district staff rose from their seats, shook hands and hugged each other to celebrate the plan's passage.
The strategies in the 81-page plan address six broad themes: graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs, and minority hiring. Officials have tried to address racial gaps in those areas in the past, but they say the new plan contains features that will improve on those efforts.
For example, district officials will be required to provide more in-depth data, monitor progress quarterly and report their findings. The district also will step up efforts to hire more black teachers and test more black children for gifted programs.
The plan is expected to be implemented this year, but first must be approved by a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge at a hearing that the public will be encouraged to attend.
Tuesday marked the first chance since the plan was unveiled last week that School Board members could comment.
"We finally have something that everyone can focus on," said board member Carol Cook.
Former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor Goliath Davis, who has long been involved with COQEBS, said he would begin to get the word to the community about the new plan.
"I didn't want to start looking at community (involvement) until we had you guys on board and the accountability here," he told board members.
Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.