From hiring a new leader at the top to focusing on early education in the hopes of helping to better prepare low-income students for school, the Pinellas County School District has some major decisions ahead. Among the district's priorities: "raising graduation rates, narrowing proficiency gaps and increasing the number of highly effective teachers," superintendent John Stewart wrote in a welcome back to school message to parents. Here's a look at some of the top issues brewing:
The Pinellas County School Board plans to hire a new superintendent by December. Board members will interview three candidates for the top job: Mike Grego, former superintendent of Osceola County; Constance Jones, chief academic officer of Lee County; and Christian Cutter, an assistant superintendent in Colorado. If no one stands out, the board could do another search.
The School Board also could get two new members after the November election. Board members Janet Clark in District 1 and Glenton Gilzean in District 7 face multiple challengers for their seats.
The district's tentative budget for the 2012-13 school year includes $14 million in cuts, including a change in employee health insurance and reductions to departmental budgets, contracted services and overtime payments.
District officials also are counting on voters to approve a renewal of its half-mill property tax, which supplements teacher salaries and pays for art supplies, band uniforms, musical instruments and other items related to the arts.
For the first time, teachers last year received performance evaluations based in large part on student test scores. The new system, required by state law, will get some revisions this year. It includes four rankings for teachers, including highly effective, effective, needs improvement/developing and unsatisfactory. Student test scores will make up 50 percent of the evaluation, if three years of data are available. Otherwise, scores will represent 40 percent.
Seven Pinellas schools will be under intense scrutiny this year after they were ranked among the 100 lowest performing elementary schools by the state Department of Education. Stewart said the schools will get additional support in the coming school year and could see some staffing changes.
The schools are Imagine Charter School, Fairmount Park, Melrose, Woodlawn, Lakewood and Campbell Park elementaries in St. Petersburg, and High Point Elementary in Clearwater.
The district is poised to become Pinellas County's next Head Start provider. District officials plan to submit an application by Aug. 14 and expect to hear back by December. School leaders have been putting a greater focus on reaching children at a younger age. Right now, the county's Head Start program serves about 2,000 children up to age 5 from low-income homes. If approved, the district would take over the program in the 2013-14 school year.