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Pinellas superintendent wants kids to spend more time in school

ST. PETERSBURG — Two weeks into his new job, Pinellas schools superintendent Mike Grego says it's clear to him that many children need more time in the classroom. On Monday he said he wants every school in the county to start offering students extra class hours to boost their academic performance.

He has told principals throughout the county to come up with their own plans for extending the school day, or possibly adding Saturday hours. The voluntary extra time would be spent on reading, math, science and writing — and not only for struggling students, but also for good performers who would do even better with additional challenges.

"More time with high quality instruction provides great returns," Grego said, explaining why he believes the program would help Pinellas students.

One of Grego's major charges when he was hired was to improve lackluster student achievement in a district once considered a model for the state. Earlier this year, Pinellas came in 49th out of Florida's 67 districts in a ranking based on FCAT scores.

Grego discussed his plans during a visit to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Monday and answered additional questions from a reporter afterward. He said he also plans to discuss his ideas more at a School Board work session today.

Grego said he has long believed students benefit academically when they have more quality classroom time. He came up with this plan after two weeks of touring Pinellas schools and asking principals how they would extend learning opportunities beyond the traditional school day.

He said some principals already had devised such plans, even before his arrival on the job.

Despite lean financial times, Grego said he believes the district could pay for this expansion by tapping sources such as federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students, a program called Supplemental Academic Intervention, and possibly other sources.

He stressed that one plan won't work everywhere in the county.

In fact, he said it's important for each school to develop a "customized plan that fits the needs of these kids," tailored to the school's students, their parents and community, he said.

One example already in place is "Ridgecrest 360," an after-school program that Ridgecrest Elementary has been developing, along with several nearby community organizations, tailored to some unique aspects of that school.

About half of Ridgecrest's roughly 780 students attend a magnet program, and about half are neighborhood kids enrolled in a traditional curriculum. The neighborhood children are mostly from low-income families, while many magnet students are from more affluent families. So the school does not qualify for the Title I funds for lower-income schools.

Principal Michael Moss said Anona Methodist Church, the Pinellas Education Foundation and other community organizations have pitched in to provide money and other resources so that about 70 students can receive an extra hour of instruction after normal school hours.

He calls it "a true model of the community coming together to support their neighborhood school."

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said he sees several positive aspects to Grego's plan.

Among teachers, "the most critical concern that we hear in the schools on a daily basis is 'I don't have enough time to teach,' '' he said.

So it will help to give students more "time on task.'' He also praised the fact that the program would be voluntary for teachers, who would be paid for their additional hours.

Still, many details remain to be worked out. Ogletree said teachers, not just principals, should be involved in developing these programs.

School Board Chairwoman Robin Wikle called the extra instruction "an exciting concept" but said she wanted to hear more about it from Grego today.

School Board member Terry Krassner said she thinks the idea could be popular among parents. She would have welcomed it when she was principal at St. Petersburg's Westgate Elementary School, she said.

"Parents would probably be excited and I hope our students would be, as long as it was customized for each level of learning," she said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com.

Pinellas superintendent wants kids to spend more time in school 10/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:59am]

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