Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Education

Pinellas 'Transformation Zone' schools showing signs of progress, officials say

At eight of the lowest performing schools in Pinellas County, district officials see promising signs: academic growth, reductions in suspensions and discipline referrals, better teaching and improved attendance.

The question is whether the improvements will translate into stronger academic performance and higher test scores.

"We're seeing continued growth in these schools, which gives us hope," Dan Evans, the district's head of accountability and research, said this week during a community meeting in south St. Petersburg, where six of the eight schools are located. Two other schools are in Clearwater.

The school district created the "Transformation Zone" last year, providing the schools with an influx of resources, including a leadership team to provide training and support, help recruit and train teachers, and oversee improvement efforts.

The district and the teachers union also agreed to increase pay incentives for teachers — up to $25,000 a year for the most experienced teachers who perform extra duties. They also added time to the school day.

District officials also took some employees in January from the Pinellas zone to visit a school-improvement zone in Memphis, which has been credited with improving schools and closing achievement gaps between black and white students.

Goliath Davis, former police chief and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, said he heard from teachers who came back from the trip feeling like, "It's not the kids. It's our approach to the kids."

He said, "I thought that was very profound because we've talked about that for a very long time."

According to a draft of a midyear evaluation of the zone completed by Evans' office, more than half of teachers surveyed in the schools said the bonus pay motivated them to work in the schools. A similar percentage said it might encourage them to stay.

Five of the eight schools have had fewer than five teachers leave this year. Maximo lost six, while Fairmount Park lost seven and Melrose lost eight, according to the report. Some teachers have been forced to resign.

Most teachers also were happy with the addition of classroom aides.

Discipline referrals and suspensions are down — which could be the result of a combination of factors, such as better student behavior, a change in the attitudes of school employees toward students, and a change in district policy that decreased the total number of days students can be kicked out of school.

"When you have better instruction, tighter instructional model, with less time for kids to be off task, and kids are more in tuned to the lesson, all of that leads to less behavior," Evans said.

Lewis Brinson, the district's new minority achievement officer, said if suspensions and discipline referrals are down then the schools should soon see an increase in academic performance. It can't be that schools stop disciplining students to keep numbers artificially low.

"It does us no good to keep kids in school and not teach them," he said.

Evans gave an overview of his report, which was still being finished, this week to the Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students. The report is a "checkpoint" to assess what's working and what's not working in the zone.

The zone includes: Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementary schools, and Midtown Academy, all in St. Petersburg, and Sandy Lane and High Point elementary schools in Clearwater. Not all schools receive the same level of support.

Of the schools, D-rated High Point had the highest performance and growth on internal tests. Melrose, an F school, also had "high levels" of growth in reading and math. Maximo, which jumped to a C last year from an F, has continued to make "impressive" strides, Evans said.

Comments
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Eckerd College student critically injured in campus accident just before graduation

Eckerd College student critically injured in campus accident just before graduation

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student fell from a ladder on campus in the hours before her graduation ceremony and remained hospitalized Wednesday with head injuries.Chicago native Rebecca Ryan Lavin-Burgher, known as Becca on campus and RyRy to...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Published: 05/21/18
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Published: 05/20/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Hooper: SEL lends a solution to the increasingly toxic world of kids

An incident recently arose between students at Jesuit High School and Academy of the Holy Names that involved allegations of cyberbullying, homophobia, misogyny and assault.It only involved a fraction of the students at two of Tampa’s most prestigiou...
Updated: 3 hours ago
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18