Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Report: Inexperienced teachers a problem in south St. Petersburg schools, but improvements noted

Students at five failing elementary schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods were far more likely to be taught by an inexperienced teacher than students enrolled in higher-performing schools in Pinellas County, a state review has found.

State officials found that teachers who had three years of experience or less accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the staff at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementary schools. At some higher-ranked schools, that number was between 4 and 8 percent. State officials reviewed teacher data from the 2014-15 school year.

The state review, released this month, echoed a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation, "Failure Factories," which showed how the school district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for elementary schools that became predominantly black and impoverished. The Times found that more than 100 teachers with 10 or more years' experience fled the five schools, only to be replaced by less senior teachers. More than half of those teachers quit each year.

Research shows that teachers are less effective in their first three years of teaching. Students in the five schools, most of whom live in poverty, are among the neediest in the county.

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego said that the number of veteran teachers in the five schools has gone up in the past two years. District officials have increased pay incentives to attract experienced teachers, held job fairs for the seven lowest-performing schools, and created a "transformation team" to oversee improvement efforts.

"We continue to implement those strategies," he said.

For the academic year that began this month, the district does not yet have data on the number of teachers in the schools with three years or less of experience. But officials did provide figures for the number of first-year teachers at some of the schools. For instance, three of the 40 teachers at Maximo Elementary are in their first year. At Fairmount Park, it was seven out of 53 teachers, and at Campbell Park, four out of 53.

Grego said he was "thrilled" by the report overall, however, because state officials found no major problems in the district's program to support impoverished students. In the report, district officials were praised for a "positive shift" in the oversight of the federally funded program. State officials also noted the "effective communication" of district administrators and the "significant investment" the district made last year by hiring TNTP, a national nonprofit, to train teachers and administrators in the five schools.

Most of the state review was limited to a one-year period, according to the Florida Department of Education. The department reviewed the 2014-15 school year for teacher experience and the previous three years for financial information. State officials found no problems with how the district used federal funds for poor children in the past two years. They still are reviewing the 2013-14 school year.

The department started its review of the program nearly a year ago, after a request by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. The Tampa Democrat, whose district used to include part of southern Pinellas, asked for an investigation of what she called the "crisis" in the schools.

A separate civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education is ongoing. That investigation is focused more on whether black children are being systematically discriminated against in Pinellas.

In a written statement, Castor said that the state has the primary responsibility to answer questions about how Pinellas used federal dollars for children in poverty. Based on the report, that question "remains unclear."

"I am frustrated at the pace of these investigations, but am pleased that the school district has made positive changes to benefit the students in south St. Petersburg. Overall progress will require sustained efforts and significant community support," she said.

The Times series, which analyzed nearly a decade of financial data, found that four of the five elementary schools in south St. Petersburg were funded erratically after 2007, despite promises that they would get more money than other schools. A few of the schools received less money in some years, even with additional federal funds.

Grego dramatically increased the amount of money flowing to the five schools after he was hired in 2012. The state didn't review years before his arrival.

State officials provided some recommendations to the school district. They found that some school administrators didn't fully understand how the federal funds could be spent. They also suggested that the school district distribute federal money to schools based on need rather than a set amount. Lower-performing schools appeared to have a greater need, but received the same as other schools in the federal program, officials found.

District officials have until later this month to alert the state to any errors in the report.

Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at [email protected] Follow @Fitz_ly.

Comments
Special Olympians shine at county summer games

Special Olympians shine at county summer games

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was one of those perfect days, when sunscreen and shade are in high demand, smiles are aplenty and the camaraderie on the field trumps the thrill of victory.About 600 Special Olympians and unified athletes from west Pasco schools...
Published: 02/23/18
Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

ZEPHRYHILLS — On a Thursday morning in a small warehouse off Gall Boulevard, a well-oiled machine of goodwill is cranking. At the Thomas Promise Foundation, volunteers Carlos and Robin Clothier, pack boxes of macaroni and cheese, granola bars, apple ...
Published: 02/23/18
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Published: 02/22/18
Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, a dining hall at New York University advertised a special meal in honor of Black History Month. On the menu? Barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, and two beverages with racist connotations: Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored...
Published: 02/22/18
Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

With high school students from Parkland in the Capitol this week advocating for gun control, the bill that would have allowed superintendents and principals to designate trained employees who can carry concealed weapons at school didn’t get heard as ...
Published: 02/22/18
How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

When students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time next Tuesday, they will be greeted by additional counselors and law enforcement."There will be a plethora of counselors and services at the school," Broward Schools Superintende...
Published: 02/21/18
School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appears to have been in line for a sizable inheritance. He’ll never get to spend it — except perhaps on defense attorneys.The amount could be enough to compel a judge to order him to hire a private lawyer, rather ...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

DADE CITY — A Pasco High School student was taken into custody Tuesday amid accusations of threatening violence against the school. The campus was not at risk, school district officials said. But they made clear they take each threat seriously, and t...
Published: 02/21/18
‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

LITHIA — Students, faculty and staff recently scurried inside the Newsome High School gym for a morning assembly to hear a message about bullying from a man who kids once taunted.Newsome’s principal Carla Bruning invited actor Quinton Aaron, star of ...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

RIVERVIEW — Spoto High School English Department Head Adam Sherman can’t help but wonder if a program he introduced to Spartan students could have changed the trajectory of Nickolas Cruz’s life before he gunned down and killed 17 people on Valentine’...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18