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School Board questions leaders of troubled St. Petersburg charter school

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members grilled leaders of the troubled Imagine charter school on Tuesday, and now the district staff will determine whether the St. Petersburg-based school should be allowed to continue.

"For four years, you've gotten one D and three F's," board member Peggy O'Shea said. After listening to representatives explain their new staff and plans for future improvements, she said, "I guess I'm just questioning why it took so long."

With four years of poor performance, "we've lost almost the whole generation of elementary kids in that time," O'Shea said.

Leaders of the school Tuesday spoke to the School Board in a work session, a more informal meeting of the board at which no votes are taken.

They said the school has a new principal, Carolyn Wilson, an experienced former educator in Pinellas schools, and a new curriculum specialist. They promised teachers will get enhanced training. Students have an extended school day. And an effort is being made to get parents more involved, including helping some of them improve their own literacy.

Governing board chairman Clarence E. Davis said Imagine takes on students who tend to be a year or two behind grade level, so even some who make a full year's progress will still appear to be behind.

But he and other Imagine officials couldn't answer some basic questions, such as how many of the school's 364 students are in elementary and how many are in middle school.

O'Shea noted that Imagine is not the only school that has low-performing students, but others educate them with more success. Imagine is on the state's list of the 100 lowest-performing schools and is the lowest-performing school in Pinellas.

"Why are your results so much lower and how will this make a difference?" O'Shea asked, after hearing the school's plans to increase teacher training and minimize staff turnover. "We need to know why Imagine should continue to operate.''

Board member Terry Krassner said she was concerned over the fact that six of 12 grade school teachers and six of eight middle school teachers are new to the school.

"The mobility rate of the teaching staff and the administrators is huge," she said. "You can't build on training that you had last year, because you've got to start all over again."

Board member Glenton Gilzean asked Imagine officials what the district could do to support them. "Those are still our kids," he said of the Imagine students.

Davis said afterward that he appreciated that point and the board's more pointed questions, too. "I feel very optimistic," about the school's prospects, he said.

Former Pinellas schools superintendent John Stewart recommended against allowing the charter school to continue, but the School Board voted 4-3 in July to give it another chance.

On Tuesday, superintendent Mike Grego called the discussion a "great conversation," and said his staff would carefully examine the school's proposals for improvements.

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

School Board questions leaders of troubled St. Petersburg charter school 10/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 5:48pm]

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