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Tampa Bay Times honored for 'Failure Factories' investigation

Students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary, one of the five St. Petersburg schools featured in the Tampa Bay Times' "Failure Factories" series. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]

Students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary, one of the five St. Petersburg schools featured in the Tampa Bay Times' "Failure Factories" series. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

A Tampa Bay Times series that traced the decline of schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods won a third national journalism prize on Tuesday, earning recognition from the American Society of News Editors.

Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia won the Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting for their work on "Failure Factories," which described how the Pinellas County School Board resegregated five schools and then neglected them until they became some of the worst in the state.

Judges praised the series as a "striking impeachment of the status quo."

"The series resulted in immediate impact," they wrote. "The Times team exemplified the power and importance of local investigative reporting and why it matters."

FAILURE FACTORIES: How five once-average schools were turned into the worst in Florida

On Friday, Harvard University's Nieman Foundation announced that the Times team had won the 2015 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism. And last month, Fitzpatrick, Gartner and LaForgia won the 2015 George Polk Award for education reporting.

"Failure Factories" focused on the school district's inaction in the face of violence, teacher turnover and rampant academic failure at five south St. Petersburg elementary schools, and it has spurred a string of reforms even in the past few weeks.

Earlier this month, the School Board voted to ease discipline policies that unfairly targeted black children for harsh punishments. Florida lawmakers wrote a $400,000 line item into the state budget specifically to fund programs at the schools, Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose. And after hiring a special administrator solely to turn around the five schools, the district announced he would get his own team.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in a 50-year-old federal desegregation suit are going back to court in a bid to force the School Board to keep its promises to the county's black children. Community leaders took a similar step in state court.

Despite the added attention and extra resources, children in the schools still are trailing far behind their peers across the state. Test scores made public last month showed that all five schools remain among the worst in Florida.

The education series wasn't the only Times story recognized by ASNE on Tuesday.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas and former staff writer Kameel Stanley were named finalists for the Dori J. Maynard Award for Diversity in Journalism for their work on "Biking While Black," a series that focused on disparities in policing Tampa's black neighborhoods. Tim Nickens, Times editor of editorials, was recognized as a finalist for the Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership.

Tampa Bay Times honored for 'Failure Factories' investigation 03/29/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 29, 2016 7:10pm]
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