Saturday, November 18, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: Baby steps for struggling Pinellas schools

RECOMMENDED READING


In the wake of a rash of police shootings of blacks nationwide — some justified, others not — the Black Lives Matter movement was born. And once again a great, often heated conversation has been joined over the issue of race relations across the country.

Fair enough. We need to do a better job of talking about and acting upon so many lingering disparities within our justice system.

But you would be hard pressed to find a more vivid example of where the rubber meets the road when it comes to Black Lives Matter than the five struggling elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, which were the focus of the Tampa Bay Times Pulitzer Prize-winning "Failure Factories" investigation that exposed a deepening educational morass at Lakewood, Fairmount Park, Melrose, Campbell Park and Maximo elementary schools.

The series delved into the result of broken promises for more money and resources to schools that became predominately poor and black after the end of desegregation efforts in 2007. It was bad. It was an insult to a school district that ignored these schools. And it was a dire omen over the future of the city's black and poor children who were essentially being told their lives didn't matter.

But they do matter.

It is a tired, old axiom that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It is so tired, so worn, because it is so true.

Days ago, the Department of Education released its annual grades of the state's public schools based on how students perform on the annual Florida Standards Assessment test. And there was some good news, some so-so news and some bad news.

Maximo Elementary, which had been an F school for the past five years, received a grade of C. Lakewood and Fairmount Park moved up from an F to a D grade. And Melrose and Campbell Park remained F schools.

For three of the "Failure Factory" schools these were baby steps. Itty bitty steps. But steps forward nonetheless. A journey of a thousand hopes and dreams begins with a single child sitting a classroom when a lightbulb of learning turns on.

Obviously, all these schools have huge remaining challenges before them. But a C is better than a D. And a D is better than an F. And three out five schools improving is at least a start.

As the "Failure Factories" series unfolded, Pinellas school superintendent Michael Grego dedicated more money to the distressed schools. He added more mental health counselors and classroom aides. Principals and teachers were replaced. And things began to change, albeit incrementally, for the better.

To be sure, the modest gains at Maximo, Lakewood and Fairmount Park are hardly cause for popping champagne corks and fireworks. But for the first time in many years, too many years, the children at these schools are being given a chance to succeed and to know their lives matter.

Education is very hard, frustrating work. Success depends on a fragile alchemy of dedicated teachers, visionary administrators, involved parents, better resources, safer and less stressful communities and children arriving at the school door able and willing to learn.

What now? Well the speeches, the parades, the protests are all very moving. But in the end a B is better than a C. And a C is better than a D. And a D is better than an F — one grade, one student, one school at a time. And achieving even these simple goals is not just Grego's challenge. It is Pinellas County's communitywide mandate, too.

Black lives do matter. And nothing begins to accomplish that self-evident aspiration more than the reality of recognizing all classrooms matter.

Comments

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/17/17

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17