Just three years ago, Melrose Elementary in south St. Petersburg was rated the lowest-performing elementary school in the state, earning an F with an exclamation point. New school grades are out, and Melrose jumped from an F to a C. There is a long way to go, but this progress shows what's possible when a school district, principals, teachers, parents and students focus on improvement. It also tells state legislators that charter schools and vouchers are not the only way to improve student performance.
Melrose was one of five St. Petersburg elementary schools featured in "Failure Factories," a Times investigative series that found the school district resegregated them and then failed to deliver on promises of increased funding and support. Since then the district has refocused on these schools, creating a Transformation Zone that ensures these five and others receive specific attention. It is paying off, with Melrose and Campbell Park rising to C's, and Lakewood and Maximo earning D's.
There is more work to be done, of course. Only a third of Melrose students are at grade level in math. But 61 percent of its students are improving. And 73 percent of the students in the bottom quarter made gains.
This progress occurred in a district swimming against a state tide of neglect for traditional public schools. Lawmakers should remember that not far from Melrose, a charter school opened to offer a better option for students in failing schools. University Prep failed, and the Pinellas School District took over to avoid displacing the students. It is open again as a public school, Midtown Academy, and it can look to Melrose as a public school that is headed in a positive direction.