Efforts are under way throughout Tampa Bay to close the achievement gap at underperforming schools. The schools in question are the worst of the worst, with students who consistently perform so badly that state officials are on the verge of ordering significant measures such as closure or state turnaround plans.
School officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are moving quickly to try to raise student performance and narrow the gap. At Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, officials hired new teachers and administrators, offer students an extra hour of reading daily and focus on correcting behavioral issues so that classrooms are environments more conducive to learning. It's much the same story at Tampa's Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Students there have a longer school day and attend Saturday academies to boost performance. Reading coaches and intervention specialists work with struggling students. There's extra instruction for standardized tests, the results of which are far more important for schools on the brink.
Students at both schools are poor and nearly all receive free lunches. Many of them move often and change schools frequently. Others struggle with routine challenges such as having a meal during nonschool hours, living in a safe home and getting a good night's sleep uninterrupted by commotion from the neighborhood.
As educators try to meet the nearly Sisyphean challenge of educating these students who have already fallen far behind their peers, one thing is clear. Teachers cannot do it alone. Parental involvement is key. So, too, is an embrace by the broader community. Those who can volunteer at troubled schools should step up, regardless of whether they have a personal connection to the institutions or its students. Businesses that can donate resources or time or provide students with incentives for good grades or positive behavior must dig deep. All of us should see educating children who struggle to reach their full academic potential as our shared responsibility. If not, their plight will become our shared problem down the road.
Helping these students as we juggle the demands of our own lives will be tough, sometimes thankless work that may not bear fruit for years to come. But it is what the situation demands: each one, reach one.
Sherri Day is a member of the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.