Gibbs High School, once the pride of St. Petersburg's black community, hit bottom in June when the state gave it an F, the only failing grade received by a secondary school in the Tampa Bay area. Things needed to change, and fast. The new principal, Kevin Gordon, is doing just that, telling students that droopy pants will be zip-tied and that cell phones must be off. No gum, either.
It's only a few days into the school year, but so far Gordon is sending all the right messages. It's his job to create an atmosphere where teachers can teach and students can learn. But he cannot do it alone.
He needs and deserves the support of parents and the overall community as he tries to return a once-proud school to academic excellence. Parents must do their part and reinforce what students are now being told loud and clear at school.
The problems at Gibbs did not happen overnight. A toxic combination of troubles continued the school's downward spiral last year. Discipline issues were rampant — district data show that 22.6 percent of its students were suspended at some point. And an embarrassingly low number of students were reading at grade level.
Now that the F forced the district to pay serious attention to the school's problems, it could still be tempting to accept a gradual rise in achievement. Gordon is having none of that. He doesn't want a D or a C. He wants a B this year. Set high expectations, create an environment to achieve them, and students will respond.
Gibbs has many positive attributes on which to build. It is home to the acclaimed Pinellas County Center for the Arts. It has a marvelous campus — the most expensive school ever built in the county — and a history of excellence dating back to the days of Jim Crow when black students took pride in scholastic success despite living in a world limited by segregation.
Gordon has not led a high school before. Several years ago he had a few rough patches in his first job as principal, at John Hopkins Middle School, a feeder school for Gibbs. Undoubtedly there will be a few bumps this year, too, given the challenges of Gibbs. However, he is showing that he has earned the opportunity to prove he can return this school to excellence.
He is off to a good start. But he will need the help of students, teachers, parents and the community itself to carry through a plan for success.