One thing is clear about Pinellas County's new school superintendent: He understands that to get different results, the district has to do things differently. Less than a month into the job, Mike Grego has challenged principals across the district to draft plans to extend academic hours on their campuses to help both struggling and excelling students to progress. And in a narrower initiative, he has launched plans to get seventh-graders thinking about college. These are ambitious and welcome ideas, and they send the right message to faculty, parents and the community that the new superintendent is serious about returning the luster to Pinellas County schools.
It could be a while before parents or teachers know exactly what Grego's challenge for longer school hours will mean for students. The superintendent purposefully deferred to individual principals to design programs that focus on reading, math, science and writing. He wants each school to design a program that best suits its population. Some schools, he said, will likely offer afterschool courses; others will opt for Saturday. He anticipates many schools will partner with community organizations. The programs will be voluntary, but Grego said he expects principals to impress upon parents, particularly those of struggling students, that attendance is in the child's best interest.
Grego is far from the first educator to view the school calender, with its roots in an agrarian economy, as outdated. Across the country, schools and even some districts have moved to year-round calendars or extended school days. But they remain outliers.
The Florida Legislature still only pays school districts to be open 180 days a year, even as modernity has increased the demands on school and student performance. And exactly how the school district will pay for the extended hours is also to be worked out. Grego anticipates collecting some additional federal grant money for disadvantaged students and redirecting other funds. Teachers who participate will be paid, he promised.
Grego's other initiative — to identify talented seventh-graders and give them exposure to the SAT college entrance exam and supplemental summer experiences — is also promising. Modeled after similar programs at top universities and one Grego started while superintendent for Osceola County, it has the potential to inspire the county's brightest students to stay engaged.
The public school system's job is to provide each student a year's worth of learning in a year's worth of time. But the old models are failing many students. Grego is empowering principals to lead the charge to reshape that model in Pinellas County for both struggling and excelling students. The district, parents and community will also need to step up to ensure these good ideas lead to real reform.