The reopening of Middleton High School in 2002 was a shining moment for East Tampa's black community. But the return of a school that gave the community pride and a common bond is under threat again, this time by poor student performance that could force the Hillsborough school system to consider radical steps, including closing Middleton's doors. Leaders who rallied the last time need to rally again for the sake of the school and the community it serves.
Middleton and Tampa's other historically black high school were closed in 1971 as part of federal efforts to integrate the school system. Though community leaders embraced the end to a dual school system, they did not get over losing an institution of civic identity. Middleton alumni lobbied hard in the 1990s for the school district to rebuild, and the district came through with a $46-million school, a sign of commitment to inner-city residents.
But Middleton's place in the life of East Tampa was upset Tuesday when it and two other Hillsborough schools were listed among 13 statewide that might be forced to close or reorganize because of lagging test scores. The sanctions stem from an effort to mesh the state's school grading system with federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that do not improve could be forced to close, reassign students or reopen under new district or outside management.
School officials sent the right message this week, declaring the schools would remain open and vowing to augment already existing academic improvement efforts. With classes set to open in weeks, parents and students need to hear that the schools will be open and full of energy. But parents also need to get more involved. They need to better prepare their children for school and do what they can to help the schools deal with the unique challenges they face.
Two-thirds or more of those attending these schools come from low-income families. Their struggle to keep up in the classroom is often made worse by poor nutrition, disciplinary problems and safety concerns getting to and from the campus. Parents and community leaders need to help create conditions where the schools can focus on academics. They should not forget what rebuilding Middleton was all about.