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Cara Fitzpatrick, Times Staff Writer

Cara Fitzpatrick joined the Tampa Bay Times in 2012 and is an education reporter. She grew up in Washington State and graduated from the University of Washington and Columbia University.

Phone: (727) 893-8846

Email: cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Fitz_ly

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  1. Once an under-performing school, Sanderlin K-8 is a hit with Pinellas parents

    K12

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Rumors had been swirling that people would start arriving before dawn, so R.J. Garbowicz packed a lawn chair and an iPad for the long night ahead. ¶ He showed up after midnight, securing the first spot in line. At 3 a.m., another person arrived. By 6 a.m., 20 people sat in lawn chairs, many with coolers at their feet, Black Friday-style. ¶ But the draw wasn't a holiday sale. It was a prekindergarten seat at Sanderlin PK-8 IB World School. Sanderlin gives its 4-year-old students priority for kindergarten admissions, a big edge in Pinellas County's notoriously competitive school lottery. ...

    Front: Pre-K student Ava Northrup, 4, Gulfport, gets measured by student Makayla Mallory, 4, St. Petersburg, center, Monday, December 8, 2014, Sanderlin PK-8 IB World School, using "Gingerbread Babies," figures. Student Paige Thompson, 4, back, left, looks on. The students were learning how to measure using non-standard measuring units in Cari Barnes Pre-K class. The school is a model for turing around a struggling school with a specialty program, in this case, the International Baccalaureate. The school earned an "A" rating last year. In 2014, parents lined up early outside of the office to enroll their children in the Pre- K program. "It reminded me of people waiting for concert tickets, " said teacher Cari Barnes.
  2. Pinellas to hire a new public information officer

    Blog

    The Pinellas County School District is looking for a new public information officer.

    District officials posted the job today; applications will be accepted until Jan. 6.

    Melanie Marquez Parra, who held the job previously, was promoted Tuesday to director of strategic communications. She will oversee the communications department, which includes the PIO. Parra's promotion follows the departure in August of former communications director Donna Winchester. Winchester moved into a similar role at the University of Florida....

  3. Florida's teachers get 98 percent effectiveness rating despite schools' struggles

    K12

    TAMPA — Despite the state's efforts to make teacher evaluations more accurate, an unusually high number of Florida educators continue to receive good performance ratings.

    Nearly 98 percent of teachers received the top marks of "highly effective" and "effective" in 2014, just as in 2012 and 2013, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education.

    The percentage of teachers earning the highest rating actually rose as some districts have been reluctant to hurt teachers' contracts and pay at a time of changing tests and standards....

    "Local districts need to be the ones in the business of teacher evaluations," Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego said.
  4. Hepburn to be new principal of Gibbs High

    Blog

    Gibbs High School is getting a new principal in January.

    Reuben Hepburn, current principal of Dunedin High, will lead Gibbs High when students return from winter break. Stephanie Adkinson, who has been principal of Gibbs for about three years, is retiring at the end of the month. Hepburn's appointment, pending School Board approval, is effective Jan. 5.

    Hepburn started working for Pinellas County Schools in 1996. He has been a teacher, an assistant principal and principal. He was an assistant principal at Gibbs in the 2009/10 school year. He has been principal of Dunedin High since 2010. Hepburn has a bachelor's degree from Florida A&M University and a master's degree from the University of South Florida....

  5. Parra to be new communications director in Pinellas

    Blog

    Superintendent Mike Grego has selected a familiar face to become the Pinellas County school system's new communications director.

    Melanie Marquez Parra, the district's public information officer, will become the director of strategic communications, effective Dec. 10. She has been handling many of the job duties since Donna Winchester left the role in August. (Winchester is now the communications director at the University of Florida.)...

  6. Struggling schools in St. Petersburg still need classroom aides

    Blog

    The Pinellas County school system still needs to hire dozens of classroom assistants as part of a new initiative at five struggling schools in St. Petersburg.

    District officials have filled about half of the spots needed in classrooms at Fairmount Park, Campbell Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said the district wanted to have classroom aides in place for fourth and fifth grades by the end of September. All but Campbell Park have finished hiring aides for those grades....

  7. Ties & Tennis Shoes 5K coming up

    Blog

    Overdid it on Thanksgiving? Need to burn 300 calories?

    The Pinellas Education Foundation's annual 5K fundraiser is this weekend and it's not too late to register.

    The Ties & Tennis Shoes 5K is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday at Tropicana Field. The event is a fundraiser for the Take Stock in Children scholarships, which help low-income students pay for college tuition. For serious runners, the course is chip-timed and has race bibs. There's also a one mile fun run and kids dash. The 5K finish line is on the turf at the Trop. Runners are encouraged to wear decorated tennis shoes....

  8. New marketing campaign puts spotlight on Pinellas school employees

    K12

    For the children at Lake St. George Elementary, Miss Elena is the lady with the magic pockets.

    Before they arrive in the cafeteria, Elena Breitling stocks her apron pockets with spoons, straws and napkins, even a small pair of scissors to open packets of mayonnaise and ketchup. Children "eat ketchup with everything," she says.

    Breitling, 48, never planned to work at the school. She was a nurse and longtime volunteer whose children attend Lake St. George. She offered to fill in when she heard the cafeteria was short staffed. Instead, she found herself filling out an application....

    A screen-shot from a video from the Pinellas County school system's new marketing campaign, "Words that Inspire," shows Elena Breitling, a cafeteria worker at St. George Elementary in Palm Harbor.
  9. Pinellas reaches out to parents with new app

    Blog

    The Pinellas County School District has been trying a variety of methods to reach out to parents. 

    District officials have increased marketing efforts to alert families about the variety of school choice options available to them. They sent direct mailers to families. They started parent "academies," or classes focused on specific topics of interest, such as new academic standards and how to create a learning environment at home....

  10. Florida education news: new magnet, technology and feast

    Blog

    MAGNETIC: Parents can apply to Pasco County's new magnet school on Monday. 

    TECHNOLOGY: Florida schools struggle to keep up with students when it comes to technology....

  11. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Blog

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    The Gradebook is taking today off. We wish everyone a happy holiday with family and friends. 

  12. Pinellas is closer to naming a communications director

    Blog

    Pinellas County Schools is expected to name a new communications director in December.

    The job has been open since mid-August, when Donna Winchester left the school district to take a similar post at the University of Florida. The School Board agreed to downgrade the requirements for the position in September, apparently to attract a larger pool of candidates. Ron Ciranna, head of human resources, said the district received about 16 applicants for the position. Four candidates were interviewed in the first round, followed by three in the final round....

  13. Florida education news: guns, sex ring and grade fixing

    Blog

    GUN DEBATE: The FSU shooting has revived a debate about whether guns should be allowed on campus. 

    FRIENDSHIP: A high school club helps students with disabilities form friendships....

  14. Discovery nights happening now until January in Pinellas

    Blog

    With the application period for special programs coming up in January, schools in Pinellas County have started holding "discovery nights" to give parents and students more information about magnet and fundamental schools. School tours also have started. 

    The Pinellas County school system has more than 60 choice programs total for students in elementary, middle and high school. Not all of the programs are available to every student, of course. Some are limited by geography. Others have special entrance requirements. The district opened several new programs this year, including two technology magnet elementary schools and a middle school engineering program. It also has new programs slated to open for the 2015/16 school year. ...

  15. Shorecrest Prep names new head of middle school

    Blog

    Shorecrest Preparatory School has announced that the assistant head of its middle school will take the top spot in July following Jane Morelli Johnson's retirement.

    Jonathan Davis, currently the assistant administrator, will become head of Shorecrest Middle School effective July 1. He has been in the assistant head position since 2006. Johnson is retiring at the end of this school year. Shorecrest's middle school has about 315 students enrolled in grades fifth through eight. There are about 32 faculty members. ...