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Cara Fitzpatrick, Times Staff Writer

Cara Fitzpatrick

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


Twitter: @Fitz_ly

  1. Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego moves to overhaul leadership at troubled schools


    LARGO — Principals at three of five failing elementary schools will be replaced at the end of the school year, the latest of several major steps being taken to transform the south St. Petersburg campuses, superintendent Mike Grego announced late Tuesday.

    Melrose, the lowest-performing elementary school in Florida, will get a new principal. So will Campbell Park and Fairmount Park. No decision has been made about the principals at Maximo and Lakewood....

    Nikita J. Reed, from Memphis, Tenn., will become the new principal.
  2. How can teachers make up to $25,000 more in failing schools?


    As the Times has reported, the Pinellas County school system is going to pay teachers up to $25,000 more a year to attract them to failing schools in St. Petersburg. 

    This is a major change for the school system and the teachers union, both of which have been reluctant in past years to pay teachers much more to work in tough schools. It follows a lot of other large, urban districts here in Florida and nationwide. Duval County, for example, has raised money to pay teachers in struggling schools up to $20,000 more. Districts have done these initiatives in many different ways - giving teachers a lump sum bonus, asking them to work more hours, paying bonuses in two or three parts, and providing an increasing bonus for a specified number of years of service at a particular school....

  3. NAACP leaders question Pinellas school turnaround plan


    LARGO — Some leaders in St. Petersburg's black community pressed Pinellas County School Board members Tuesday to publicly acknowledge their failure to keep promises made in a 50-year-old federal desegregation case and called for superintendent Mike Grego to step down if five failing schools don't make dramatic improvements.

    In a report released Tuesday, leaders of the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch said that the county's black students haven't received an equal education, and that school leaders failed to ensure that students were learning at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementary schools....

    Maria L. Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, listens to parents during a forum on Pinellas County turnaround schools March 19, 2016. On Tuesday, she called on the Pinellas school district and community members to address problem schools with more urgency. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. Black leaders skeptical about district plan to fix 'Failure Factories'


    ST. PETERSBURG — Black leaders on Wednesday vented frustration at being left out of new proposals to aid St. Petersburg's black students and failing schools, but said they welcomed the spotlight that has been cast on the problem.

    They said that a revolving cast of district officials have come before, with promises and plans but little change.

    "We've had conversations with people who preceded you and here we are having it again," said Goliath Davis, a former police chief and deputy mayor, during a packed meeting of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students. ...

    Wednesday's meeting of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students drew a full house as discussion centered around five failing schools in St. Petersburg and a decision by the U.S. Department of Education to investigate whether the Pinellas school district has violated black students' civil rights. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Facing outside pressure after 'Failure Factories,' Pinellas proposes sweeping fixes to schools


    The Pinellas County school system would undergo a major overhaul under a new proposal aimed at repairing the damage done to schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods after years of neglect.

    District leaders released a broad set of recommendations late Tuesday that include hiring a minority achievement officer, creating special centers for students suspended out of school, and establishing a "transformation zone" with intense support for Pinellas' failing elementary schools. That includes paying teachers up to $25,000 more a year, a longer school day and more control over the curriculum and schedule....

    On April 10, 2015, Cayton Bodden began his daily walk to Fairmount Park Elementary in St. Petersburg with his mother escorting him part of the way. He was in fourth grade at the time. A year later, Fairmount Park is one of several schools being targeted for improvement by Pinellas school officials. Five of the schools have recently been the focus of two investigations and legal pressure. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  6. U.S. Education Department opens civil rights investigation into Pinellas schools


    The U.S. Department of Education on Monday opened a civil rights investigation into whether the Pinellas County School District systematically discriminates against black children, the agency said.

    The review will determine if Pinellas is denying black children access to the courses and special programs they need to be successful in high school and after graduation.

    It also will assess whether the district is denying black children access to quality teachers, school leaders and support staff, an education department official told the Tampa Bay Times....

    During an Oct. 24, 2015 visit to St. Petersburg, then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (left) and his successor, John King, spoke with the media at Campbell Park Elementary. Duncan said Pinellas County school district leaders had commited "education malpractice" by allowing Campbell Park and four other elementaries to decline so badly. Five months later, the department is launching a civil rights investigation into whether the district is discriminating against black students. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  7. Number of mentors jumps at five failing schools


    Five failing schools in south St. Petersburg have seen a big increase this year in the number of people volunteering as mentors.

    According to the Pinellas County School District, there were 256 mentors paired with students this year in Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries, compared to 120 last year. That's more than double.

    The five schools were at the heart of a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation, "Failure Factories," which showed how the school district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for schools that became predominantly poor and black. The schools have seen a revolving door of administrators and teachers in the years since; more than 100 teachers with 10 years or more experience fled the schools afterward....

  8. District leaders are rushing pay proposal, union president says


    District leaders haven't taken the time to properly vet a proposal to pay teachers in five failing schools up to $25,000 more, the president of Pinellas County's teachers union said Thursday.

    Mike Gandolfo said that district administrators are rushing to get a proposal in front of the School Board on April 12. But changes in teacher pay need to be negotiated with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. That process hasn't occurred yet. ...

  9. Pinellas is looking for turnaround principals


    The Pinellas County School District is looking for successful turnaround principals to "lead a select number of schools" in the St. Petersburg area.

    A job advertisement posted on the district's website says that the county is seeking "transformational" leaders and is "developing a pool of highly driven and successful elementary and middle school principals." No major principal changes have been announced yet this spring, although that often happens in May. District leaders have talked about developing a pool of high-quality teachers, too, to make it easier to fill vacancies in low-performing schools that struggle with teacher turnover....

  10. Black lawyers feel the call to mentor in Pinellas' failing schools



    At Lakewood Elementary, a third-grader goes up for a jump shot over a garbage can. He misses.

    "Argh," Jamarcus Watkins says, dramatically crumpling on the ground in front of his opponent, Dyril Flanagan. Taking the ball — a rolled-up piece of newspaper — Flanagan tries to make the shot. He misses.

    "The wind got that, the wind got that," he says....

    Jamarcus Watkins, 9, tussles with lawyer Dyril Flanagan during their mentoring session at Lakewood Elementary last week. Flanagan is one of the Fred G. Minnis Sr. Bar Association members mentoring students at Pinellas schools.
  11. School turnaround leader Antonio Burt to take on Pinellas' Failure Factories


    Five weeks into his new job, Antonio Burt sat at a tense community meeting. A lawyer announced that the plaintiffs in a 50-year-old federal desegregation lawsuit were going back to court because Pinellas County school leaders had broken their promises to black students.

    Called upon to speak, Burt had a message: District leaders need to have "courageous conversations" to fix five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. That means confronting the reasons behind the schools' persistent failure....

    Antonio Burt speaks during a meeting of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, the plaintiff in a school desegregation lawsuit against  Pinellas County.
  12. Parents speak out about five failing schools during NAACP forum


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jenee Skipper wanted to be involved in her son's education at Campbell Park Elementary. At every turn, the school made it difficult.

    She recruited volunteers to read to students. School officials told the volunteers they could work in the cafeteria. She asked for homework. She didn't receive any. She wanted to attend parent meetings. The meetings were scheduled at 7:30 a.m. — a time that was convenient for school staff, but tough for working parents reliant on public transportation....

    Mother Tergina Gooding, sits with her son, Carlson, 8, a third grader at Maximo Elementary School, during the Scale Up For Success Parent Forum at the Childs Park YMCA in St. Petersburg on Saturday, March 19, 2016. During the forum, parents from the five schools listed in Failure Factories, spoke about their experiences with having children in the schools.
  13. Pinellas eases school discipline policies as advocates call for even more action


    LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board has agreed to ease the district's discipline policies by cutting the number of days a student can be suspended out of school and no longer deducting from their grades on makeup work.

    Board members first voted for the changes last month, but they became official with a unanimous vote Tuesday.

    Still, advocates called on the board to do more to curb punishments that disproportionately affect black students. Representatives from a coalition of churches and synagogues called FAST, or Faith and Action for Strength Together, and the Southern Poverty Law Center urged school leaders to keep students in the classroom as much as possible....

    A Melrose Elementary School student’s chart shows that he missed a lot of school days because he was suspended.
  14. Legislators earmark $400,000 for reading program at struggling schools in St. Petersburg


    Five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg could receive intensive reading assistance from the University of Florida after state legislators earmarked nearly $400,000 for a new program being tried with students in two of the schools.

    State legislators said Thursday during a debate about the proposed $82.3 billion budget that the money was intended to help Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Melrose and Maximo — schools that were at the heart of a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation, "Failure Factories." The budget is expected to pass the state Legislature Friday....

    Students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary, one of the five St. Petersburg schools that stand to receive help through a reading program that has been included in the state budget. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  15. Discipline changes back for final approval in Pinellas


    The Pinellas County School Board is expected to sign off Tuesday on changes to the district's discipline policies that cut the number of days a student can be suspended out of school and end the practice of docking students' grades for absences.

    The School Board agreed to the changes on first read last month; this is the second reading....