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Cara Fitzpatrick, Times Staff Writer

Cara Fitzpatrick

Cara Fitzpatrick is a senior education reporter at the Tampa Bay Times. In 2016, she and Times reporters Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for Failure Factories, a five-part investigation that traced the rapid decline of five elementary schools after the Pinellas County School Board abandoned integration efforts. The series also was honored with the George Polk Award for Education Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal, and the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, among other awards. 

Fitzpatrick joined the Times in 2012. She grew up in Washington State and graduated from the University of Washington and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in St. Petersburg with her husband and two children. 

Phone: (727) 893-8846


Twitter: @Fitz_ly

  1. Robo call misfire: Fairmount Park parents get message meant for Azalea


    Chris Cervellera, a parent at Fairmount Park Elementary, has a goal: To get his kid out of Fairmount Park Elementary.

    He's applied to the Pinellas County School District's lottery for special programs without luck. He's on the waiting list for a transfer to Azalea Elementary, a nearby A-rated school in St. Petersburg. On Monday, he got a glimmer of hope. The family received a robo call welcoming them to Azalea Elementary and informing them about an upcoming parent night. ...

  2. Pinellas is having a last-minute workshop Thursday


    *Update: The school district has deemed this a special meeting, which gives them a little latitude in providing notice to the public. Still no back-up materials online as of noon Tuesday.

    The Pinellas County School Board is holding a last-minute workshop Thursday to talk about recent issues with charter schools, the district announced today.

    Superintendent Mike Grego said this month that he's open to the idea of converting two troubled charter schools into district-run magnet schools, although the possibility has some complications. Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg were issued 90-day termination notices by the district because of financial, governance and curriculum issues. Parents involved in the schools have been searching for other options because they fear their zoned county schools....

  3. Summer Bridge starts in Pinellas


    Summer school started today in Pinellas County's public schools.

    Superintendent Mike Grego started the Summer Bridge program three years ago to help curb summer learning loss. He targeted 10,000 to 12,000 students with lower scores on state standardized exams. In the first year, more than 6,000 registered. This year, more than 16,000 registered. Some students who registered won't show up; others won't show for the entire time. The Gradebook will be asking about attendance figures later this week. ...

  4. Boca Ciega High's turnaround touted in Education Week


    Boca Ciega High School was featured this month in Education Week, with fun portraits of this year's valedictorian and other graduates. 

    The Gulfport school has made a lot of strides under the leadership of Michael Vigue, who took over as principal about five years ago. Vigue and his team built a computer system to track students in better time than the Pinellas County School District's own system. (It's something that district leaders said a while ago that they were looking to imitate countywide.) Parents rave about Vigue, noting that he's a visible and accessible presence on campus....

  5. Pinellas moving fast to replace teachers in troubled schools


    Striding through the halls of Maximo Elementary, Valencia Walker grabbed hands and resumes, hustling job candidate after job candidate into classrooms for interviews.

    "I'm going to make sure that everyone here gets an interview. If you don't mind waiting until 10 p.m. we'll get it done," she told Angelia Mount, a 25-year veteran teacher, before darting after another candidate.

    With the school year drawing to a close, the Pinellas County School District is moving fast to replace dozens of teachers on five troubled campuses in south St. Petersburg. As of last week, more than 80 teachers had requested a transfer or were told they couldn't return to Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementary schools. Four out of five principals also were moved to new schools for the 2016-17 school year. ...

    Antonio Burt, who was hired by the Pinellas County School District to oversee improvement efforts at the county's five lowest-performing elementary schools, pictured during a monthly meeting of Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, or COQEBS. The community group is the plaintiff in the 15-year-old class-action case, Crowley vs. the Pinellas County School Board.
  6. NAACP in St. Petersburg calls for Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego to resign


    The NAACP is calling for Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego to resign, saying he hasn't taken responsibility for the failure of five predominantly black elementary schools in south St. Petersburg or shared a clear plan to improve the campuses.

    In a blistering letter sent Monday to the School Board, Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg branch, said that board members should fire Grego if he doesn't step down by the end of the school year. She said Grego had a "business as usual" attitude about the schools....

    Mike Grego has been under increasing pressure with reports of Pinellas County schools failing. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  7. Pinellas wavers on plan to create new magnet school programs


    LARGO — In the face of strong opposition from some community leaders, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego said Tuesday he is prepared to scrap a proposal to create new magnet programs at six troubled elementary schools.

    Recent reform efforts already have the schools in upheaval, he said. Dozens of teachers have asked for a transfer, while others have been forced out. Four of the six principals are being replaced at the end of the year. ...

    Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego says he could make a decision on creating new magnet schools as soon as today. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2015)] 
  8. 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....

    Superin-tendent Mike Grego: “Our work . . . is not done.’’
  9. 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....

  10. 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]
  11. 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]
  12. 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]
  13. 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....

    Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, right, and John King, who was confirmed last month as Duncan’s successor, talk to reporters during their visit to St. Petersburg in October.
  14. 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....

  15. 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. ...