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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. Mediation to start Tuesday in Pinellas 50-year-old desegregation case


    Mediation in Pinellas County's 50-year-old desegregation case is scheduled to start Tuesday.

    District officials and the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the federal case held informal negotiations for about four months, but agreed that they weren't making much progress. The meetings often have been tense, even hostile. It was Guy Burns, the lawyer in a separate but related state case, that suggested the parties go to mediation, if only to speed things along. The hope is that mediation can occur in both cases at the same time. ...

  2. Lawsuit: Maximo Elementary employee fired for reporting abuse


    UPDATE: The school district said Tuesday that Vaultonburg's dismissal was "unrelated" to her decision to report child abuse. Lisa Wolf, a district spokeswoman, said in an email that there were "performance issues that occurred prior to the date of her dismissal." She said she couldn't provide more detail because of the pending lawsuit.

    Sitting in her office at Maximo Elementary earlier this school year, Emily Vaultonburg heard a child screaming from inside the bathroom — and the sharp slap of a belt hitting flesh....

  3. How to improve your odds in the Pinellas school choice lottery


    Finding the right school for your child can be daunting.

    You go to the school district's Discovery Nights, take the tours and pore over test scores. Ultimately, a lot of luck is involved in getting a seat at the school of your choice. To make the process easier — and improve your chances — here are tips, from basic to advanced:

    The basics

    1. Submit an application between Jan. 4-13. (It doesn't matter if you apply on the first or last day. It's not first-come, first-served.)...

    Jonathan and David Mimnaugh talk to math teacher Michael Siemion at a Discovery Night at Countryside High in Clearwater.
  4. As lawsuits over Pinellas black students drag on, both sides call for a mediator


    After four months of tense negotiations, lawyers for both sides in Pinellas County's 50-year-old school desegregation case are ready to call in a mediator.

    The consensus comes about a month after lawyers for the plaintiffs, Enrique Escarraz and Roger Plata, suspended negotiations and demanded that Pinellas district leaders provide a more detailed plan to improve education for the 19,000 black students in Pinellas public schools. ...

     Guy Burns represents Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, the plaintiffs in a state case filed in 2000 that alleges black students have been shortchanged by the school district. District leaders hope that case and the 1964 Bradley lawsuit can be mediated at the same time. [Times (2007)]
  5. Pinellas to hold another Bridging the Gap forum


    The Pinellas County School District has scheduled another public forum to get feedback about its plan to close the achievement gap between black students and their classmates.

    The community is invited to attend the forum from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Thomas Jackson Recreation Center in St. Petersburg. It's at 1000 28th St. S.

    This is the district's fifth public forum in recent months about its Bridging the Gap plan. Superintendent Mike Grego introduced the plan in 2013, but it has since been updated. Bridging the Gap includes five areas in which the district wants to close the gap between black students and their classmates. Those include: graduation rates; grade-level proficiency on state exams; participation and performance in accelerated classes; disciplinary infractions; and eligibility for special education programs. (In the last two categories, black students are overrepresented.)...

  6. Hillsborough administrator selected as Pinellas minority achievement officer


    Superintendent Mike Grego has named a minority achievement officer, the first ever for the Pinellas County School District. 

    Lewis Brinson, who served as the chief diversity officer for the Hillsborough County School District, will take the job, effective Dec. 1.

    Grego announced more than six months ago that he would hire a minority achievement officer as part of a series of sweeping changes made to improve public education for black students in Pinellas County. In his new role, Brinson will be in charge of improving educational outcomes for black students throughout the county, from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. He will be responsible for carrying out the district's Bridging the Gap plan, which includes strategies and goals related to black student achievement....

    Lewis Brinson [Times files]
  7. Uhuru Movement hosting forum about how public schools are failing black students


    The Uhuru Movement is holding a public forum Saturday in St. Petersburg to talk about how Pinellas County's public schools have failed black students.

    The forum, called "How Public Schools Have Failed the Black Community," is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at West St. Petersburg Community Library. The address is 6700 8th Ave. N., St. Petersburg. Speakers include: Chimurenga Waller, of the African People's Socialist Party; Penny Hess, chairwoman of the African People's Solidarity Committee; and Liu Kwayera, a student at Gibbs High School who started #BlackGirlsWrapWeds....

  8. Third Bridging the Gap forum draws more than 100 people


    More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at the third public forum to receive input about the Pinellas County School District's plan to close the achievement gap.

    The forum, which was held at Gibbs High, followed the same format as the first two, held at Largo High and Boca Ciega High. Superintendent Mike Grego spoke for about 20 minutes and then asked audience members to write their suggestions on sticky notes....

  9. Plaintiffs in desegregation case suspend negotiations with Pinellas County Schools


    The plaintiffs in a Civil Rights-era desegregation lawsuit announced Monday that they are suspending informal negotiations with the Pinellas County School District.

    In a letter emailed to the district, Enrique Escarraz and Roger Plata, lawyers for the plaintiffs, said that after more than a half-dozen meetings, progress has been “extremely slow and uneven.”

    Instead of continuing to meet as scheduled, they are giving the school district two weeks to provide detailed plans related to black student achievement....

  10. Pinellas students transfer out of four low-performing elementary schools


    Dozens of students transferred this year out of four low-performing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, taking advantage of a long-standing state law.

    According to the Pinellas County School District, 88 students opted to transfer to higher-performing elementary schools. The transfers include: 26 students from Fairmount Park to Bauder; 22 students from Campbell Park to Cross Bayou; 22 from Lakewood to Azalea; and 18 from Melrose to Fuguitt, Curlew Creek and Pinellas Central. (Most of the students from Melrose went to Fuguitt.)...

  11. Second 'Bridging the Gap' forum draws large crowd


    More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at a public forum to get input about the Pinellas County School District's plan to close the achievement gap.

    The gathering, held at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, was the second of four scheduled by the school district. Superintendent Mike Grego first unveiled the "Bridging the Gap" plan in 2013, but district officials have updated it, as well as the district's overall strategic plan. ...

  12. Before you go: Review the Pinellas Bridging the Gap plan


    The Pinellas County School District is holding four public forums to solicit community feedback about an update to its 2014 Bridging the Gap plan.

    The first forum starts at 6 p.m. tonight at Largo High School. District officials have posted information about the plan online that you can review before attending. (Don't let that stop you from going, though. There also will be a presenation at the forum.)...

  13. Incumbent Ken Peluso loses to teacher Eileen Long in close race for Pinellas School Board


    The Pinellas County School Board lost one incumbent during Tuesday's primary election, while two other races will be decided in runoff contests in November.

    Ken Peluso, 59, narrowly lost his District 4 seat to 55-year-old Eileen Long, a veteran teacher. Long earned 51.1 percent of the vote, while Peluso earned 48.9 percent, according to preliminary results.

    Long said she was nervous about the close race but excited. She said she kept looking away from the results at a watch party at the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association headquarters in Largo....

    Teacher Eileen Long, 55, narrowly defeated Ken Peluso for the District 4 School Board seat.
  14. Events: Black Men & Boys Week starts Monday


    Black Men & Boys Week 2016 starts Monday in Pinellas County. Here's the schedule of events:

    Monday: "The Faith Community Role in After-School Education," by Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Mt. Zion Progressive M.B.C.

    Tuesday: "More than a Statistic: The Plight of Black Men and Boys," moderated by Dr. Christopher Warren, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., USFSP Davis Hall Room 130...

  15. So far, most teachers staying in Failure Factories


    A review released this month by the Florida Department of Education found that students enrolled in five struggling elementary schools in south St. Petersburg had a larger number of inexperienced teachers than higher-performing schools. The Times wrote about the review yesterday - and revealed that issue nearly a year ago here....