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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


Twitter: @Fitz_ly

  1. Melrose Elementary teacher is Pinellas' Outstanding Educator of the Year


    CLEARWATER — After more than three decades of teaching, Kim Lopez made a surprising decision to move to one of Pinellas County's lowest-performing schools.

    With retirement nearing, Lopez, 60, said she wanted to spend her final years "teaching my heart out."

    That was a year and a half ago. On Tuesday, Lopez, a fifth-grade teacher at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, was named Pinellas County's 2015 Outstanding Educator of the Year. She was recognized for her teaching skill, her passion and her perpetual energy....

    Melrose Elementary School 5th grade teacher Kim Lopez, left, reacts with fellow faculty at the school, Wednesday, February 25, 2105 after she rode to the school in a limousine. Lopez, 60,  was named the Pinellas County 2015 Outstanding Educator of the Year, Tuesday night at RuthEckerd Hall.
  2. Teacher investigated for posting 'terrorist list' of students on classroom door


    Pinellas school district officials are investigating a math teacher at St. Petersburg High who allegedly posted a "terrorist list" on his classroom door with students' names.

    District officials declined to name the teacher, citing the investigation.

    Tyler Harris, 15, discovered the list Wednesday after arriving at his fourth period class. He was one of five students named. Under each name was an Arabic-sounding alias that mimicked the students' actual names. Harris took a photo of the list and sent it to his parents....

  3. Principal named for alternative school in Pinellas


    A new principal has been named for the alternative high school at Hamilton Disston in Pinellas County.

    Tamika D. Hughes-Leeks, assistant principal at Seminole High School, will move into the position Feb. 25, pending School Board approval. The School Board, which will consider the appointment Tuesday, typically must vote to approve the superintendent's personnel appointments unless a candidate is unqualified....

  4. A familiar face will be new public information officer


    Superintendent Mike Grego has selected a familiar face to fill the public information officer job in the Pinellas County School District.

    Lisa Wolf will step into the role in March, pending approval by the School Board. Wolf, who works for the Moffitt Cancer Center, was a multimedia coordinator for the school district from 2012 to 2013. Prior to working in the district, Wolf was an evening anchor and reporter in Montana and a morning anchor/reporter and producer in Florida. She has a bachelor's degree from Florida State University....

  5. Pinellas soon to name public information officer


    The Pinellas County School District could name a new public information officer as soon as next week.

    The position has been open since December, when former spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra was tapped to lead the communications department. Parra said Thursday that eight people were interviewed to fill the position....

  6. Pinellas special tax paid for instruments, reading supplies, field trips and more


    A special property tax raised more than $32 million during the 2013/14 school year, paying for musical instruments, band uniforms, Smart Boards, iPads and field trips, an oversight committee told the Pinellas County School Board this week.

    Of the millions raised each year, 80 percent goes to teacher salaries — giving each teacher a little less than $3,000 each year — and the rest supports art, music, reading and technology in schools. In years when property values declined, teachers actually lost money in their salaries. That wasn't the case in 2013 or 2014, when values improved and teachers got a tiny bump in pay as a result....

  7. Pinellas teachers to School Board: Just let us teach


    More than 50 teachers came out Tuesday with a clear message for the Pinellas County School Board emblazoned on their red T-shirts: Just let us teach.

    Mike Gandolfo, president of the teachers union, said that teachers are fleeing the profession. He said he was "hard pressed" to find a young teacher who planned to continue teaching in five years. Veterans are retiring as soon as they can afford to, he said. Part of the problem, Gandolfo said, is that new teaching strategies encourage teachers to follow "pre-ordained scripts" and cookie-cutter lessons....

  8. Reminder: Today is the final day to accept invitation to special programs


    This is a friendly reminder to parents in Pinellas County. If your child applied to a magnet or fundamental program for the 2015/16 school year, today is the FINAL day to accept an invitation. Log into the student reservation system here

    Things to keep in mind: 

    *If you accept an invitation to a program, your child's name will be removed from waiting lists for other programs. That frees up spots for other students. This means you need to be sure about your selection. ...

  9. More students apply to special programs in Pinellas


    The Pinellas County School District saw an increase again this year in the number of students applying to magnet and fundamental programs.

    During the 10-day application window, 11,266 students applied to elementary, middle and high school programs. Last year, 10,432 students applied; in 2013, 9,680 did. Students can submit up to five applications each year. That means, of course, that there are far more applications than students. This year, there were 29,471 applications submitted....

  10. A few minutes with Reuben C. Hepburn, new Gibbs High principal


    After four years in the top job at Dunedin High, Reuben C. Hepburn learned last month that he would be the new principal of Gibbs High. His first day was Jan. 5. We caught up with him for a few minutes to ask about his plans for Gibbs. We've paraphrased some of his comments below.

    First, a quick bio: Hepburn is 44 and lives in Dunedin.

    He has a bachelor's degree in history education from Florida A&M University and a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of South Florida....

    “I was at Gibbs in the 2009-10 school year, and now I’m back,” says Reuben C. Hepburn, the school’s new principal.
  11. Pinellas to start using public safety radio system


    The Pinellas County School District has signed onto the county's public safety radio system.

    The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of using the radio system. The cost will be based on usage, but (by contract) can't exceed $100,000 this year. 

    Clint Herbic, the district's head of operations, said the radio system will improve communication for the school district. It will record all communication between bus drivers and dispatchers, something the district wasn't able to do previously. District officials will be able to use the system with smart phones and hand-held radios. ...

  12. Florida drops to No. 28 in national ranking of public school systems


    Florida, often considered a leader in school reform, wasn't ranked among the top 10 in the nation for public education this year.

    It wasn't even in the top 20.

    The state earned 28th in an overall ranking of states and the District of Columbia published every year by Education Week in its "Quality Counts" report. That's a significant drop from past years when Florida ranked as high as fifth and no lower than 11th. Education Week, a well-regarded publication among school professionals, chose not to give an overall ranking for 2014 as part of an effort to "reassess the education policy landscape." Florida's previous overall placement was sixth in 2013....

    Education chief Pam Stewart made no mention of the overall decline. 
  13. New principal named for Dunedin High


    Dunedin High School will get its new principal this month.

    Kyle Johnson, an assistant principal at East Lake High, will take over the lead role at Dunedin, pending School Board approval Tuesday. Board members are likely to approve the move; they can only vote down the superintendent's personnel recommendation if the candidate is unqualified. The district moved quickly to fill the position. They advertised for one week and interviewed all four finalists Tuesday. Ten people originally applied....

  14. Pinellas families can get help applying for special programs


    It's that time again.

    The Pinellas County school system opens its application period Wednesday for special programs, magnet and fundamental schools. The application period runs until Jan. 16. To view and accept invitations to programs, log back into the system between Feb. 4-11. The school district has a lot of information about the process on its website. Families who would like further assistance also can attend three "application assistance nights" to get help from an actual person....

  15. Getting a coveted seat


    Feeling lucky? Getting your child into the right school can feel a little like winning the lottery. But you don't have to be charmed to get a seat. To help navigate the process, we've compiled a list of basic and advanced tips.

    The basics

    1. Submit an application between Wednesday and Jan. 16.

    2. Follow up. The school district doesn't call, email or send letters to alert students about invitations to special programs. It's up to you to return to the Student Reservation System between Feb. 4 and 11 to view invitations and waiting list status. Accept an invitation before midnight on the last day and print or email a confirmation....

    Prospective freshmen tour Clearwater High School during the school’s annual Discovery Night on Dec. 1, 2014.