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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

Email: cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Fitz_ly

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  1. Confederate flag punctuates Pinellas School Board discussion on failing schools

    K12

    LARGO — With a dramatic flourish, a longtime education activist unfurled a Confederate battle flag Tuesday in front of Pinellas County School Board members, saying they had failed black students in five neighborhood schools in south St. Petersburg.

    Sami Leigh Scott told the board she was there to represent the 95 percent of students in the schools who failed reading or math last year. ...

    School Board Chairwoman Linda Lerner wants the focus to be on the district’s efforts to improve schools in the last two years.
  2. Castor calls for federal review of Pinellas schools after 'Failure Factories'

    Education

    U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called Tuesday for a federal review of the "crisis" in south St. Petersburg's neighborhood schools, saying students aren't receiving an "equal opportunity to a high quality education."

    Castor, the Tampa Democrat whose district includes part of southern Pinellas County, said Tuesday in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education that a Tampa Bay Times investigation raised serious questions about the use of federal dollars for poor children and the overall quality of education students are receiving in five predominantly black elementary schools....

    "Our federal and state laws — and our values — require that all children, no matter what neighborhood in which they live, receive an equal opportunity to a high quality education," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.
  3. Officials announce stepped-up efforts after Times' Failure Factories schools investigation

    K12

    Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has announced a plan to convert three of five failing elementary schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods into magnet programs, even as city and county leaders reacted to a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found years of neglect turned the schools into some of the worst in Florida.

    The proposal could mean additional resources and even facility upgrades for the schools. If successful, the magnet programs could create racial balance at schools that last year were as much as 86 percent black....

    After a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that years of neglect turned five predominantly black elementary schools into some of the worst schools in Florida, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego announced that he plans to convert three of the schools into magnet programs. Grego called it a "needed step" for Pinellas County. "We're dealing with trying to undo and re-engineer some of the decisions that have been made," he said. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  4. Brickley to be principal again

    Blog

    Kathleen Brickley, who was demoted a year ago despite overseeing a two-letter grade jump at Dunedin Elementary, has been tapped to be a principal again.

    Pending School Board approval Tuesday, Brickley will lead Curlew Creek Elementary in Palm Harbor for the 2015/16 school year. Brickley spent the 2014/15 school year as an assistant principal at Brooker Creek Elementary in Tarpon Springs. She had been a principal for nearly a decade when she was demoted....

  5. How does John Hopkins Middle School garden grow? With Mr. Mac's help

    K12

    Walking through tidy rows of plants, McKinley Hayward asks, "Have you ever seen a sweet potato grow?"

    Often, the answer is no.

    Here, in the heart of Midtown, many of his visitors haven't been in a garden before. The corner stores sell chips and soda but are short on fresh produce. He asks children where vegetables come from and they say Publix or Walmart. He loves to astonish them by revealing sweet potatoes in the dirt or a head of cauliflower tucked behind big, green leaves....

    McKinley Hayward, 78, mows the grass around the vegetable garden at John Hopkins Middle. His daughter is a teacher at the school.
  6. Melrose Elementary teacher is Pinellas' Outstanding Educator of the Year

    Education

    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....

    Dunedin Highland’s Kathleen Earle was the “fan favorite.”
  7. Teacher investigated for posting 'terrorist list' of students on classroom door

    K12

    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....

  8. Principal named for alternative school in Pinellas

    Blog

    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....

  9. A familiar face will be new public information officer

    Blog

    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....

  10. Pinellas soon to name public information officer

    Blog

    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....

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

    Blog

    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....

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

    Blog

    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....

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

    Blog

    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. ...

  14. More students apply to special programs in Pinellas

    Blog

    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....

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

    K12

    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.