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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 School Board limits out-of-school suspensions, fires back at critics


    The Pinellas County School Board agreed Tuesday 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 make-up work.

    At the same time, some on the board fired back at critics who said the district didn't go far enough in curbing punishments that disproportionately affect the county's black students....

  2. Amid war of words, Pinellas changes discipline policy



    The Pinellas County School Board agreed Tuesday to cut the number of days a student can be suspended out of school and to stop docking absent students’ grades, even as some members fired back at critics who seek to further curb punishments that disproportionately affect the county’s black students.

    Board member Linda Lerner said it was time for community groups to recognize progress is being made. She chided the Southern Poverty Law Center and FAST, a coalition of churches and synagogues with the motto “Faith and Action for Strength Together,” for holding recent public meetings about discipline and black student achievement without inviting the School Board or superintendent Mike Grego to present the district’s perspective....

  3. UF researchers are working in Melrose Elementary


    University of Florida researchers are working with students at Melrose Elementary as part of a small pilot reading program.

    Researchers started working last month with 30 students who have struggled the most with reading. They were invited by superintendent Mike Grego after he saw some positive results that researchers had working with about 20 students from Campbell Park Elementary who were participating off-site at a St. Petersburg church....

  4. Acceptance period for magnets to start in Pinellas


    Here's an important reminder for families:

    If you applied for a seat in a magnet or fundamental program in Pinellas County Schools, the acceptance period begins Wednesday. Every year, some parents lose a spot in a program because they don't go back into the online system and accept the invitation. Don't let this happen to you. The application period runs until Feb. 10....

  5. Playing the school choice lottery in Pinellas


    Any way you look at them, the numbers can seem daunting.

    Last year, 11,266 students submitted applications in the Pinellas County school choice lottery, each hoping to get into a magnet program, a fundamental school or a high school academy. The system, however, had room for only 7,500 of them.

    From 2014 to 2015, the number of available seats in those programs increased by 389, but the number of applicants shot up by 860. And more than 1,400 students landed on a waiting list for their first-choice school last year, up about 200 from the year before....

  6. New 'report card' says Pinellas' failings with black students lead to incarceration


    ST. PETERSBURG — Black students in the Pinellas County School District are failing at higher rates than black children in virtually any other school district in Florida.

    On Thursday, some of the county's black activists called on the School Board to take responsibility for the failure.

    Speaking to a crowd of about 100 parents, grandparents, community members and school employees, they said they had heard a lot of talk without seeing a lot of change....

    School Board member Rene Flowers talks with superintendent Mike Grego at Thursday’s forum.
  7. Pinellas downplays problems at failing schools, but hires leader to fix them


    LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday aired a video in which local business leaders praised district officials and downplayed the troubles at five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg. Minutes later, however, board members voted to hire a new administrator whose job will be to help turn those schools around.

    The moves sent conflicting signals about how board members view the condition of the five schools, even as superintendent Mike Grego works to fix them. ...

    Mike Grego, Pinellas County school superintendent (in background on left), looks on as Pastor Martin Rainey addresses the audience during a workshop evening at John Hopkins Middle School Center for the Arts, Journalism and Multimedia. (November 17, 2014)
  8. Pinellas hiring turnaround leader to help lowest-performing schools


    Faced with five of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Florida, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego is hiring a new administrator to oversee improvement efforts.

    As director of school leadership, Antonio Burt, a former principal and "turnaround" leader, will provide "day-to-day guidance" to principals, help recruit and retain good teachers, and monitor academic progress....

    Pinellas superinten?dent Mike Grego says the new role will be similar to a coach for the schools.
  9. Pinellas to hire "turnaround" leader to support lowest-performing schools


    UPDATED AT 6 p.m.

    With five of the lowest-performing schools in Florida, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has replaced principals, stepped up teacher training and announced long-term plans to transform three of the neighborhood schools into magnet programs....

  10. 'Failure Factories': Duncan blasts Pinellas school system for 'education malpractice' (w/video)



    U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a stinging rebuke Friday to the Pinellas County School District, calling the rapid decline of five predominantly black neighborhood schools a "man-made disaster" and "education malpractice."

    Standing in Campbell Park Elementary, Duncan said: "What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It's heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry."...

    Duncan, right, and King flank Campbell Park fifth-grader Tarell Taliaferro and principal Rob Ovalle at school Friday.
  11. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to visit Campbell Park after Failure Factories investigation


    U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to visit Campbell Park Elementary Friday afternoon for a private gathering with parents, students and community members.

    Duncan will take questions from the media afterward.

    Campbell Park is one of five neighborhood schools at the heart of the Tampa Bay Times investigation, Failure Factories, which showed how the Pinellas County School District abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources. Today, the five schools — which also include Melrose, Maximo, Fairmount Park, and Lakewood — are the county's most segregated and are failing at rates far worse than almost any other schools in Florida. Dozens of schools with similar demographics outperform them....

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plans to visit Campbell Park Elementary School in St. Petersburg on Friday afternoon for a private gathering with parents, students and community members. [Associated Press]
  12. Administrative moves in Pinellas


    The Pinellas County School Board will be asked Tuesday to sign off on a couple administrative moves.

    Mary Conage, the district's Title 1 director, will become the director of special projects. Conage has worked in the Pinellas school system since 1987. She has been the Title 1 director since 2007. Sherry Aemisseger, principal of McMullen Booth Elementary, will become the director of exceptional student education. She has worked in the school system since 1990. She has been principal of McMullen Booth since 2010....

  13. State education officials investigating Pinellas schools' spending on poor students


    The Florida Department of Education is reviewing how the Pinellas County school system spends federal dollars for poor children and whether all students get equal access to good teachers, according to a letter from federal education officials made public Tuesday.

    The move is in response to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who last month called for a federal review of the "crisis" in south St. Petersburg's neighborhood elementary schools. She said that a Tampa Bay Times investigation raised serious questions about what's going on in five predominantly black schools....

    Mike Grego says it will take years to improve the schools.
  14. John Hopkins Middle is a finalist for a national journalism award


    Here's some good news for John Hopkins Middle School.

    The St. Petersburg school is a finalist for a prestigious national journalism award. For the third consecutive year, the J. Hop Times is a finalist for the 2014 Pacemaker Awards from the National Scholastic Press Association. The award is given for journalistic excellence. It's the highest honor given in the scholastic press industry, according to the Pinellas County School District....

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


    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. ...

    Activist Sammi Leigh Scott holds a Confederate flag at Tuesday’s Pinellas School Board meeting. “This is the flag the Pinellas County School District is offering us for our black children,” she said.