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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. 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.
  2. 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. ...

  3. 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. 
  4. 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....

  5. 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....

  6. 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.
  7. Catholic schools form Pinellas' second-largest system


    A network of Catholic schools in Pinellas County makes up the biggest school system outside of the public schools. The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg operates 15 schools in Pinellas — 12 for prekindergarten through eighth grade, two high schools and one school for students with special needs.

    Catholic schools have shrunk or closed in other communities but appear to be thriving in Pinellas. Clearwater Central Catholic High School accepted a larger freshman class than intended this year — taking 150 students, instead of 125 — and still had a waiting list. In his blog, president John Venturella said he expects the same next year....

    Clearwater Central Catholic High School students, from left, Maria Jose Amandaray, Shea Hamilton and Kylie Singer hug Morning Star Catholic School student Sophia Smith during a field day in which CCC’s sophomore class mentored Morning Star students.
  8. Once an under-performing school, Sanderlin K-8 is a hit with Pinellas parents



    Rumors had been swirling that people would start arriving before dawn, so R.J. Garbowicz packed a lawn chair and an iPad for the long night ahead. ¶ He showed up after midnight, securing the first spot in line. At 3 a.m., another person arrived. By 6 a.m., 20 people sat in lawn chairs, many with coolers at their feet, Black Friday-style. ¶ But the draw wasn't a holiday sale. It was a prekindergarten seat at Sanderlin PK-8 IB World School. Sanderlin gives its 4-year-old students priority for kindergarten admissions, a big edge in Pinellas County's notoriously competitive school lottery. ...

    Sanderlin PK-8 IB World School in South St. Petersburg has become an “A” school.
  9. Pinellas to hire a new public information officer


    The Pinellas County School District is looking for a new public information officer.

    District officials posted the job today; applications will be accepted until Jan. 6.

    Melanie Marquez Parra, who held the job previously, was promoted Tuesday to director of strategic communications. She will oversee the communications department, which includes the PIO. Parra's promotion follows the departure in August of former communications director Donna Winchester. Winchester moved into a similar role at the University of Florida....

  10. Florida's teachers get 98 percent effectiveness rating despite schools' struggles


    TAMPA — Despite the state's efforts to make teacher evaluations more accurate, an unusually high number of Florida educators continue to receive good performance ratings.

    Nearly 98 percent of teachers received the top marks of "highly effective" and "effective" in 2014, just as in 2012 and 2013, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education.

    The percentage of teachers earning the highest rating actually rose as some districts have been reluctant to hurt teachers' contracts and pay at a time of changing tests and standards....

    "Local districts need to be the ones in the business of teacher evaluations," Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego said.
  11. Hepburn to be new principal of Gibbs High


    Gibbs High School is getting a new principal in January.

    Reuben Hepburn, current principal of Dunedin High, will lead Gibbs High when students return from winter break. Stephanie Adkinson, who has been principal of Gibbs for about three years, is retiring at the end of the month. Hepburn's appointment, pending School Board approval, is effective Jan. 5.

    Hepburn started working for Pinellas County Schools in 1996. He has been a teacher, an assistant principal and principal. He was an assistant principal at Gibbs in the 2009/10 school year. He has been principal of Dunedin High since 2010. Hepburn has a bachelor's degree from Florida A&M University and a master's degree from the University of South Florida....

  12. Parra to be new communications director in Pinellas


    Superintendent Mike Grego has selected a familiar face to become the Pinellas County school system's new communications director.

    Melanie Marquez Parra, the district's public information officer, will become the director of strategic communications, effective Dec. 10. She has been handling many of the job duties since Donna Winchester left the role in August. (Winchester is now the communications director at the University of Florida.)...

  13. Struggling schools in St. Petersburg still need classroom aides


    The Pinellas County school system still needs to hire dozens of classroom assistants as part of a new initiative at five struggling schools in St. Petersburg.

    District officials have filled about half of the spots needed in classrooms at Fairmount Park, Campbell Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said the district wanted to have classroom aides in place for fourth and fifth grades by the end of September. All but Campbell Park have finished hiring aides for those grades....

  14. Ties & Tennis Shoes 5K coming up


    Overdid it on Thanksgiving? Need to burn 300 calories?

    The Pinellas Education Foundation's annual 5K fundraiser is this weekend and it's not too late to register.

    The Ties & Tennis Shoes 5K is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday at Tropicana Field. The event is a fundraiser for the Take Stock in Children scholarships, which help low-income students pay for college tuition. For serious runners, the course is chip-timed and has race bibs. There's also a one mile fun run and kids dash. The 5K finish line is on the turf at the Trop. Runners are encouraged to wear decorated tennis shoes....

  15. New marketing campaign puts spotlight on Pinellas school employees


    For the children at Lake St. George Elementary, Miss Elena is the lady with the magic pockets.

    Before they arrive in the cafeteria, Elena Breitling stocks her apron pockets with spoons, straws and napkins, even a small pair of scissors to open packets of mayonnaise and ketchup. Children "eat ketchup with everything," she says.

    Breitling, 48, never planned to work at the school. She was a nurse and longtime volunteer whose children attend Lake St. George. She offered to fill in when she heard the cafeteria was short staffed. Instead, she found herself filling out an application....

    A screen-shot from a video from the Pinellas County school system's new marketing campaign, "Words that Inspire," shows Elena Breitling, a cafeteria worker at St. George Elementary in Palm Harbor.