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

Email: cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Fitz_ly

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  1. Schools have looming crisis, foundation says: We're losing our boys

    Education

    For the Pinellas Education Foundation, there's a crisis looming in the school system.

    It's not that Pinellas County has 11 F-rated schools. It's not that nearly half of high school students read poorly. And it's not that less than half of all black males earn a diploma.

    The problem comes down to this, foundation officials say: We're losing our boys.

    They point to what they say are alarming statistics showing a gender gap in education. Fewer boys than girls graduate high school. Boys are disciplined more often than girls. And boys are outnumbered by girls on college campuses....

    Aedan Nigels, 12, tweaks a wind turbine model, part of an energy and environment lesson, while working with teammates Jacob Cherchio, 12, right, and Ansley Acree, 12, in a seventh-grade engineering class at East Lake Middle School Academy of Engineering in Tarpon Springs.
  2. Despite state law, Pinellas presses ahead with class size fix

    K12

    LARGO — Florida law is clear about what should happen when two teachers share a classroom.

    To comply with the state's class size mandate, co-teachers must have equal responsibility for planning, teaching and grading students in the same class.

    But that wasn't the message that Pinellas school officials sent when they pushed earlier this month to hire substitute teachers as temporary co-teachers without the same duties as regular classroom teachers. The substitutes "are not responsible for any work beyond the normal school day," one district memo said, including "lesson planning, grading papers, night activities, etc." ...

    Mike Grego, Pinellas County school superintendent, says hiring substitutes as co-teachers in elementary and high schools was less disruptive to students than the alternative — hiring new teachers and splitting up classes.
  3. Schools have a new forbidden term: 'drop out'

    K12

    The Pinellas County school system would like to stop saying "drop out."

    It's negative, it carries a stigma, and some parents object when they get contacted by the district's Dropout Prevention department and their children haven't, in fact, dropped out.

    A new "catchy phrase" has been put in its place, area superintendent Barbara Hires told the School Board on Tuesday. Dropout Prevention is now called Educational Alternative Services. ...

  4. Pinellas hasn't backed off using substitutes for class size

    Blog

    In its rush to meet class size, the Pinellas County school system hired substitute teachers to work as co-teachers in elementary and high schools.

    As the Times wrote last week, the state doesn't prohibit the use of substitute teachers. It does, however, say that co-teachers must have equal responsibility for planning and delivering instruction to students in the classroom. Pinellas made it clear in its internal memos that the substitutes wouldn't be expected to perform the same duties as regular classroom teachers, despite the state's direction....

  5. "Drop out" too negative, Pinellas officials say

    Blog

    The Pinellas County school system would like to get away from the term "drop out."

    It's negative, it carries a stigma and some parents don't understand why they get contacted by dropout prevention services when their children haven't, in fact, dropped out. Barbara Hires, an area superintendent, has proposed a "nice, catchy phrase" instead.

    The phrase? Educational alternative services....

  6. Pinellas to try Spanish 'academies' at some elementary schools

    K12

    LARGO — Children will learn Spanish outside of the regular school day as part of a pilot program to begin soon in Pinellas County Schools.

    Before- and after-school "academies" could start at 10 elementary schools as early as November or January, officials said Tuesday. The clubs will meet one day a week, but with an emphasis on students practicing their language skills at home.

    Known as SPLASH, or Spanish Language Academy for School and Home, the program is another effort by superintendent Mike Grego to extend learning beyond the regular school day and year. In two years on the job, he has created a six-week summer session, before- and after-school programs for struggling students, a digital initiative to outfit low-income students with laptops, and academies in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. All of the programs are voluntary. ...

  7. Spanish language pilot proposed in Pinellas schools

    Blog

    Children could learn Spanish outside of the regular school day as part of a proposed pilot program in Pinellas County Schools.

    The before and after school "academies" could start at 10 elementary schools as soon as November or January. Each would be just one day a week, but with an emphasis on students practicing at home. Participation would be voluntary. A working name for the pilot: SPLASH or Spanish Language Academy for School and Home....

  8. Parent info sessions coming up in Pinellas

    Blog

    This is that time of year when we at the Gradebook start reminding you with annoying regularity about parent information sessions in the Pinellas County school system. Special programs, such as fundamental schools and magnets, are notoriously difficult to get into - and the application period is coming up in January - so here is your opportunity to get informed.

    Three information sessions are scheduled in November:...

  9. Holding students back in earliest grades a challenge due to Florida law

    K12

    At Maximo Elementary, "where learning is our business," nearly half of kindergarten students show up unprepared for school. It's day one and they're already behind.

    Some catch up and some don't. But last year no one got held back before third grade.

    At some of the lowest-performing schools in Pinellas County, where only a handful of students have passed the FCAT in later grades, many of the youngest children weren't retained last year — despite research that indicates early intervention is best....

    A third-grader draws on her iPad during art class at Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg in January. It was part of a traveling arts lab.
  10. Pinellas County School Board: District 4

    Kyc

    School Board | District 4

    Retired teacher Beverley Billiris and retired chiropractor Ken Peluso are vying to replace Robin Wikle, who resigned. District 4 includes Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Dunedin and parts of Clearwater. By Cara Fitzpatrick, Times staff writer

    Beverley Billiris, 66Ken Peluso, 58
    Experience Billiris was elected mayor of Tarpon Springs in 2004 and served until March 2010. Prior to that, she was on the City Commission from 1998 to 2002. She has been chairwoman of the Pinellas Planning Council. She retired from the Pinellas County School District in June, after teaching at Tarpon Springs Elementary. She also is owner of Sponge Merchant International. After a long career as a chiropractor, Peluso retired last year. He owned the Peluso Chiropractic Center in Palm Harbor from 1989 to 2013. He was chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas from 2007 to 2012, served on the state's Early Learning Advisory Council, and is on the board of directors for the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital Foundation. He lost a 2008 bid for School Board.
    EducationBachelor's degree; master's degreeBachelor's degree; doctor of chiropractic medicine.
    Ideas to make the district more efficient?As we buy new buses, we need to have them be fuel-efficient and clean. The district has properties that need to be sold.Review every department's budget and staffing, and weigh that against the needs of students, families and community.
    What should the district do differently to help low-performing schools?Low-performing schools are mostly Title 1 schools and have many more challenges than other schools. However, we treat them the same. We need to give more autonomy to the individual school and classroom teacher.The first and most obvious action is to determine why the schools are underperforming. Then evaluate the school administration, community outreach programs, staffing and available technology, and act according to that analysis.
    How would you adjust the teacher evaluation system?The evaluation formula still needs to be revised. The system should consider factors that teachers have no control over, such as low parent involvement and poor attendance.It would be prudent to wait for the results of the district's pilot program. It also is the law that teachers be evaluated based on test scores, and the School Board can't change that.
    Fundraising$12,985 raised.$41,416 raised.
    Financial disclosureAssets: Commercial property. Liabilities: Car, commercial loans. Income: Social Security, businesses.Assets: Stocks, bonds. Liabilities: None. Income: Life insurance, income from chiropractic center.
    PersonalMarried. No children. Lives in Tarpon Springs.Married. One adult stepson, one adult son. Lives in Palm Harbor.
    Contactvotebilliris.com; bbilliris@tampabay.rr.comvotekenpeluso.com; drpeluso@earthlink.net
    ...

    Peluso
  11. District 4 School Board candidates bring different education experience to the race

    K12

    Two familiar faces are vying for the only open seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

    Beverley Billiris, 66, is the former mayor of Tarpon Springs, a local business owner and a recently retired teacher. Ken Peluso, 58, is the former chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas and a retired chiropractor. He narrowly lost the 2008 election to board member Robin Wikle.

    The nonpartisan District 4 seat is open only to voters in that district, which covers much of northern Pinellas, including Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and parts of Clearwater. Wikle stepped down two years early; the winner on Nov. 4 will serve the end of her term....

    Beverley Billiris.
  12. Pinellas School Board gives superintendent Grego rave reviews

    K12

    LARGO — In his second evaluation, superintendent Mike Grego earned near-perfect marks and enthusiastic praise from the Pinellas County School Board.

    Board members credited Grego for giving employees raises, increasing starting teacher pay to $40,000 and being visible in the schools. Board chairwoman Carol Cook said Grego has "gained the public's respect for the job you're doing."

    Board member Terry Krassner said the district "could not be in better hands."...

  13. School Board gives Grego glowing marks on his evaluation

    Blog

    In his second evaluation, superintendent Mike Grego earned near-perfect marks and high praise from the Pinellas County School Board.

    Board members credited Grego for giving employees raises, increasing starting teacher pay to $40,000, and being visible in schools. Board chairwoman Carol Cook said Grego has “gained the public’s respect for the job you’re doing.” Board member Terry Krassner said the district “could not be in better hands.”...

  14. Pinellas' use of substitute teachers skirts class size rules

    K12

    With the state's annual class-size count looming earlier this month, the Pinellas County school system put out an urgent call for substitute teachers.

    An email sent to prospective substitutes made it clear that the jobs were easy to get and short term. With a classic recruiting poster of Uncle Sam — "We Want You!" — it blasted: "Pinellas County Needs You Now!!!" and "No interviews required." Co-teaching positions were available "from October 6 through October 31," wrote Seymour Brown, a district director, on Oct. 2. ...

    An Oct. 2 email from a Pinellas School District  official suggests a last-minute effort to meet the state’s class-size requirements by using substitute teachers.
  15. Pinellas School Board approves 2.5 percent pay raise for employees

    Education

    LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to give employees a 2.5 percent raise on average. The board formally signed off on negotiated agreements with its four union groups. It also approved raises for administrators. Pay increases are retroactive to July 1, and employees will see the money in their paychecks later this month.