Lisa Gartner, Times Staff Writer

Lisa Gartner

Lisa Gartner covers Pinellas County Schools, colleges and universities. Before joining the Times in 2013, Lisa covered D.C. Public Schools for The Washington Examiner. Herself a product of Florida public schools, Lisa grew up in Palm Beach County. She attended Northwestern University after purchasing a very heavy coat.

Phone: (727) 893-8707


Twitter: @LisaGartner

  1. New Pinellas program that extends school day sees most students improve


    This year, Pinellas County provided students at 28 schools an extra hour or more of instruction each school day. Dubbed "Promise Time," the new program aimed to ramp up the achievement of students from low-income families.

    Now, midyear data from Pinellas' latest initiative to lengthen the school day show that Promise Time is helping most students — but not all.

    More than 2,300 students signed up for Promise Time in its inaugural year, about 1,100 more than participated in its state-run predecessor. Through a mix of tutoring with teachers and online work, students in schools that receive federal Title 1 funding for low-income children focused on math and reading skills....

  2. Pinellas principals tapped to lead new magnet schools


    Pinellas County school officials have chosen two current principals to lead a pair of new elementary schools opening in August.

    Robert Kalach Jr., principal of Safety Harbor Elementary, was tapped to oversee Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach. Garyn Boyd, principal of Seventy-Fourth Street Elementary, was selected to lead Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater.

    Both Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway, closed in 2009 amid dwindling enrollment, are reopening this fall as technology-focused magnets drawing students countywide. They are the first new schools Pinellas has opened in a decade....

  3. Low algebra scores lead to summer 'boot camp' for Pinellas ninth-graders


    Pinellas is launching its second new summer program in as many years, targeting hundreds more students atop the thousands already enrolled in summer learning.

    Dubbed "Algebra Boot Camp," the six-week summer program will enroll incoming freshmen at each of Pinellas' 17 high schools who are signed up to take Algebra 1 in the fall.

    Last year, only 34 percent of ninth-graders passed the algebra end-of-course exam — significantly below the state average of 52 percent. Under state law, students can't graduate without passing Algebra 1....

    Pinellas is launching a new summer program called “Algebra Boot Camp” for incoming freshmen who need help with the subject.
  4. Amid high interest, Pinellas adds classroom at Gulf Beaches


    Pinellas received so much interest in its newest elementary schools that officials have decided to create an additional kindergarten class at Gulf Beaches Elementary.

    Both Gulf Beaches in St. Pete Beach and Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater are reopening this fall as countywide tech magnets.

    After last month's initial application period, both schools had wait lists for kindergarten. Bill Lawrence, director of student assignment, said it's typical for new schools to see the greatest number of applications at entry grades like kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade....

  5. On Passover, Jewish families contend with FCAT


    Everyone is bleary-eyed at the Passover table, if they're in the right spirit, the adults from red wine, the children from staying up past bedtime. The point of the holiday, for the Jewish people, is to relax. They celebrate the exodus of their people from slavery in ancient Egypt by singing songs and slouching — it's encouraged — in pillow-backed chairs.

    That's not the case this year, say local parents. On days when their children are supposed to be home celebrating, area districts have scheduled the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test....

  6. Man who sued to desegregate Pinellas schools died


    Charles Rutledge, who sued to desegregate Pinellas schools, died last month.

    Rutledge and five other African-American families sued the Pinellas School Board in the federal case Leon W. Bradley Jr. vs. the Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County.

    Rutledge was 89 when he passed away on March. 21 after an illness. He was the last surviving plaintiff.

    Andy Meacham, who writes obituaries for the Times, talked with Enrique Escarraz III, the lawyer who took over the case after James B. Sanderlin became a judge....

  7. Pinellas revises school arrests agreement


    At Tuesday's school board workshop, Pinellas director of operations Michael Bessette is scheduled to present an updated agreement with area police precincts on student misconduct.

    The goal of the plan, which has evolved over the last few months, is to cut down on the number of student arrests at schools by establishing what an arrestable offense is and what lesser options are available for disciplining students....

  8. Teachers at new Pinellas magnet schools get extra training


    Pinellas has packed its Tuesday workshop agenda to the brim, so if you're invested in any issue from extended learning and algebra to the school system budget and student discipline, consider showing your face.

    In the meantime, a quick thing caught the Gradebook's eye in documents about summer training: All teachers at Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementaries will receive special training over the summer....

  9. Pinellas names new career and tech ed chief


    Pinellas school board members approved the hire of an Orange County administrator this week to lead the district'c career, technical and adult education department.

    David Barnes, the current executive director of CTAE, is retiring. Of the 38 applications Pinellas received, Superintendent Mike Grego recommended they hire William Hunt. He starts Monday.

    The job isn't a far stretch for Hunt, who is the senior director of career and technical education for Orange County. He has also served as the director of career and tech education in Osceola, though his roots are local: In the 1990s, Hunt was lead automative instructor at Erwin Technical Center in Hillsborough....

  10. Pinellas principals, APs apply to lead new elementaries


    Pinellas school officials are interviewing candidates to lead two new elementary schools, and expect to choose their top pick for each school next week.

    Ten people applied to be the principal at Kings Highway Elementary, along with eight applicants to lead Gulf Beaches Elementary, new technology magnet schools drawing students countywide....

  11. Constantly tardy Pinellas teacher gets reprieve


    Catherine Fievet, a teacher at Lynch Elementary School in St. Petersburg, was slated to be fired today.

    In a memo to school board members, Superintendent Mike Grego said Fievet was tardy so often that, as of March 3, she had only been on-time 22 days this school year.

    She also used her cell phone at least five times during class, and surfed websites like Facebook, Pinterest and the Huffing Post, also during class....

  12. Wikle won't rule out run for Citrus superintendent job


    Updated 3:20 p.m.

    Robin Wikle recently mentioned to Gradebook that she and her husband bought property in Citrus County. Pinellas's neighbor to the north, Citrus elects its superintendents - and the next election is in 2016. Is Wikle going to run?

    "I can't say yes and I can't say no," Wikle said after today's school board meeting. Read: It's a possibility....

  13. State takes notice as Pinellas tries a new way to evaluate teachers


    Exactly how Florida got here, to 2014, is difficult to say. This is the year when its schools are supposed to finish their transition to a new system of teacher evaluations, yet politicians don't understand them and educators say they don't work.

    The value-added model, or VAM, for rating a Florida teacher's contribution to a student's learning has confused everyone from House Speaker Will Weatherford to the Hillsborough Teacher of the Year, who received a negative VAM score along with his title....

    Carol Cook noticed things “I used back in the day when I was teaching that have gone by the wayside.”
  14. Pinellas schools to cut ESE aide positions


    Pinellas County will be cutting ESE teaching aide positions. This is something we know.

    "The total number of ESE associates will be going down," district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra wrote in an email on March 21.

    Since then, Gradebook has been pressing to know how many positions will be cut, as well as where and why. ESE aides support teachers and work directly with students with special needs....

  15. Eckerd College improv group takes its popular act to a bigger stage



    College is funny. Geoffrey Fella, a skinny senior with a handlebar mustache, knows it. He lives it. Says all he has to do is point to it. There is no other time in students' lives when they'll have this much structure. There is no other time when they will all live together. Swipe a card and there's food for them. Walk into the classes prepared for them.

    "People are taking care of us like we're babies," says Fella. "All we have to do is make sure we wake up at the right time, and don't destroy ourselves, and that's not even happening. People go crazy all the time."...

    Colton Thomas rehearses Tuesday with fellow members of Another Man’s Trash at Eckerd College. The improv group is one of only two college improv groups in the world accepted for the Chicago Improv Festival. The team hits the stage Friday.