SEMINOLE — Kevin Hendrick took over the Pinellas County school superintendent job in July with a detailed plan for his first six months.
Now he’s seeking ideas to refine the district’s direction moving forward. In a series of town hall meetings, Hendrick is asking parents, teachers and other interested community members for their input on making Pinellas schools better and creating more “points of pride.”
“Your experiences and your thoughts are why we are here,” Hendrick told a crowd of about 25 during the latest session, conducted Monday at Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School.
His focus centered on accelerated academics, including gifted and honors courses, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment. Past topics included performing arts and school choice.
Hendrick reviewed the offerings the district has in place and the successes it has seen, such as increases in gifted participation and a rise in high school students earning college credits.
More work remains, he said. The district wants to refresh the way it teaches the middle grades, for instance, and to improve schools’ climate and culture to encourage better student experiences in classes.
“We’d love your feedback in every single area, or just the ones that interest you,” Hendrick told the group, pointing out several posters lining the walls that asked for ratings and comments on topics ranging from academic programs and school choices to athletics and field trips.
Dr. Puja Korabathina came to the event with her eighth-grade son, Shyam, to hear more about the advanced academic options available to him in high school next fall.
She said the presentation, combined with the ability to provide specific comments, was “really great.”
“It’s giving feedback in a polite, tactical way. There’s no going back and forth,” Korabathina said, referring to some of the heated debates that have occurred at School Board meetings. “This is a really nice way to engage.”
Maria Kadau, a parent and volunteer at Largo High School, said she learned about programs she didn’t know existed, such as dual enrollment through Pinellas Technical College. She said if that initiative were more widely communicated, it could help many teens who have career goals instead of plans for advanced education.
“It would be amazing for them to know,” Kadau said. “I’m really excited about the new superintendent.”
Hendrick said it was important for him to hear where the district needed to improve its communication about existing programs, in addition to ideas small and large for ways to revise the 161 strategic goals that guide the system.
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As some participants added their comments to the wall posters, all of which will be collected and analyzed for a summary report later the year, Hendrick stood to the side holding conversations with anyone who approached him.
He typed notes into his phone as he listened to parents discuss ideas like a small high school for the most academically gifted teens in the county. He laughed when one parent asked him to restart the livestreaming of public comments at board meetings, noting that’s an area outside the superintendent’s authority.
But Hendrick didn’t shy away from anyone, explaining that he never knows when someone will offer an idea that hadn’t come up before.
“It’s good, and it shows transparency,” Hendrick said. “You can’t say that I wasn’t available.”
The district plans three more “listen and learn” sessions. They are scheduled for Sept. 14 at Safety Harbor Middle School, Sept. 15 at Melrose Elementary School and Sept. 19 at Clearwater High. The final one will focus on Spanish-speaking families and their school needs.
The public can watch videos of the completed meetings on the district website at pcsb.org/listenlearn.
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