Advertisement
  1. Education

New Pinellas schools plan touted as 'turning point' that would tackle achievement gap in 10 years

Students gather outside Campbell Park Elementary, one of several schools that would stand to benefit if the Pinellas County’s school district’s new plan to eliminate or narrow the achievement gap is successful. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published May 20, 2017

After more than a year of negotiations, the Pinellas County School District has reached a new agreement in a 16-year-old state lawsuit that accused it of shortchanging black students, unveiling a plan Friday to "greatly narrow" or close the achievement gap within a decade.

District officials and the plaintiffs in the case crafted the agreement behind closed doors, with a mediator, after informal talks yielded little progress.

"We see this as a very significant turning point in this district," said Ricardo Davis, president of Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students, known as COQEBS, which took over as plaintiffs in the case in 2010.

"I don't think you'll ever find a plan as comprehensive and as thorough," superintendent Mike Grego said, adding: "I couldn't be more excited as a superintendent to own this."

An agreement hasn't been announced in a separate but related federal desegregation case, which went into mediation at the same time. David Koperski, the School Board attorney, said the district remains in mediation and couldn't comment on those meetings.

This is the second time that Crowley vs. the Pinellas County School Board, a class-action lawsuit filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court in 2000, has been settled. COQEBS accused district leaders nearly two years ago of breaking promises made to settle the case in 2010; the two sides started informal discussions last May before agreeing in January to find a mediator.

Board members will hear the details of the settlement at a work session Tuesday and, if they approve it at a meeting later in the day, it will then go before a judge.

Many of the strategies in the new 81-page plan are familiar and address six broad themes: graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring.

A key difference, however, is that district officials will be required to provide more in-depth data and quarterly progress monitoring. The plaintiffs in the case have complained for years about how long it takes to get reliable information from the school system. Davis also has repeatedly asked that the district establish a process to evaluate the success of its programs over time.

Grego said he planned to discuss the new plan with school principals over the summer, who will then incorporate it into their own school improvement plans.

Former St. Petersburg deputy mayor and police chief Goliath Davis, who is active in COQEBS, said the plan signaled a major shift in the district.

Pinellas school officials, he said, are making a statement that they believe "poor kids can learn, and rather than teach them at a sublevel, (they're) going to instill academic rigor. . . . Just flipping that whole assumption, we believe, is going to make a great change in terms of performance of the kids."

The original "Bridging the Gap" plan, which addressed black student achievement but wasn't directly related to the state or federal lawsuit, was just four pages.

About 19 percent of the district's 101,000 students are black.

Black students have been underrepresented in gifted classes and other special academic programs, but overrepresented in special education. Black students also have been suspended from school at a far higher rate than other children.

As part of the new plan, the district will test all second graders for gifted programs in an effort to increase the number of black students identified. District officials also will identify the top 20 percent of black seventh graders at each middle school to attend the "Talent Identification Program," a summer camp for students doing well in school.

The district also will bring back a position in human resources to recruit teachers of color. Of Pinellas County's 7,500 teachers, just 8 percent are black. The goal is to increase the number of black teachers until it "meets or exceeds the percentage enrollment of black students."

Lawyers in both the state and federal lawsuits sought renewed legal action against the school district after the Tampa Bay Times in late 2015 published "Failure Factories," an investigative series that showed how the district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then broke promises of resources for elementary schools that became overwhelmingly poor and black.

The series also found that black students in Pinellas were being suspended from school at four times the rate of other children and that black students were largely shut out of the school system's best public schools.

The new agreement in the Crowley case requires the school district to employ a minority achievement officer for 10 years, barring financial constraints. Lewis Brinson, a veteran school administrator from Hillsborough County, was hired for the new position in November. He will oversee implementation of the plan.

For the purposes of data collection, the 2015-16 school year will be considered the baseline. The first year of implementation will be this school year.

Grego still retains the right to determine which programs the district uses. But any change to the goals and targets outlined in the plan must be agreed to by both sides.

"I would like to think that this is the type of plan that will change the culture of the district," Davis said.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  2. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  5. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  8. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  9. Former Pinellas school guardian Erick Russell, 37, is accused of pawning the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, body armor and two magazines he was issued to protect students, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He told deputies he needed gas money. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    Those allegations came to light after his arrest on charges of domestic battery and false imprisonment. He was fired by the Pinellas County School District.
  10. This image from a Pinellas County Schools video shows an armed police officer running to respond to a fictional active shooter.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement