Failure Factories | Aug. 16
Violating the state Constitution
What is described is a tragedy of epic proportions that must be immediately addressed. When eight of 10 fail reading and nine in 10 fail math, these children face an almost impossible task in becoming happy and productive members of society. The emotional scars from the bullying that victimizes many are additional factors that compromise their prospects for avoiding the criminal justice system.
The blame is clearly with the education system in Pinellas, as the investigation shows that other schools facing similar problems have done much better. Assigning rookie teachers into such a challenging environment and failing to provide appropriate support by under funding these schools is callous and beyond comprehension. How was this allowed to happen?
The Florida Constitution provides that the education of children is a fundamental value of the people, and that adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools. It makes no exception for schools that are predominantly poor and black, and the Constitution is obviously being violated when it comes to addressing the problems of these schools.
John W. Williams, Indian Shores
Dedicated to success
I understand the responsibility of the Pinellas School Board to ensure the right actions are taken so all students can succeed. Five St. Petersburg elementary schools have been called "failure factories." This label was not necessary to write the story and only negatively stereotypes all the students and educators in these schools.
I realize the extent of support needed for schools with high numbers of our most struggling students. The five schools have additional resources including teacher assistants in all classrooms and more academic coaches and behavior specialists. In 2014-15, the district allocated over $5 million in additional funds for these schools. We must and will sustain these efforts over an extended period of time so they have the positive impact we all desire. I believe our current leadership will review the research and strategies used by other districts and include our educators and community as part of the discussion to improve student achievement.
The district follows state and federal rules regarding allocating and spending funds. The community needs to know that the district is audited repeatedly. In fact, just this past year, all district expenditures, including federal funds, were subject to a scheduled comprehensive audit by the auditor general. Consistent with prior years, there were no significant findings.
Incredibly, after interviewing parents of more than 100 current and former students and spending much time in the schools, the reporters failed to mention a single case of good student behavior or academic progress. Actually, there are many such examples. There is still much to be done and the schools cannot do it alone. Please join the dedicated educators in supporting these students and families. Call to set a time to visit one of these schools and let me know if you agree with the Times' "failure factory" label or with my perspective.
Linda Lerner, Pinellas County School Board member
Blame is misplaced
I am a former Pinellas County teacher and substitute teacher, and my travels took me to all five of these schools, as well as others, giving me a disappointing — actually horrifying — experience. A majority of the students in these schools do not possess the social skills or manners to be taught. During my time in these classrooms, students ran amok — fighting, cursing, using technology in inappropriate ways, and doing everything they could to make me feel unwelcome.
The teachers who serve in these schools should be applauded and supported. No amount of money could justify the mental and physical toll working in these environments takes. At what point will our society and government hold parents and families accountable for the behaviors of their children rather than pointing fingers at teachers and school boards?
Kathy Stevens, St. Petersburg
School differences stark
We have two children in Pinellas County schools. We are zoned for a chronically failing school. Our children have been wait-listed in the lottery for a magnet school five times, with no success in securing seats.
Our oldest child has been granted a special assignment seat at a strong performing "A" neighborhood school for four years. Our youngest child has not been granted a special assignment seat at the same school and will be attending the "D" school. We have had communication from the "A" school since the beginning of August. We have gotten phone calls about the new school year, how to get assistance with uniforms and lunch, and the scheduled meet and greet. The school website calendar is full of upcoming school events. We have heard nothing from the "D" school about the upcoming school year and nothing is on the website.
Lisa Signorelli, Gulfport
Change in values needed
Once again, the school district is being blamed for the failure of five elementary schools in Pinellas County.
I wonder why the writers didn't interview the kids and parents of the bullies. There are many innocents, but they are in the minority. They are being victimized by other kids who come from the same crime-riddled, drug-infested, poverty-stricken cultures. The answer for these failing schools is right in their own back yards. When the culture as a whole that these schools represent embraces decency, respect for authority, education as a high priority, and self-reliance, you'll see a change that will eliminate knee-jerk reactions like superintendent Mike Grego's magnet plan, and it won't cost the district a dime.
Rita K. Williams, Clearwater