Skip to main content.

'Failure Factories': What the Board Says

Fellowship Story Showcase

'Failure Factories': What the Board Says

Picture of Michael LaForgia
Tampa Bay Times
Friday, August 14, 2015

The Times asked Pinellas County School Board members to take a position on teacher pay, safety, district spending and diversity in Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries. Here’s what they had to say.

Because of the special challenges they face, should the district spend more of its own local money and resources (not Title I funds) on the five neighborhood elementary schools in South Pinellas — Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — than it does on less-impoverished schools?

 

Janet Clark — Yes

No additional comment

Carol Cook — Yes

Yes, as a Board, we are committed to providing equitable resources to our schools. There are several “less-impoverished” schools that receive funds in addition to Campbell Park, Fairmont Park, Lakewood, Melrose and Maximo. As a district we leverage IDEA, SAI and local funds and resources combined with Title I funds to support those efforts. Currently principals and teachers indicate that the resources are sufficient.

Rene Flowers — Yes

▪︎ The purpose of the K-12 FTE that the district receives is to provide education for all of its K-12 students. There are various other sources of revenue, mainly SAI and Title I, which are targeted for assisting students in poverty and students who are not proficient. We generally use the State and local sources of revenue to implement our basic staffing model and then use SAI and Title I funds to supplement the general revenue resources.

▪︎ An analysis of the spending patterns at these five schools shows that, on average, more is spent from general sources and more is spent in total at these five schools than most of the less impoverished schools in the district.

▪︎ In focus groups of the teachers at these five schools, they report that lack of resources is not an issue.

▪︎ In meetings with the principals of these five schools, they report that lack of resources is not an issue.

▪︎ School district directs greater resources to schools of greater need. There are many more schools that the district provide additional funds to beside the 5 mentioned.

I also believe that one resource has been overlooked and that is the volunteer hours that have been provided by a variety of community organizations to work with the struggling students at each of these schools. From Cross and Anvil, the PanHellenic Counsel, Ladies of Alphas Kappa Alpha , Men of Omega Psi Phi, and many other organizations have adopted these schools and have chosen to serve as mentors.

Terry Krassner — Yes

Yes. As a start, the district’s area superintendents should invest dollars from their discretionary budgets into schools with the greatest resource needs.

Linda Lerner — No answer

As a responsible and informed school board member, I can’t simply give yes or no answers for two questions.

I also need to provide short clarifying comments for all my answers. There are many schools with large numbers of students from high-poverty neighborhoods which need more funds than other schools. A district analysis of the five schools determined, on the average, more is spent from general resources in these schools than at most of the less-impoverished schools.

Peggy O’Shea — No answer

I am a strong believer in needs based resource allocation, but we must balance the funding to provide for all of our students, including those at schools beyond the five mentioned who are in the a low socio-economic or “impoverished” status. We have a staffing model which is applied to all schools then use Title I, (low socio-economic), SAI funds,(Supplemental Academic Instruction), and some of our K-12 FTE funding to supplement the resources at these five schools. At this point, we need to continue to monitor the progress of the schools in relation to the effectiveness and relevance of the resources.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Yes. We are currently and will continue to effectively allocate additional resources to all schools that have greater need, including the five mentioned above.

Has the district focused enough resources on black student achievement over the past decade?

Janet Clark — No

No additional comment

Carol Cook — No

No, but the district has corrected this situation. Money is not the only resource that needs to be considered when looking to improve student achievement. We have found success making sure that schools have strong leaders/principals and skilled teachers in the schools. Teachers must have high expectations for their students. Additionally, faculties must have the same goals to make sure the students have a safe learning environment in which students can, and will excel. The variety of learning opportunities such as Connect for Success, Extended Learning and Summer Bridge are key components in student success. Combine those factors with family involvement and, as we have seen student achievement improves. Those are the resources on which we should continue to focus.

Rene Flowers — No

No, however we are moving in the right directions. Money is a part but not the whole answer to the concern. When resources are directed from one place to another, we simply cause concerns in another area rather than look at improvement and steady movement across the district. Over the last decade the district has not, however over the past five years, a significant increase in financial resources and the addition of programs to challenge the students has been implemented and the payoff can be seen based on the recent promotion and graduation increase in numbers.

a. It is not a resource issue; rather, it is an issue of finding the correct mix of training, alignment of resources, and pedagogy to continue to close the gap.

b. This is an issue that is plaguing school district across the nation and as we continue to work on our Bridging the Gap plan, we are focusing on the five major areas outlined in the current University of Chicago research on the five essentials of school success;

i. Effective Leaders: The principal works with teachers to implement a clear and strategic vision for school success.

ii. Collaborative Teachers: The staff is committed to the school, receives strong professional development, and works together to improve the school.

iii. Involved Families: The entire school staff builds strong relationships with families and communities to support learning.

iv. Supportive Environment: The school is safe and orderly. Teachers have high expectations for students. Students are supported by their teachers and peers.

v. Ambitious Instruction: Classes are academically demanding and engage students by emphasizing the application of knowledge.

c. Emphasis on all minority students has produced positive results – Connect for Success program – Laptops to all Title I Schools and Beyond-the-Classroom presented to all students.

d. Extended Learning program has grown throughout the district serving struggling students.

e. Summer Bridge Program serves greater percentage of black students than any other sub-group. Past summer we had a15% increase in AA enrollment. Summer Bridge Program in county-wide.

f. Our efforts at these five schools are focused on these five areas and we have provided all of the support we believe is needed to accomplish our goals.

Terry Krassner — No

No. More resources and support are needed to close the achievement gap.

Linda Lerner — Yes

This question should not only be about resources, but the important factors related to the goal of higher black student achievement which include a continuing team of effective school leaders, teachers and other educators, increased professional development and coaching, family engagement, a supportive school environment and instruction that meets the specific needs and strengths of students.

Peggy O’Shea — No answer

The district has looked at the causes of the Black Student Achievement Gap throughout the years of court-ordered desegregation, and the return to neighborhood schools. In 2006, almost a decade ago, The “Figlio and Rouse Report” was a study done for Pinellas County.. The findings showed a strong link to a lack of “Kindergarten Readiness” among Black students as compared to non-Black. The district has increased the number of VPK, (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) classes within district schools and have placed them in the geographic areas most impacted by poverty. In addition, we have looked at the other factors including a gender gap (girls score higher than boys), discipline, (girls have less discipline issues than boys), and a poverty gap. The aforementioned five schools have a high percentage of Black students living in poverty, higher crime areas, and are less ready for Kindergarten then their non-black counterparts. Our Bridging the Gap Plan is focused on strong leadership, professional development, family and community outreach. Additional resources have been deployed including: Laptops to Title I schools, Extended learning programs, and the Summer Bridge Program. We have experienced increased enrollment in these programs and an increase in student achievement. We have a great partnership with the Juvenile Welfare Board. They have extended resources to these areas of the county and work in collaboration with the school district to serve our most at-risk students.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Yes. Since being elected in November of 2014 I perhaps have a unique perspective as to the extent of focus that our district currently has on black student achievement. Though I cannot speak first hand as to efforts in the past, I can honestly state that our district is constantly monitoring and evaluating as to the most appropriate resource allocation and programming in accordance to our “Bridging The Gap” plan and data shows that we have been successful to date. Note that this gap is not specific to Pinellas County nor is there any quick fix. That being said, we are diligently and adequately focusing on eliminating the black achievement gap.

Should the district pay teachers significantly more to work in Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose, as compared to less-impoverished schools?

Janet Clark — Yes

No additional comment

Carol Cook — Yes

Yes, research supports the model of supplemental pay in schools to stabilize the workforce. This is a concept being utilized in large urban districts across the nation. Since implementing this practice we have seen the positive impact resulting in more stability in our schools.

Rene Flowers — Yes

We have provided pay enhancements for those individuals who choose to teach in one of our challenging schools.

a. In the 2013-2014 school year, Fairmont Park, Maximo, and Melrose Elementary Schools were part of a Recruitment and Retention plan offered at five schools that offered $3000 recruitment bonuses and the potential for an additional $2000 in performance bonuses.

b. In the 2014-2015 school year, Campbell Park Elementary School was added to the plan along with other schools bringing the total number of schools participating to fourteen.

c. Lakewood Elementary School is being added to this plan for the 2015-2016 school year.

d. The purpose of this plan is to bring stability to the staffs at participating schools. So far, it has had the desired effect.

The partnership with the City of St. Petersburg, when I was a sitting councilmember, to also provide down payment and closing cost towards homeownership assistance proved to be pivotal when providing incentives to new teachers, teachers desiring to relocate and attracting teachers to become a part of the Midtown community.

Terry Krassner — No

No. The district should increase all teacher salaries.

Linda Lerner — No answer

I’m not sure what is meant by significantly more district pay. I support the present recruitment and retention plan at the five schools that includes bonuses, ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 depending on the number of years at the school, and the potential of an additional $2,000 based on performance.

Peggy O’Shea — Yes

Stability and experienced teachers are key to success in the five schools. We need to ensure that the right teachers, who have demonstrated success working with struggling students, are in the schools. We have seen a shift towards lower staff turnover and greater stability for the school and community. We are holding teachers to a high standard with a strict evaluation system. I support the use of recruitment and retention bonuses.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Without being privy to the question writer’s definition of “significant”, I will say yes. Our district currently offers a $3000 recruitment bonus with opportunity for an additional $2000 bonus based on performance.

Should the district explore modifying its student enrollment plan to encourage more diversity at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose?

Janet Clark — Yes

No additional comment

Carol Cook — Yes

Yes, we are currently in the process of exploring modification to curriculum offerings in order to increase diversity at these five schools as well as other schools in the district. While diversity is important, the main goal of these offerings would be to allow students to become engaged in their learning while challenging them at the same time.

Rene Flowers — Yes

▪︎ Yes, and we are in the process of aggressively doing this at 4 of the 5 schools. Fairmount Park, Lakewood and Maximo will be include in a federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant that is likely to be submitted in February/March of 2016 (the REF has not been released as of yet, but have already been meeting with the schools to develop exciting new magnet/attractor programs). Each of the schools has some available seat capacity to bring in non-minority students by choice which will increase diversity. The magnet themes selected for these 3 schools were selected based on a survey of parents in 2013 regarding what new magnet theses parents would like to see created and that they would send their children to. The theses are as follows;

Fairmount Park – STEAM, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics

Lakewood – International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program

Maximo – Leadership and Entrepreneurship

▪︎ At Melrose we have had a long standing Journalism and Media Studies magnet program that was opened in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times. The district recently renewed the Memorandum of Understanding for this program and the feeder programs at John Hopkins MS and Lakewood HS. As part of the new MOU the district will be hiring a full time district Journalism Program Coordinator to work in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times and the Journeys in Journalism Advisory Board to reinvigorate the Journalism and Media Studies magnets, including Melrose. We envision that with the support and assistance of the Tampa Bay Times, we can attract more choice students to Melrose to increase diversity.

Terry Krassner — Yes

Yes. I would like to see more diversity in all Pinellas schools and community engagement in student enrollment plans.

Linda Lerner — Yes

I support the district’s plan and grant applications to increase and strengthen choice programs to increase diversity at these schools.

Peggy O’Shea — Yes

As you know, I have long been a supporter of Magnet Programs and forms of voluntary integration in our schools, especially in this post-desegregation era. Our original magnet programs did provide more diversity than what we are seeing since the end of ratios. I was appointed to both task forces that studied and made recommendations regarding a choice plan. A survey was done which received a high response rate. The results showed that parents favored close to home schools particularly for younger children, but were more supportive of older students going out of the local zone for specialized programs. We have greatly increased the number of choices including: magnets, career and technical academies and other choice programs. Pinellas County Schools have been recognized by the Ford Foundation for our development of career education and academies. In addition, the Brookings Institute has recognized this district for school and program choice options ranking us 19th in the nation. We have applied for a federal Magnet Assistance Grant to expand magnet programs in these schools. Melrose has a long standing Journalism program and we have added addition resources look forward to partnering with the Tampa Bay Times at Melrose. Fairmount Park has envisioned a STEAM, (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program, Lakewood, an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, and Maximo, a leadership and entrepreneurship program. These programs have the potential for increasing diversity through choice and offering parents more options for their children.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Yes. We are currently in the process of exploring development of additional programs to accomplish that goal. Of important note is that programs are being developed based on input from parents as to program demand and need.

Do you think Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose are safe places to learn?

Janet Clark — Yes

No additional comment

Carol Cook — Yes

Yes, the combination of parent and community outreach, the Positive Behavior Plans which create a school-wide set of standards along with strengthening the teacher’s classroom management skills has been beneficial. As a result, we have seen a significant reduction in referrals, in school and out of school suspensions as well as arrests district wide.

Rene Flowers — Yes

Yes. All schools have issues and concerns with behavior, discipline, economic concerns across the spectrum of families, and cultural differences. Just as a story airs on or in the news about issues during the school day, the same amount if not more time should be dedicated to display those things that are positive. Many of the students from the above mentioned schools participate in the Childs Park YMCA Spelling Bee that I have served as moderator and word caller over for the past four years. No media outlets other than the Weekly Challenger have ever attended and covered this event. Our last event attracted 53 participants from kindergarten to sixth grade. Our children can read, they can spell extremely difficult words by knowing the root and the definition, and our children know how to behave in a variety of settings.

Collectively there is a great reduction of the number of referrals in the Five schools, along with a decrease of In school suspensions and out of school suspensions when compared to their 2013-2014 data.

Positive Behavior Plans are in place to support all five schools, specifically working with teachers to strengthen the classroom management. They also provide support for the culture development and school-wide discipline plan.

The family engagement component of the Scale Up for Success Initiative is comprised of several components: (1) Family Engagement Activities – Linked to Learning; (2) Family Navigators (JWB); (3) Mental Health Specialist; and Social Workers and Psychologists. These employees are staffed full time.

I personally attended the staffing workshop and the community session spearheaded by Dr. Mapp at the Largo Cultural Center and John Hopkins Middle School. Both events were well attended especially the community session. Partners such as the JWB South Central Council, COQEBS chair, Ricardo Davis, PTA members, SAC members, religious organizations, teachers, non profit organizations and social organizations all came out to show a common theme-we love and believe in our students. After the workshop conducted by Dr. Karen Mapp, Building Dual Capacity – Family Engagement, each school increased in the number of family engagement events that were linked to learning as well as overall attendance.

All 5 schools showed evidence of improving attendance to events that were directly related to learning. These events were strategically plan to inform, educate, engage, and empower.

Another component is the Family Navigators and Mental Health Specialist that were assigned to the schools full time from JWB.

Terry Krassner — Yes

Yes. I have been in each of those schools and they are safe places to learn, but the district should constantly work to improve safety policies and protocols.

Linda Lerner — Yes

All five schools have decreased referrals and suspensions and are provided additional resources to support students and the school-wide discipline plans.

Peggy O’Shea — Yes

I believe these schools are safe places to learn. In my experience in the schools and looking at the behavior statistics, I feel there has been great progress in the leadership and we have seen a reduction in suspensions. The principal is a key to setting the tone and expectations for his/her students and having teachers who have demonstrated success in classroom management in these classrooms has contributed to the improvement. In addition, continued professional development, and increased family and community engagement have contributed to lower behavioral issues.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Yes. As a result of strategic training, collaborative partnerships increased staffing and family engagement programming we have been successful to date and will continue to evaluate focus resources accordingly. We are focusing on safe learning environments for all of our schools including these five.

Would you feel comfortable sending your child or grandchild to school at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo or Melrose?

Janet Clark — Yes

No additional comment

Carol Cook — Yes

No additional comment

Rene Flowers — Yes

YES. We have to work towards removing the stigmatism that only negative things occur or that students are not safe at certain schools-namely the schools listed here. I dare not say that they are free from physical altercations or other forms of unwanted behavior. What I am saying is that if I cannot send my own grandchildren or relatives to any one of these schools why should I suggest that any member of Pinellas County do the same.

I am not asking students, parents or teachers to act accordingly, I am demanding that they do so. If I uphold my part, then I fully expect for our students, parents and teachers to do the same.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to submit responses to your survey. The concerns that are before us will not be solved in a day, however we have made significant strides in improving the educational condition of our most precious students. I am impressed with the resolve that our teachers and support staff have shown. Their performance is based on love for what they do as evidenced by the number of students we move around the district five days a week during the school year.

As we move through our Strategic Plan, upgrade our facilities, enhance our technology features,improve our relationships with parents and the community, and enhance parental support of our students, I see great things on the horizon- mistrust becoming WE TRUST you with our most precious resource, our future!

Terry Krassner — Yes

No additional comment

Linda Lerner — Yes

I would consider the zoned school, these five schools and other choice programs in deciding what would be best for my grandchild.

Peggy O’Shea — Yes

Yes, I would not hesitate to have a child or grandchild attend one of these schools, or any Pinellas County School.

Ken Peluso — Yes

Yes. I am comfortable in light of the district’s efforts to expand programs as well as our continual focus on student safety in all of our schools, including these five.

[This story was originally published by Tampa Bay Times.]