Pinellas School Board discusses turnaround plans for failing schools

LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) — Pinellas County School Board members heard a host of recommendations Tuesday designed to turn around failing schools from a troubleshooter that the county hired to fix the problem.

Much of the answer lies in more work for teachers and students alike at the county’s five worst performing elementary schools. “So how do we close the academic gap?” Antonio Burt asked the school board members. “We can’t do it in a six-hour day. Its difficult to do it in a 6.5-hour day, so we’re proposing extending the school day to a 7.5-hour instructional day where teachers can give more time on task.”

Antonio Burt, Pinellas County School District turnaround expert
Antonio Burt, Pinellas County School District turnaround expert

The plan, which has been months in the making, calls for dramatic changes that include longer school days and enhancing top teacher recruitment and retention with as much as $25,000 in bonuses and increased pay for teachers at the district’s failing schools. Recommendations also call for alternatives to suspension and more family engagement to boost learning.

Jim Brower, from the Florida Department of Education, commended the district for coming up with a strategy to save schools in St. Petersburg’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

“What I see in this focus this laser focus is very positive for children in this community,” Brower said.

The county’s five worst elementary schools have now caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, which has launched an investigation to determine whether poor black students have become victims of discrimination within the Pinellas County School District.There are also two civil suits threatening action.

Superintendent Michael Grego struck a defensive tone when he introduced the county’s plan to boost results at a dozen under performing schools.

Superintendant Michael Gregory and board members
Superintendant Michael Gregory and board members

“I want to make something clear; this process that’s been underway the last three years there’s no element of being a knee-jerk reaction,” Grego said.

Burt’s proposal also calls for strategies to promote more parent involvement at failing schools but insists that teachers can’t blame parents.

“I  think the job of every educator is to eliminate any excuse and to do your best effort to make sure you close the academic gap,” Burt said. He insists improvements are already happening and promises dramatic change in the coming school year.

The turnaround proposal is available here and here. The recommendations are available here. Read a summary here.

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