L-R, Marikia Gates, Nikita J Reed, Vinda Moore, Kelly Milnes
Second row: Douglas Hill, Justin Black, Michael Wilson, Robert Southard, LaRona Morehead, Gretchen Letterman and Jessica Greene
ST. PETERSBURG – Ranked by the Florida Department of Education as the worst elementary school in the state just three years ago, Melrose is now celebrating a successful school year that yielded a “C” grade.
Last August, Principal Nikita Reed took over the reins and with cohesive teamwork and strategic planning, 61 percent of Melrose’s students saw a marked improvement.
In 2015, the Tampa Bay Times published a scathing exposé illuminating Pinellas County School’s failure to educate children in south St. Petersburg. Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose Elementary Schools, unfortunately, were labeled failure factories.
Named “Transformation Zone” schools, four of the five received new principals and were provided extra resources. For Melrose and Campbell Park, both schools jumped two letter grades. Lakewood’s school letter grade stayed the same at “D,” Fairmount Park’s letter grade increased from an “F” to a “D” and Maximo’s grade decreased from a “C” to a “D.”
The Weekly Challenger asked Principal Reed to gather responses from the Melrose community, including its scholars, teachers, staff and volunteers.
Thank you to the Melrose families, community, volunteers, faculty and staff
BY PRINCIPAL NIKITA REED, Melrose Elementary
The most beautiful faces and brightest young minds in the world arrive daily at the steps of Melrose Elementary School with an eagerness to learn and heartbeat to serve.
The Melrose education experience has taken an obsessively focused approach toward teaching and learning in order to successfully educate the next generation of astronauts and artists, educators and entrepreneurs, preachers and pilots.
And as champions for the children of Melrose, our parents, faculty, school district leaders and community volunteers represent a collection of what is great about public education.
Your commitment to Melrose’s continual progress has resulted in loftier academic goals and a new passion for teaching and learning in the 2016-17 academic year. Also, the results of intense focus on academics resulted in Melrose’s transformation from an underperforming school into a success factory with a trajectory toward higher heights.
Based last month’s academic numbers reported by the state of Florida, our scholars successfully ran across the bridge to a better future. Bold steps such as hiring a new staff of highly qualified teachers and aligning them with a rigorous curriculum equipped our scholars with the necessary skills to outpace their peers academically. Along with the creation of a positive school climate has arrived an education environment of high expectations and engaged parents.
Parental engagement at Melrose has taken on a greater hands-on approach to their child’s educational success. Parents are supporting our scholars with completing their homework, monitoring the classrooms and opening windows to opportunities through weekend activities.
A behavior climate change has improved academic outcomes through our Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) program. Scholar behavior has drastically improved with the reduction in office referrals. Our response to intervention tier level approach to behavior modifications has improved our scholars’ self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Additional activities that improved Melrose’s culture and climate involved inviting speakers such as Buccaneer Jameis Winston, Roderick Cunningham from Men of Yesterday, Officer Lopez and other high-achieving community leaders. Based on 2016-17 academic numbers, the Melrose family trusted in our purpose, process and people leading to close the achievement gap.
We remain committed to creating magical moments at Melrose, teaching from the heart and soaring as a scholar success factory.
Students focused on teaching and learning
BY ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL NIKISHIA DIXON, Melrose Elementary
I am so proud of our Melrose scholars and teachers for their achievements this school year. I knew soon after my arrival last summer that our scholars were not failures. In fact, as I got to know the students, the parents and the dedicated community members, I realized that Melrose was destined for greatness, for success!
We worked so hard at changing the culture of the school, the learning environment and the learning conditions. Students were focused on teaching and learning and frequently touted the importance of the two.
Parents weren’t initially happy about some of the changes, but quickly came to realize what we were trying to do and supported the work. Each day, we were making history. We were rewriting the book of Melrose being a success factory! We were thinking outside of the box and making intentional decisions that were in the best interest of our scholars.
Through our collective efforts of hard work, dedication to our students and families and building self-efficacy in our scholars, we were able to make gains. Going from a grade of F to a grade of C is a great accomplishment for the Melrose school community!
I am honored to have been a part of this work. I know without a doubt that our scholars will continue to rise to the occasion and show that Melrose is a great place to grow, work and learn!
Melrose scholars’ thoughts about their school letter grade change
Deanudrik Feaster: It makes me feel like a rock star, and I love my school.
Zamarian Williams: It makes me feel super-duper! I am super happy because our school was an “F” and we moved to a “C.” We did this because we were being good and making our teachers happy. We have a great school!
Demetrius Richardson: I am just happy that we are not an “F” school anymore. I am happy, and everybody is happy.
Jamal Miles, Jr.: I am happy that our school is a “C” school because we were bad in the beginning and now we are good. Our school has good people that believe in us. I know people will think we are a good school now. We do not get a lot of referrals anymore. Ms. Reed does not let anyone call us bad kids. She says we all make mistakes and we learn from them. I am just happy we are a “C” school. I love this school now.
Emmanuel Alexander: It makes me happy and proud of our school. We went from an “F” to “C” and now we need to go from a “C” to “A” school.
Cordajia Allen: I feel proud because my school went from an “F” school to a “C” school. We worked really hard to get a better grade.
‘A new Melrose has begun’
BY HONESTY REYNOLDS, 5TH GRADE
“I don’t want my child to go to Melrose, those kids are bad!” That’s what many people say about Melrose, but we know that is not true. Melrose has a great principal and her name is Ms. Nikita J. Reed. She loves her scholars and she wants the best for us!
Since Ms. Reed became the principal, many students have come to Melrose. A new Melrose has begun! We all have the knowledge and we proved it.
All the children at Melrose have the potential to accomplish whatever they want. All they need is a person to lead and guide them. This year would be my first year at Melrose and I really like this school. The teachers are very considerate and respectful. They want success for the scholars here at Melrose, and that is what I believe a new Melrose should have.
I strongly believe that our new principal, Ms. Reed, hired the right teachers to teach the scholars here! Our principal is our role model. She encourages us in many different ways.
For example, Ms. Reed came up with “senior week” although we are in the fifth grade. In her eyes, we are seniors! She believes in us, which helps us believe in ourselves. My personal opinion is that Ms. Reed is a great individual. I look up to her in every way I can. Ms. Reed went to the military and I really look up to her. I believe she is changing Melrose for the better and our scores have improved dramatically!
In Ms. Reed’s eyes, we are unique. Other schools call their scholars students, but Ms. Reed, on the other hand, calls us scholars, so we are very special! Like I said, we have an outstanding principal, no ifs ands or buts about it!
Unwavering faith and dedication to the scholars
BY DENEEN WYMAN, Secretary/Bookkeeper
This coming August marks my fourth year working at Melrose Elementary School. I have worked at two of the five South County Transformation Zone schools during my 16 years at Pinellas County Schools.
This past year I have never seen staff work as hard as they did at Melrose. Everyone on staff worked together, went above and beyond and supported each other throughout the year. There were highs and lows but we persevered! Our unwavering faith and dedication to the scholars are what made us what we are now: a “C” school!
Principal Reed was our sergeant and we were the cadets under her leadership! What she brought to Melrose was beyond instrumental – she brought transformation!
A ‘new normal’ of teaching and learning
BY SHADAY LACKEY, Music Teacher
As Exploratory Subject-Area Teachers, we have a unique opportunity with our scholars. We help build content area skills, support general education content and foster relationships that make our learning spaces not only “fun” but engaging places to comfortably learn and grow both academically and socially.
Our scholars matriculate through a hierarchy of standards-based skills with the comforting consistency of the same teacher and class procedures each year. Through this unique experience and vision for excellence, I have seen the achievement in our subject matter increase (artistically, musically and kinesthetically) as well as the intrinsic mentality of the scholars.
They not only believe and trust in themselves but also support and encourage their peers in the 2016-17 year that were not as widely prevalent in the past two school years. The scholars work hard and demonstrate how they value their exploratory classes and the enriched learning experiences each person on the exploratory team creates for them.
Just as important, their learning transcends our learning spaces and scholars are able to interchangeably apply general education and exploratory content – this is a win for the development of the whole child. Bravo to our scholars, this is a well-earned accomplishment!
The musicians, artists, athletes, journalists – all scholars and staff of Melrose Elementary have established a “new normal” of teaching and learning, peer compassion and breaking barriers.
Scholars put their faith and trust in Principal Reed and their teachers
BY ALFRED JAMES WILLIAMS, JR., Melrose Volunteer of the Year 2016-17
I am so excited about the accomplishments made at Melrose Elementary School this school year. I started volunteering and mentoring at Melrose Elementary School in August 2014, after joining up with a group of Christian men who called themselves “The Men of YTF” – Men of Yesterday, Today and the Future – under the present leadership of Brother Jack Fletcher.
I want to congratulate Principal Reed and the entire staff for what has taken place this year. During my years at Melrose, I have witnessed students who appeared to have no self-esteem, no positive outlook on life, no discipline and no respect for themselves or others.
It pleases my heart to say that those behaviors and attitudes have been reconstructed thanks to great leadership and support of Principal Reed and staff. Finally, I want to commend the scholars here at Melrose for the faith and trust they put in Principal Reed and their teachers and for believing in themselves that they can make a difference.
Journalism: Another outlet for success at Melrose
BY GRETCHEN LETTERMAN, Journeys in Journalism Program Coordinator
The scholars’ success this past year was clearly supported by the school’s journalism program.
The whole-school magnet, known as the Melrose Center for Journalism and Multimedia, was started at Melrose in 2001 through a partnership between the Pinellas County Schools and the then St. Petersburg Times. The plan was to offer scholars a special course of study that would build confidence, hone critical thinking and provide other important life skills.
The scholars this year displayed extraordinary effort, meeting the challenge to improve themselves and their school grade, and their energy benefited their journalism work as well. In addition to exploring journalism in their weekly lessons, scholars revived the daily broadcast of Mel TV News, the anchors serving as role models as they kept their friends and teachers informed. In the first ever Journalism Club, fourth and fifth graders conducted news conferences and put their skills to use in other real-world opportunities, such as reporting from shore to shore aboard the Cross-Bay Ferry. Scholars’ written and photographic work filled four issues of the school’s Manatee Messenger, a huge jump from one issue the previous year.
Scholars lived “the Melrose Way” – which means doing your best and respecting others. They were heard to remind each other of that way, on and off campus. One of the finest examples of the Melrose Way could be seen at the groundbreaking for our new building this summer.
On a day when he didn’t have to be at school, rising fifth grader Shawnteze King put on his jacket and tie and came to Melrose to cover the event for the Manatee Messenger and, as it turned out, the Tampa Bay Times, which published a photograph he took.
After photographing the line of shovels topped with hard hats, various speakers and the sizeable crowd, Shawnteze was asked by Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego to stand up and be recognized. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Grego said, “I’d hire this young man in a minute, wouldn’t you?”
A schedule is in place to put more journalism into Melrose classrooms next year. For the first time, fourth and fifth graders will have journalism five days a week, instead of only one. Melrose scholars should be able to grow even more in their writing and reading. They surely will be producing lots of stories about their success.
When dad is engaged, children just do better
BY MARK BARKER, All Pro Dad’s Day Development Specialist
What a blessing it has been to offer the All Pro Dad program at Melrose Elementary this past year. Once a month, dads (or grandpa, step-dad and moms too) come to Melrose to have breakfast with their children and enjoy the All Pro Dad program.
It is a fun, positive hour designed to help fathers or positive male role models make connections with their children and be more engaged in their lives. All the statistics show that when Dad is engaged, children just do better. Judging from the laughs and even from the tears, All Pro Dad has struck a nerve at Melrose Elementary, for the good.
It has been a privilege to share this time with Melrose families over the last year. One of my favorite parts of the All Pro Dad program is when fathers walk their children to class at the end of the breakfast. There is just something special when dad is in the classroom. We want teachers to meet dads, especially when the conversation is all positive!
Next year is shaping up to be even better. There was a great turnout for our last meeting and we are all excited about that growth and the overall direction of Melrose Elementary. The best news is that next year Michael Webb, a long-time dad at Melrose, will be leading the meetings.
“To know Melrose is to love it! Although I’ve seen its share of ups and downs, it has grown tremendously in a positive way,” said Webb, who is the father of a third and fourth grader. “Through many prayers, we have been blessed with Ms. Reed as well as some very caring individuals who truly love our kids or scholars as they call themselves. With hard work and sheer determination, Melrose Elementary is a passing school that I am proud to be a part of.”
Parents are a key part of Team Melrose
BY KATISHA POWELL, Parent & iMom Leader
My sons have gone to Melrose Elementary for three years now. I have been told by many people over the past three years how Melrose is an “F” school and that I should send my scholars somewhere else. My reply has always been that the scholars, teachers and parents are what make a school, not a letter grade.
It is truly amazing to see such a great turnaround in one school year. They went two letter grades up! That says a lot about everyone’s hard work and dedication.
Scholars worked hard in the classroom and on the FSA. The principal and teachers wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to turning Melrose around. Last but not least, the parents motivated their scholars to come to school prepared and on time every day and interacted with their education.
Going from an “F” to a “C” is confirmation that Melrose can become an “A” school next year. I truly believe we can and will as long as we continue to work as a team. Go Melrose!!
Soaring to new heights
BY MONESHEA HARRIS, Parent & PTA President
As a parent of Melrose Elementary for six years, I must say that the 2016-17 school year with Principal Reed was by far the most effective school year I have seen.
The school year was very informative, engaged, resourceful and welcoming. Principal Reed created a respectful and safe learning environment for all scholars and staff while promoting confidence, self-worth and pride.
With all the newfound dedication, love and faith, I felt in my heart that Melrose would conquer and achieve a higher rating. Although the school’s performance reflects a “C,” the scholars’ attitude and dedication to learning earned an “A” from my point of view as a parent.
I am 100 percent proud of each and every scholar, staff member, administrator, parent and community partner. We are soaring to new heights. I look forward to watching Melrose continue to grow.
We all experienced learning gains
BY VINDA MOORE, Lead Paraprofessional
From the perspective of a paraprofessional (support staff), tremendous progress was made defining the roles and responsibilities of our position, which enabled us to better assist our teachers and scholars with learning.
Defining our roles provided us with better focus and direction with individual and small group instruction planned by our teacher. This focus also helped our teachers understand how the paraprofessional could be a better and more effective teaching partner.
Scholars started viewing paraprofessionals as having more authority to direct learning activities and reduced behavior issues that allowed our focus to be on learning. Mutual respect developed between paraprofessionals and scholars. We all experienced learning gains with our scholars and our ability to assist scholars improved dramatically.
The overall environment of Melrose progressed positively, which provided an increased feeling of acceptance and security. From the physical appearance of our school to an environment of encouragement, the changes resulted in positive attitudes that provided our scholars with a “can do” attitude toward learning.
We worked together to understand how mistakes can enable us to grow and reduced the stigma of making a mistake. Smiles and perseverance showed us we were making progress.
Helping families tackle barriers
BY TARRA OFOSU, Family Connection Navigator
The letter grade is a true reflection of having a vision and understanding how the vision will be executed during the school year. Expectation were created, shared and adhered to daily. Scholars were put first. Teachers work hard daily to challenge themselves to grow and change lives through education.
Principal Reed, the hardest working woman in the district, comes in seven days a week and pours her heart into our school. Our scholars wanted to learn and put in hard work daily. These young people faced many obstacles outside of school, like homelessness, poverty and many other social factors that create instability but came to school daily.
Our focus on “Strengthening Family Engagement Within Family Connection Navigation” program opened the door for families to become sustainable. Our collaborative efforts help families tackle barriers and enable them to move forward and actively participate in the school community.
This letter grade not only represents the hard work but it also tells our community that none of our scholars are incapable. We are all capable when the right people are put in place, with a clear vision, expectations and heart.
More volunteers, family and community involvement
BY ROBERT SOUTHARD, Family & Community Liaison
Progress with improved family and community relations at Melrose was evident by the middle of our school year. We had significant improvement with the number of volunteers and volunteer hours. The number of volunteer hours substantially increased—approximately 300 percent— during the second half of our school year as a result of more volunteers wanting to come to Melrose.
Progress was made with volunteer activity because volunteers were seeing learning growth and improved attitudes of our scholars. Scholars were anxious to learn and loved the individual attention provided by volunteers with the lessons planned by their teachers.
Our volunteers were experiencing the fun and positive results of their work with our scholars. Our teachers provided great guidance with activities that assisted with specific learning targets.
Volunteers were encouraged by experiencing positive results with the scholars they assisted. Relationships developed and both volunteers and scholars looked forward to their time together.
We also made progress with providing volunteers that met the needs of our teachers. We were careful to provide volunteers with the right skills and appropriate subject knowledge for our teachers. This resulted in expanded learning.
Work of specific groups such as Girlfriends, 5,000 Role Models and All Pro Dads grew and provided many new experiences for our scholars. We implemented the iMom program with initial attendance more than 200 parents and scholars. This alone demonstrated our progress with family and community involvement.
These programs provided fun and constructive experiences for adults and scholars that encouraged and increased parent participation. Our “Manatee March” had close to 100 participants on a Saturday to show the support of our community for our school. Parents, community members and scholars were willing to march to show their love of our school.
A culture of possibilities
BY KARL NURSE, City Council Member District 6
Dear Ms. Reed:
Congratulations! I cannot express how excited I am that through your leadership you pulled Melrose up two letter grades. I have watched so many people work so hard for so many years that I had almost given up.
Your ability to create a culture of the possibilities played a big role in this improvement.
Although I will leave office at the end of the year, I will continue to work in the neighborhood to try to create an endless series of improvements around you. The four legs – schools, public safety, housing and jobs – all have to work together. Thank you.
Privilege of seeing the impossible
BY PASTOR CRAIG W. NELSON, First United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg
I just read a spreadsheet that said that in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Melrose Elementary received an “F”. But for 2017 it says something different! It doesn’t say a “D,” it says a “C”!
If you want to see a bunch of church people screaming, praising God for what He has done, come to church Sunday. The people are going to go nuts!
Ms. Reed, I am so proud of you, grateful for the sweat and tears you have literally given to this school and community. You have had the privilege of seeing the impossible, and now, so have I.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Enough to say: God is good!
Melrose Elementary would like to give special thanks to the following faith-based community partners:
Rev. Louis M. Murphy Sr. Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Clarence A. Williams, Greater Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church
Rev. Curtiss Long, New Faith Free Methodist Church
Dr. Ellis R. Hodge, Word of Life Fellowship Church
Dr. Craig Nelson, First United Methodist Church Downtown St. Petersburg
Pastor Martin Rainey, Parent Support for Education Council, Inc.
The Naomi and Titus II Covenant Alliance Ministers, Inc.