In response to the editorial ‘Denying reality will not help Pinellas Schools’

Dear Editor,

The recent editorial the Tampa Bay Times published regarding the business leader tour of Campbell Park Elementary and Maximo Elementary stated that the Pinellas Education Foundation is denying reality and has undercut its efforts and credibility by standing up for the school district. The Foundation has not shied away from calling the district out—whether publically or privately–but it is also the role of the Foundation to advocate for public education by focusing on solutions and not just dwelling on the problems.

The Foundation arranged a tour of the schools because many business leaders were rightly concerned and wanted to see the schools as they stand today. It makes sense for our organization to involve the business community to see firsthand what is happening in our schools.

We are not denying that these schools need support, nor are we trying to downplay the serious problems these schools may be facing, but the fact remains that the business leaders who took the tour were expecting dismal failure but instead saw hope and progress being made.

We understand the role of the Tampa Bay Times and the need for investigative reporting and do not deny the role the media plays in holding school districts accountable, but the “Failure Factories” series and continued coverage seems to have no end in dissecting the problem. Focusing on the problem and attacking those helping the district will only divide a community further so at some point the focus has to switch to solutions and progress.

So, what has the Foundation done and is continuing to do for the community?

We’ve raised more than $140 million dollars for Pinellas County Schools since 1986 to support programs such as Enterprise Village, Finance Park, Classroom Grants, Academies of Pinellas, Take Stock in Children Scholarships and traditional scholarships.

We have also been very involved with helping lower socioeconomic and underserved children for the past eight years through our Youth Connect program that is funded in part by Career Source Pinellas. This program targets 16-24 year olds who have dropped out of school or are facing other extreme circumstances.

Since 2007, we’ve served more than 2,700 of these students.

A large focus of the “Failure Factories” series is on minorities, specifically on the African-American student population. This school year will mark our 1,000th Take Stock in Children scholarship awarded to a graduating African-American senior. The majority of these 1,000 scholarships have been given to students in St. Petersburg.

Currently, we have 359 African-American students in grades 6 – 12 in our Take Stock in Children program with scholarships valued at $4,667,000. As reported, we also made the unusual move of giving an additional 25 Take Stock in Children Scholarships to the five schools (five for each school) totaling $325,000. We made an exception even though the Take Stock in Children program generally begins in middle school and not elementary school.

For the past three years, we have also awarded in excess of 75 Take Stock scholarships specifically to African-American males each year. As an organization, we want to shift the focus from “black male failure” to black male success.

In addition, we recently partnered with the Pinellas County Council PTA to create a Community PTA focused on the five elementary schools and have provided grant funding and training for this initiative.

This is just a snapshot of what we do. We will continue to focus on success and solutions with the community and educational system and encourage the Times to provide equal coverage on progress being made at our schools. We plan to hold additional school tours and would welcome the leadership of the Times to join us.

Cathy Collins, chair of the Pinellas Education Foundation.

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