ST. PETERSBURG – The NAACP organized a parent forum held last Sat., March 19 so that parents from the five failing elementary schools — Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — in south St. Pete could voice their concerns.
Termed “Failure Factories” by the Tampa Bay Times after a series of articles showing how the Pinellas County School district has failed to make good on promised resources after reintroducing segregation, these schools are at the top of Florida’s failing school list.
The forum was about recording first-hand narratives from the population most affected by the failing schools.
One parent spoke about feeling intimidated when speaking to staff and teachers at her child’s school.
Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP understands how that parent feels and said if she didn’t have the comfort level she has, she would feel intimidated also.
“We have to be careful with falling into the stereotype that Africans are not involved with their child’s education. It’s not that they’re not there, it’s what happens when they get there,” she said.
As the rain poured outside, so did emotions in the meeting.
Jenee Skipper, a parent who had a child attending Campbell Park Elementary and one of five parents who were invited to sit on the panel, tried to volunteer at the school but was met with many obstacles along the way.
She took it upon herself to find volunteers that could come and read to the children, but was told that they needed cafeteria help instead. Even attempting to attend a parent meeting was problematic since they are worked around a schedule that is convenient for the teachers only.
“If I have to catch a bus and get to work, I can’t make it to a meeting at 7:30 a.m.,” she said.
Skipper eventually got her child into Bay Vista Fundamental and the difference has been night and day.
Matt Stewart had a foster child attending Campbell Park who constantly had behaviors issues. Once the child was moved to a school in north St. Pete, the issues stopped.
“Children shouldn’t have to leave their neighborhood schools and move to North County to get an education,” he said.
Some parents said that school administrators must be aware of the struggles that some people are going through. For instance, Candice Moore had children attending Melrose Elementary and expressed that she oftentimes had trouble meeting basic needs.
“At one point I was in a situation where I was in a marriage of domestic violence and that prevented me from being engaged as much as I would like to have been. So sometimes parents are distracted by negative things or maybe even positive things that go on in the home,” said Moore.
Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students member Dr. Goliath Davis feels that more needs to be done to prepare teachers who come into failing schools.
“Is there a boot camp before they get there,” he said. “I think it’s unfair for the teacher to be put in the situation then turnaround and penalize them for all the negative outcomes.”
Deputy Superintendent Bill Corbett said that teachers have received some training on poverty and cultural issues, but “not enough.”
“There clearly needs to be more planning and training with better parent engagement. There are some teachers and some principles that are great, and there are some that are not. We all need to get better at it,” said Corbett.