The start of the school year is an exciting time of renewal and optimism for the year ahead. I want to welcome back students, families, mentors and community organizations whose partnership makes academic success possible at each school.
During the 2015-2016 school year, schools located within the City of St. Petersburg saw increased student performance, improved school letter grades and were awarded local, state and national honors. Even with the more rigorous Florida Standards Assessment, eight schools in St. Petersburg earned an A grade. The number of F schools dropped from seven to two district wide.
Three of the five Scale Up for Success schools (Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose Elementary schools) saw improvements in letter grades. At Maximo Elementary, the school grade improved from an F to a C. Fairmount Park and Lakewood Elementary schools improved from an F to a D.
All five schools saw increases in proficiency rates on the Florida Standards Assessment, and a majority saw proficiency rates increase on every test in every grade level.
Throughout the past year, Pinellas County Schools has taken major steps to improve the learning environment by working to reduce discipline disparities and provide alternatives to suspensions for all students. We have worked diligently to increase restorative methods that better support student success.
We had the fewest number of students suspended in many years. Suspensions for the 2015-2016 school year decreased by 37.1 percent from the prior year, and the number of individual students suspended decreased by 25.3 percent. This includes a 19 percent reduction of referrals and a 13.2 percent decrease in out-of-school suspensions issued to African-American students. In the upcoming school year, Pinellas County Schools will offer alternative placement centers as an alternative to suspension for students. While at the centers, students will receive classroom instruction, assistance with course work and are given strategies to be successful when they return to their school.
In the year ahead, Pinellas County Schools will increase the use of restorative practices to better meet the needs of students. These practices focus on relationship building with students and working with them to prevent infractions before they rise to the level of a referral. Restorative practices also help establish a reintegration plan when students return from suspension or an alternative center. Pinellas is at the forefront among large districts focused on restorative practices.
Educators know students cannot learn if they are not in the classroom. As superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, I remain committed to finding alternative and effective ways to manage behavior issues at our schools. As we do our part to keep students learning every day, I ask that you pay special attention to attendance this year. Every day counts, and we ask parents to help make sure absences are limited. Please don’t let your child stay home unless your child is truly sick. Attending school regularly helps children feel better about school—and themselves.
Pinellas County values the input of our families. This school year, every elementary school student in the county will have some form of physical activity each day. This is something families have advocated for. There is an important link between physical activity and greater academic success.
Pinellas County continues to expand and grow programs that challenge our students and prepare them for success. Last month, Mildred Helms Elementary and John Hopkins and Largo middle schools were notified of their acceptance as International Baccalaureate (IB) Candidate Schools. At the elementary and middle school level, IB is a whole-school model, not a school within a school program. This means that all students who go to the schools will have exposure to the IB curriculum.
During the 2016-2017 school year the district will also expand a personalized learning initiative called Pinellas Innovates. Personalized learning enables students to take ownership of their learning and helps them develop deep connections with each other, their teachers and other adults. Pinellas Innovates will transform what the district is doing in schools on a daily basis. Instruction will move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and learning will be paced to each student’s individual needs.
As we begin this new school year, I encourage our families to attend their child’s back-to-school night and remain an active partner with their school in the year ahead. I encourage businesses and community organizations to remain active in volunteering and mentorship. Our schools are stronger and our student’s achieve more when we work together as a community.