When students succeed, the community benefits

BY RENE FLOWERS, District 7 School Board Member

Over the past year, there has been an increase in efforts to bring all students along as it relates to their public school education, particularly those students of black and brown skin. I absolutely believe that we can do more and I can assure you that I am committed to just that–assuring that black and brown skin students receive an equitable education in order to transition them from a future of economic depression.

A strong focus on discipline has resulted in a reduction of suspensions and referrals for our minority students. This, in large part, is a result of the focus away from punitive action to supportive conversations, minimizing the number of days a student can be suspended and consulting with the area superintendent before such disciplinary actions are taken.

Restorative Justice/Restorative Practice was initially chartered at Gibbs High School. Principal Hepburn agreed to implement the model there before a full roll out to the district. His results are immeasurable.

The graduation rate soared at Gibbs High and the discipline issues were significantly diminished. The new immersion of the Sandy Hook Promise program will focus on working with students and faculty addressing bullying as it presents itself in many forms and other mental health and communication issues that often result in students feeling alone and isolated. This program has no cost to the district.

I must not diminish the efforts to recruit talented teachers to our schools. The teacher shortage is real; however, by focusing on teacher pay, benefits, professional development and opportunities for growth, we have been able to move in the right direction.

I am proud to share that our relationship with COQEBS is not an adversarial one. We all want what is best for the students. The district provides the data in the manner that COQEBS desires to disaggregate the data and visualize with full disclosure where we are with our students and their learning goals.

Projecting a potential increase in transportation costs of $900,000, the district embarked upon the use of a new technology system that allowed us to maximize our routes such that the increase in costs was not realized and we had ALL routes accounted for on the first day of school.

 Especially exciting for me is the transition of educational services at the new Midtown Academy for Cultural Arts and Gifted Studies. The district provides testing for all students in the second grade and all students attending the notable elementary schools in Midtown.

This service allowed for the district to realize that we had over 1,400 students in south St. Petersburg who tested “gifted” and were not in a gifted program. The combined focus on academia and the arts will surely aide to propel our students to greatness.

We must not forget how important it is to start with our students as soon as possible. As such, the increase in the VPK programs that we offer has proven successful as well as our partnership with Head Start–with one of their centers located in Midtown Academy. If our students start out with the necessary tools, they will be less likely to fall behind and more prepared for the state required testing.

The new construction of Melrose Elementary and the renovations at Lakewood High School are long overdue but welcomed. I am grateful to my colleagues for supporting me in these two projects.

Finally, for the past three years, I have had the pleasure of touring teachers through south St. Petersburg, stopping to visit our historical landmarks, sharing our rich history and allowing them to see the communities that surround their schools and where their students live. They may not fully understand all that may trouble their student; however, through this activity, they certainly gain a better perspective!

 Below is a sample of the things I have been able to accomplish with the support of my community and colleagues–those who think it not robbery to roll up their sleeves and made every moment count–and we are just getting started

  • Upon the “Failure Factory” article, co-hosted with Terri Lipsey Scott a community forum regarding the actions that PCS was taking to address the problem–a problem that began in 1964, the year that I was born! A lawsuit that was filed while I was a child, continued through my education, and my children’s education.

  • Pushed for an increase in African-American principals; we now have the highest number of black principals in the county.

  • Requested and received support for the pilot project for “Winning Reading Boost,” a program that began at Campbell Park Elementary and Lakewood Elementary Schools. Currently, students from Melrose participate in this program at the SPC Midtown Center after school.

  • Fought to have the Dr. Carter G Woodson African American Museum as a destination approved for field trips for PCS students.

  • Upon my first year on the board and the revelation from the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding minority student suspension rates, I openly agreed to, pushed for and is now protocol for a reduction in the number of days a student can be suspended.

Students cannot be suspended without the principal having utilized all other exhaustive measures and receive final approval from the area superintendent.

  • Attended Restorative Justice Restorative Practices/ Implicit Bias Training in Atlanta and brought back training format to the county. Process implemented countywide, a part of the regularly scheduled committee meetings to assess the improvement within the district.

  • Hosted Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices Training for PCS SROs at Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community S4ervices, Inc. ( SPPD, Sheriff Office and PCS School Police)

  • Brought back the Vyrle Davis Student Achievement Awards to recognize African-American students for their academic achievements. Over $10,000 in college scholarships awarded.

  • Proposed two meetings a year off-site (one South County and one North County). Received the votes to proceed.

  • Diversion programs instituted as an alternative to suspensions.

  • Students that are suspended receive full credit for the work completed during the suspension rather than a reduction in a letter grade

  • Several students who should have been expelled and directed towards Tele-School diverted to Pinellas Secondary so that they can have adult supervision during the day and progress in their studies

  • Enhancement of services provided at Pinellas Technical College/expanding program offerings

  • PCS students can attend Pinellas County Technical College at no charge

  • Funding for PCS to assure that every school has a school nurse (funding came from Pinellas County Government and the Pinellas County Health Department)

  • Collaborated with Congressman Charlie Crist to work on curtailing the issues surrounding teen auto thefts

  • Charter Board Member for JDAI (Juvenile Detention Assessment Intervention) to address juvenile detention issues, recidivism rate and Direct Filing issues.

  • Pushed for PCS to purchase University Preparatory Academy (UPA) when they were abandoned mid-year. School Board purchased the facility for $3.1 million and called for the naming of the school to reflect the community–Midtown Academy! 

  • New construction of Melrose Elementary School – $18 million project

  • Held bidders conferences to advise minority contractors on how to become vendors for PCS projects and how to bid at Lakewood High School in 2013 and in 2018 in partnership with Pinellas County Government and the City of St. Petersburg Greenhouse project

  • Held sub-contractors information session at Melrose regarding contracting bids for work on Melrose Elementary School; six minority contractors selected

  • New construction and renovations at Lakewood High School

  • Advocated strongly for R’Club to purchase Happy Workers; R’Club now owns Happy Workers, who sought and received funding to upgrade the facility, playground, enhance staff, eradicate the debt, maintain consistency in licensing concerns and renovate the church portion for use by the public when available all while maintaining the historic designation of the building.

  • Three of the five struggling schools improved from a state grade of an “F” to a “C.”

  • Hiring of a Minority Affairs Officer; Lewis Brinson was selected for the position (an African- American Male)

  • Fought for and achieved enhancements in the recruitment division with a focus on HBCU’s.

  • Collaborated with PERC and Mike Jalazzo to provide meals and transpiration to those students on probation who are assigned to his program after school.

  • Instruct a writing and speech class for the past eight years for middle school and now high school students leading up to Black History Month presentations.

  • Created and lead the discussion to convert Midtown Academy into Midtown Academy for Cultural Arts and Gifted Studies after requesting data for the number of Black students who tested gifted- over 1400! 2018

  • Sponsored a fundraiser for Midtown Academy in collaboration with Advantage Village Academy this year to raise money to buy instruments for students who cannot afford them at the St Petersburg Country Club.

  • Established partnership with Advantage Village Academy and Pepsi-Cola (2018)

  • Co-Hort to College Program at Gibbs High School. (2018)

  • Increased the number of technical trade programs in high schools-expanded technical trade programs to middle schools

There is so much more to do. If you want to know how you can help, sign up to be a volunteer, a mentor, a member of the Booster Club for the band, read to our elementary school students–whatever you decide.  Signing up to assure that our scholar’s futures are as bright as they have ever been will mean so much to so many.

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