ST. PETERSBURG — Rising sixth-graders walking the halls of Meadowlawn Middle School during orientation Thursday weren’t the only ones excited about the beginning of school on Aug. 19. Michael Grego was all smiles as he spoke with parents about the start of classes — his first as superintendent of Pinellas County schools. The coming academic year will be full of changes, he said. “I cannot express how excited I am; we’re ready to go,” Grego said to a room filled with parents. “Just remember, there is nothing to be gained from taking an easy path. ... We’re not going to set students up for failure, but rather we’re stretching them and raising the ceiling of their capabilities.” A big part of the plan is expanding the school district’s extended learning program, providing an extra hour of instruction called “Promise Time” at 28 low-income elementary and middle schools after the regular school day ends. For high-achieving students, the school district hopes to expand the middle school Talent Identification Program, which last year allowed about 300 of the top middle school students in the district to attend college-prep summer camps and take the SAT.
A focus this summer has been professional development, and with more than a dozen new principals and a shake-up of key positions at the administrative level, the extra training was needed to “build a championship team in the offseason,” Grego said. About 160 new teachers were hired in one day during the school district’s first “Teach In,” and more than 1,000 teachers and administrators participated in summer training classes on the new Common Core standards that will be adopted in the 2014-2015 school year. That training will continue throughout the school year, he said. Principals and district staffers also went through training programs to develop stronger school improvement plans that include efforts to establish more partnerships with area businesses. Ramping up technology on campuses remains a priority, Grego said, to prepare students for online tests and assignments they will receive in the Common Core program, and to open doors for more science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, initiatives. Twelve elementary schools will have new science laboratories this fall, and more will have after-school STEM clubs. High schools will see more career-oriented and technical classes and Career Academies of Seminole, which was called Seminole Vocational Education Center last school year, is offering more industry certifications to students from Largo, Osceola and Seminole high schools. There will be no early release Wednesdays this year, which was intended to give teachers more planning time, partly because some parents complained it was difficult to arrange child care. Students will spend the same amount of time in school, with hours spread equally throughout the week. On Thursday, Tom Daley sat with three of his young daughters as his 12-year-old, Lauren Daley, practiced opening her locker with other rising sixth graders. He said Lauren has been chatting nonstop about new clubs and opportunities at Meadowlawn this year. For the family, the beginning of a new school is anticipated with as much excitement as the beginning of summer vacation. “I have a lot of experience with Pinellas schools, but I’m so pleased with everything I hear about what they’re doing next year,” Daley said. “It really makes me feel good about dropping off my girls each day.” firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 215-9851