CLEARWATER - Amid the clamor over Florida's disappointing school grades released Friday, the state Department of Education also released a list of the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state, including seven in Pinellas County.
The Pinellas County School Board will vote Tuesday on increasing the school day by an additional hour at those schools, which made the list based on students' performance on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test. During the upcoming school year, students will get an extra hour of reading instruction at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg, Fairmount Park in St. Petersburg, Maximo in St. Petersburg, Sandy Lane in Clearwater, Lakewood in St. Petersburg and Melrose in St. Petersburg. Those who performed well on the FCAT don't have to stay for the extra instruction.
During the school year that just ended, Pinellas had six public schools and the Imagine Charter elementary school on the list, but Woodlawn in St. Petersburg and High Point in Clearwater were replaced by Maximo and Sandy Lane.
Sandy Lane and Lakewood received D grades from the state this academic year, while the rest of the schools received F's, despite a last-minute policy change that prevented schools from dropping more than one letter grade. The privately owned Imagine Charter School's elementary school received an F grade for the second year in a row but was closed by the school district this year, despite pleas from parents, teachers and students. Had the school remained open, it would also be facing a longer school day.
The extra hour of reading help, which is taught by teachers with a history of improving reading scores, is required by a law passed last year and gives students about 180 additional instructional hours during the school year.
"It's all research-based, it can't just be kids reading for the sake of reading," said Cynthia Kidd, principal of Lakewood Elementary. "We can't just pull it out of a hat, we have to find teachers and programs with proven results and strict structures so we can show the district and the state our progress. It's definitely not a free-for-all."
According to a Florida Department of Education analysis of FCAT scores, only 23 percent of students at Campbell Park read at a satisfactory level, while Fairmount Park had 17 percent, Maximo Park 21 percent, Imagine 22 percent, Sandy Lane 25 percent, Lakewood 25 percent and Melrose 25 percent.
The public schools on the list are among the poorest in the county, with more than 90 percent of students qualified to receive free or reduced-price lunches. Melrose has the highest free and reduced-price lunch rate in the county, at 97 percent.
The cost to keep the schools open an additional hour, which effects everything from school bus transportation to teacher pay, is covered with state Supplemental Academic Instruction funds.
Hillsborough County had 11 schools on the list, and Pasco County avoided the list completely. Though this year's FCAT results show that Lakewood students "still have some foundational skills that need to be addressed," the extra hour has produced noticeable reading gains, Kidd said.
Schools throughout the county could benefit from similar reading instruction, and the school district will launch the new "Promise Time" program for the upcoming school year that will provide an extra hour of reading tutoring to struggling students, Superintendent Michael Grego said.
The School Board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth Street S.W., Largo. The first public hearing on the preliminary 2013-2014 school district budget will follow.