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Group pushes for Pinellas Schools superintendent with a diverse background

Pinellas County Classroom
Posted at 5:52 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 18:31:39-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Right now, the search is on for the next superintendent that will lead one of the largest school districts in Florida.

The Pinellas County Superintendent is stepping down this summer and some community leaders tell ABC Action News they’re making a big push for the next leader to come from a diverse background.

Dr. Ricardo “Ric” Davis has watched the Pinellas County School District come a long way in 30 years since his group, The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black and Brown Students, began.

“Since then, we have made tremendous progress,” Davis said.

According to the Pinellas County School District, 10 years ago, just 56% of African American students graduated high school. Now that number is up to 86%. Ten years ago, just 64% of Hispanic students graduated high school. Now that number is up to 92%, which is the same as the district-wide graduation rate for all students.

The 92% overall graduation rate is the highest of any large public school district in Florida.

“The good news is that we’ve made progress. We have made some measurable progress, but it hasn’t been eliminated. We’re on our way and it’s going to take time,” Davis elaborated.

Davis just penned a letter in the "Weekly Challenger" talking about the need for a superintendent who recognizes the disparities between students and understands the need to close the achievement gap.

Dr. Ricardo Davis

“I don’t know that it has to be a Hispanic or a black African American superintendent in order to make the progress. Dr. Michael Grego did well, but clearly, a Hispanic or African American or black superintendent will bring another dimension to the work,” Davis explained.

The school board plans to hold a special meeting Tuesday, January 25th to talk about the superintendent search. The board plans to spend the next two months gathering community feedback and they hope to have a final candidate selected by June.

Davis hopes one day to see 100% of Hispanic and African American students getting a diploma. He also hopes to see the teachers helping them there being from diverse backgrounds as well.

“I think that the superintendent has to come in understanding the history, recognizing what we’ve done so far, and try to help us make that progress,” Davis added.

Outgoing superintendent Dr. Michael Grego said that will be his focus, as well.

We’ll do a great job of finding that next person and we certainly will hold that person accountable, and I will too,” he told ABC Action News shortly after announcing his plan to retire.

Here’s the full article Davis wrote for publication in the Weekly Challenger:

The question is not intentionally intended to be simply provocative; it is more of a “are we ready” question. The Pinellas County School System should be examining this question.

We should not hire a Black or Hispanic superintendent because they would represent either group. But because we have hopefully arrived at an inflection point in our history where the right candidate is not just someone with the traditional educational or leadership background, but also happens to be Black or Hispanic.

The search process must intentionally produce candidates and finalists from diverse backgrounds for this to be possible. In the recent election of a Black mayor in St. Petersburg, citizens made a historical and transformative decision that we were ready for the change. School board members will make the decision on who the next superintendent will be, and to these members, I ask, are we ready?

No one believes that employment selection processes are entirely void of elements of subjectivity. After all, we are all human beings with our own biases. However, the decision-makers will be expected to provide the community with a transparent process that reflects integrity and equity.

We still have an achievement gap challenge in Pinellas County Schools. That is not to say we have not made progress — we have. It is also not to suggest that selecting a Black or Hispanic superintendent will miraculously solve all our challenges.

But we know from extensive research that a powerful statement can be made when children from historically underserved communities begin to see themselves reflected in the leadership of our institutions.

The new leader must take us beyond the progress we have demonstrated thus far. This new leader must be a visionary who can see and articulate new horizons for all students, especially Black and Hispanic students. The new superintendent must be an inspirational leader that others are prepared to follow.

The person must be ready to lead a district of approximately 100,000 students, of which about 19 percent are Black, and another 18 percent are Hispanic. They must be able to manage a budget of $1.6 billion and approximately 17,000 employees.

This person must demonstrate improvement in student’s outcome metrics through incremental but continuous progress, especially in the Bridging the Gap Plan.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego’s decision to retire provided the district with this unique opportunity to select a new superintendent at this time in the district’s history. The district has never had a Black superintendent since its inception in 1912. The challenges that persist despite incremental progress will not be resolved quickly.

The most qualified applicant does not have to be Black or Hispanic, but they most certainly could be, and we as a community should be ready if they are.