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Pinellas County Schools working to close achievement gap between Black and non-Black students

Pinellas County schools
Posted at 6:49 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 07:53:58-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Pinellas County School District has a 10-year plan to close the achievement gap between Black and non-Black students.

“When you have a high number of Black students not being successful, it’s time for everyone to come on board and do what is best and identify the reasons why they’re not being successful and be bold and brave and make those adjustments,” said Dr. Lewis Brinson, Ed.D., Minority Achievement Officer.

Now that the school district is four years into the plan, leaders say they’ve made some progress but still have a ways to go.

“We’re getting better at understanding what works, what doesn't work,” said Dr. Dan Evans, Ed.D. Executive Director, Assessment, Accountability, & Research.

The district’s Bridging the Gap plan has six goal areas it’s working on:

  • Graduation rate
  • Academic Achievement
  • Discipline rate
  • Advanced course work
  • Minority hiring
  • Exceptional Student Education (ESE)

Leaders say too many Black students are automatically identified as having Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD), instead of trying other interventions. Many times this results in those students having to stay in the ESE program through the course of their education.

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“We’re not saying they don’t have some behavior issues but it’s not systemic where they need to be placed into this particular category,” said Brinson.

Officials say one of the biggest improvements the district has made so far is the graduation rate.

“We’re at 91.5 and when you look at the 10 largest school districts in the state of Florida, Pinellas school district is number one with a grad rate of 91.5,” said Brinson.

Black students in Pinellas County have a graduation rate of 85.5%. That’s gone up about 20% since 2016.

However, the district says it also has things it still needs to improve, like working to better the proficiency rate and examining how Black students are disciplined.

“There’s a disparity between Black and non-Black students when it comes to out-of-school suspensions and referrals… look at the number of Black students being referred to the office, being suspended. How do we reduce that? That has been an ongoing challenge,” said Brinson.

School officials say they have a number of strategies in place like system-wide equity training for all teachers to help better understand all students, but especially Black students.

“Not all Black students are struggling. We have a lot of high-performing Black students. If they can do it then all students can do it. We just have to make sure that there’s equity, resources,” said Brinson.

The district says it’s constantly working on this plan and looks for ways it can make improvements throughout each school year.

“I’m proud of the fact that the district has a bold plan, has an evolving plan, and has continued to learn from itself and from kids and families and teachers about what works and doesn’t work,” said Evans.