$300,000 may help boost that C

Gulfside Elementary gets a little help to improve its math and science grades over three years.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007

HOLIDAY - Gulfside Elementary School has a long wish list of initiatives it would like to launch in its effort to improve its C grade.

"We've brainstormed activities such as a before-school math camp," principal Chris Clayton said. "We definitely have some professional development needs in math and science."

The list goes on. But bringing in consultants costs money. So does having teachers offer tutoring before and after school, or assigning them to attend seminars outside of their work hours.

"We've wanted to do a lot of things, but we just didn't have the funds to do them," Clayton explained.

Until now.

With help from the Tampa Bay Community Foundation and the Broward-based Council for Educational Change, Gulfside has become Pasco County's first participating school in the Partnership to Advance School Success. The two outside agencies will provide $200,000, and the district will add $100,000 in in-kind services, to assist Gulfside's improvement efforts over the next three years.

"It's a neat opportunity," Clayton said of the program, which Gulfside officially joined on Tuesday.

The Florida Council of 100 and the Council for Educational Change launched PASS in 1999. They aimed to provide financial support, as well as business and education mentors, to C and D rated schools - often in high poverty, high minority communities.

The hope was to raise the schools' performance and change their learning culture. And, according to a University of Miami report, it has generally come to pass. All of the seven original PASS schools earn a higher letter grade than their initial D within the three-year plan, that 2004 report showed.

More broadly, the Council for Educational Change reports, 64 percent of the participating schools have improved one or more grade levels since joining the initiative. As of early December, 64 Florida schools were in the program, including five in Hillsborough County and seven in St. Petersburg.

Pasco School Board member Frank Parker helped bring PASS to Gulfside.

"When you can get community support like this, it's very helpful," Parker explained. "Every little bit helps."

He said the district chose Gulfside as its first PASS school because it fits the criteria, and also because it looks able to take full advantage.

"We wanted to pick a school that we felt would be successful so that we can learn from this and maybe get some additional schools picked as we go through the process," Parker said.

District officials knew the grant was on its way for at least a month, but had to wait until they found a local CEO willing to mentor the school before formally announcing it. They found that business leader in Jireh Inc. president Lew Friedland.

Friedland, who taught school in Hernando County about 30 years ago, has been active in children's issues and Pasco community activities over the years. He said he welcomed the opportunity to help in the project, which he called exciting and innovative.

He's already met once with Clayton, who, he said, "I'm very impressed with."

"Now we have a task of putting a plan together to better educate the student population he has at the school," Friedland said, adding that he's been doing a lot of reading to bring himself up to speed. "There are a multitude of programs that have worked in other schools. We're going to look at all of them ... and see which ones fit."

The district has not yet picked an education coach for the school. David Scanga, elementary education executive director, expects that assignment will come in January.

Clayton said he's ready to get moving with the planning, noting that the school can start spending the money as soon as its budget wins approval.

"It's great. We'd like to put a lot of these things in place," he said of the ideas that have begun to emerge. "We're going to be able to put a lot of things in place to help kids."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast facts

Gulfside Elementary

Location: 2329 Anclote Blvd., Holiday

2007 school grade: C

Percent free and reduced lunch: 60

Percent minority: 25

Percent meeting high standards in reading:64

Percent meeting high standards in math: 44

Percent meeting high standards in writing: 64

Percent meeting high standards in science: 18

Source: Florida Department of Education