Despite today’s educators facing myriad challenges, Pinellas County Schools (PCS) Superintendent Kevin Hendrick eagerly anticipates providing excitement and stability for local youth in his second year at the helm.
About 100,000 kids will return to local schools Aug. 10. Hendrick continues emphasizing the importance of creating positive experiences to motivate students and teachers.
That includes field trips, design challenges, classmate collaborations and new curricula – often involving science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education. Hendrick said those initiatives were successful during the previous school year and wants to increase opportunities through 2024.
“We did some great work last year with getting students connected back to the community, getting teachers excited,” Hendrick added. “You’re a little nervous in your first year, but it all went really well.”
The new superintendents realized that success is unachievable in isolation, he said. It requires a coalition of parents, community members and various stakeholders working to achieve a common goal. Recognizing the need to accelerate those relationships and “mobilize the community” was his top takeaway from his first year leading 157 schools.
PCS was the state’s top performer in math among its 10-largest districts. It placed third in English and language arts.
There is always room for improvement, however, and PCS officials lack individual school grades. State leadership adopted new testing and assessments, and Hendrick said the district will not receive those results until December or January.
“So, that normal summertime piece of, ‘oh my gosh, this school is low performing, what do we do,’ is not the same as it’s been for the decade prior,” Hendrick explained. “Having said that, we still have the scores that we received from last year, that were provisional.”
Hendrick said he will continue pushing the importance of early literacy, particularly in Fairmount Park, Maximo and Melrose Elementary Schools – all located in South St. Petersburg.
However, he cautioned that district officials and the surrounding community lack the “full picture.” Hendrick said Fairmount Park and Campbell Park Elementary School showed significant reading proficiency increases, and the latter set a new benchmark.
“I would say that if we are looking holistically, our high schools could do better,” he said. “We did not do as good as we wanted to do in high schools – across the board in proficiency – and that’s going to be a focus area.”
State-mandated curriculum changes have recently dominated the educational discourse. Hendrick said the political background noise “absolutely” permeates academia.
He added that superintendents and elected school board members “have an obligation” to address those issues and establish a district-wide stance. He said they must also shield teachers and students from the debates and keep “adult disagreements” out of the classroom.
Hendrick said he discussed that topic at length during a recent board meeting. While he noted that politics and education seem increasingly intertwined, he believes “there’s always those sorts of community conversations.”
ARK Invest founder Cathie Wood’s Innovation Foundation launched a STEAM education pilot last fall for sixth graders in six middle schools representing the county’s varying demographics. Hendricks called it a resounding success, and every middle school in the district will now provide the program.
Teachers overseeing that curriculum, now including seventh graders in the six pilot schools, spent Friday training at the Dali Museum. Hendrick said PCS is working to prepare secondary students for the workforce.
“One of the things we’ve really expanded is dual enrollment with our technical college,” he added. “If you go back five years, we had about 30 students doing that; last year, we had over 300. This year, we hope to have somewhere between 800 and 1,000.”
A recent Homeless Leadership Alliance study highlighted how 3,768 Pinellas students experienced homelessness last year. While district officials cannot improve home lives, Hendrick noted they provide breakfast, lunch and a contingent of adults devoted to supporting their success.
He stressed that schools must serve as a stable environment. Hendrick said PCS social workers also help ensure kids have school supplies, uniforms and nightly meals.
He explained that federal grants enable the district to provide transportation for students moving from place to place. “We’re able to keep them, for the most part, in the school of origin,” Hendrick said.
“We want you to stay at the school because you build friendships there and relationships with your teachers.”
Hendricks urged parents to relish the last week of summer break with their kids. He also encouraged them to check their school’s online supply list, attend orientations and implement earlier bedtimes.
Hendricks wants parents to feel the same excitement as students and teachers and said there will be additional involvement opportunities. More importantly, he asked for their support throughout the upcoming year.
“While we are pushing for that academic achievement, we know that with involved and supportive parents, we can do so much more,” Hendricks said.