Like a professional athlete calling it a career at the top of their game, Pinellas County Schools (PCS) Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Grego announced he is stepping down from his role after 10 years of leading the district.
Grego announced Thursday that after serving 42 years in Florida public education, and the last 10 as Pinellas County’s superintendent, the 2021-22 school year would be his last. His retirement officially begins on July 1.
Grego told the Catalyst that in light of the district’s recent successes, and with a clear path to build on that momentum moving forward, he felt the time was right for the sun to set on a long and fulfilling career.
“I just think it’s a good time where things are clicking, and every aspect of our school district is moving in a positive direction,” said Grego. “What better time to hand off the baton to the next person.”
Academically, Grego said PCS is second to none. He meant that literally, as PCS announced Wednesday that its graduation rate set a new record. The county’s graduation rate is also the highest among Florida’s 10 largest districts and tops every district in the Tampa Bay region.
Grego found it difficult to name his proudest achievement. He had several options.
During Grego’s tenure, the graduation rate improved from 70% to 92%. The graduation rate amongst the county’s Black students rose from just 56% to 86.3%, and the Hispanic graduation rate improved from 63% to 92%.
When Grego took the helm, the graduation rate for non-English speaking students was just 40%. Today it is just under 84%.
Grego also noted that enrollment in Advanced Placement courses jumped 79% over the last 10 years.
“Which is an unbelievable statistic,” said Grego. “We have over 13,000 students engaged in some level of college-level courses.”
Grego said PCS has also eliminated over 20 D and F-rated schools, and there is no longer a school with an F grade in the district.
“We came in, and we collectively teamed to really try and hit every single factor in our school district,” he added.
Grego said modernizing the district’s facilities was another major focus during his tenure, and every school under his purview has undergone enhancements. PCS invested over $750 million updating its schools, he said – and for Clearwater and Largo High Schools and Pinellas Park Middle, modernization required building completely new facilities.
“We’re leaving things in great shape,” said Grego. “We’ve built so many systems and all of our divisions – our human resources and finances are in very good condition – it’s a very healthy district. We’ve hit every chord.”
While PCS has realized drastic improvements during hiss tenure, Grego also had to navigate the district through incredible challenges. He said that societal issues permeate public education, which was clear during the last two years of the pandemic. He said it was also evident with the Great Recession and the current affordable housing crisis.
Grego said societal challenges are ubiquitous in their impacts on public education, but education is also a stabilizing force that brings a sense of normalcy to the surrounding community.
“Our district’s done a great job to keep pushing forward, and nothing has fallen backward,” he said. “It’s the nature of educators – they are complete overachievers, and they do a remarkable job.”
Grego said he has no specific retirement plans yet and looks forward to his last six months with PCS. He said he wanted to give the district enough time to conduct a thorough and transparent search for his successor. Grego said he would work with the school board in any way possible to ensure the district never takes a step backward and noted the trust and strong relationship he built with the board over the years.
“I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what it takes to be an effective superintendent. But ultimately, it’s their decision.”
Grego said the one thing he has tried to impress upon students and faculty is to “dream big.” He said he tried to create a school system to foster those dreams and prepare every student for college, or more importantly, life. He said he is a firm believer that if you challenge students, they will rise to the task.
“If there’s a message, it’s centered around expectation and a belief in yourself that you can be and do anything you want to do. Just continue to work hard for it, and it will come your way.”