It took a few minutes, but the group created to address the achievement gap between black and white students in Pinellas County schools reached a quorum Thursday.
Attendance this year has been at its best for the 12-person District Monitoring and Advisory Committee, which represents school administrators, parents, teachers and the local NAACP. Members acknowledge there still is room for improvement.
The committee often has been unable to reach a quorum or take action because not enough members show up to meetings. Thursday’s meeting marked the tenth time the committee has reached the quorum of seven people since 2010.
A court order that established the group requires it to meet four times a year, and the group had set a goal of meeting monthly until this year, when it scaled back to 10 meetings a year. The committee had a quorum only once in 2011 and twice in 2012.
Attending Thursday’s meeting were Chairwoman Diane Stephens from the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, Forrest Lakes Elementary Assistant Principal Richard Knight, Pinellas School Advisory Council member Steve Hodges, NAACP south county member Mary Stull, NAACP north county member Stephen Sarnoff, director of strategic Partnerships Valerie Brimm and Martin Shapiro. That allowed the group to meet its minimum quorum requirement of seven members.
Among those not in attendance were Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego and school board member Rene Flowers, who was designated to fill the board’s seat for the meeting.
Ron Ciranna, the school district’s chief of human resources, said Grego and Flowers couldn’t attend because there was a retirement banquet scheduled the same night. Ciranna attended the meeting in Grego’s place, he said, as Grego “can’t be everywhere.”
Thursday’s discussion centered on changes to the administrative structure of the school district. Members did not find any equality issues with the proposal but did discuss new meeting dates for July 25, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. The group also plans to hold a forum for community members to weigh in on equality issues, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 24 at the Pinellas Technical Education Centers’ St. Petersburg campus.
The next meeting will explore data on student discipline.
The committee hasn’t often held open forums, said Sarnoff, who has sat on the committee since August 2010. It’s time it starts, he said.
“We’ve done maybe one a year, and there’s always a good turnout; people are interested,” Sarnoff said. “The whole point is to find solutions to these problems, to put our words into actions.”
Next month, school board members are expected to give final approval to changes in the group’s bylaws that specify how committee members should be trained, require the committee to meet at least 10 times a year — up from four — and require it to meet at least once a year with the entire school board for the next five years.
Instead of always meeting at the school district’s headquarters in Largo, the committee will start meeting in different parts of the county to make it easier for people to attend.
The district is making positive strides toward equality, and many inequalities have been resolved, said Stephens, a teacher at Pinellas Park High School. But there is still more work to be done, she said.
“My daughter just graduated from Clearwater High School and there are things that happened to her that I hope would not happen to any other African-American student,” Stephens said. “DMAC still needs to be here, still needs to be monitoring, because we’re far from perfect.”