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Colleen Wright, Times Staff Writer

Colleen Wright

Colleen Wright covers Pinellas County Schools since joining the Times in 2015. Florida born and bred, she was raised in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida.

Phone: (727) 893-8643


Twitter: @Colleen_Wright

  1. Union versus union: Discord divides the small staff representing Pinellas teachers


    The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says in its mission statement that it promotes solidarity and respect for the profession.

    It represents roughly 7,800 teachers, half of whom pay $690 in annual dues. It negotiates fair pay and work conditions, and settles grievances on teachers' behalf — all with the goal of a happier workplace.

    But the union's small staff is anything but happy right now, riven by a long-running dispute over pay, working conditions and the management style of PCTA president Mike Gandolfo, a former middle school teacher....

    Mike Gandolfo, in his second term as president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, says complaints against him are "based on lies" and are nothing more than a bargaining tactic by employees in the union's office. [Times files]
  2. Pinellas working out plans to place a nurse in every public school by 2021


    LARGO — Amid rising rates of food allergies and chronic diseases among students, the Pinellas County school district may get enough funding to staff a nurse in every school by 2021.

    Sara O'Toole, the district's managing officer for school health services, told School Board members at a workshop Tuesday that funding from the Pinellas County Commission would cover the cost of a licensed practical nurse at every school and a registered nurse overseeing every 10 LPNs. ...

  3. Pinellas bus driver says chemical smell caused her to drop kids off blocks away from school (w/video)

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Officials are investigating a Pinellas County school bus driver who made 24 students get off her bus 10 blocks from Lealman Innovation Academy on Tuesday morning. The driver told a dispatcher she suspected someone poured chemicals into the vehicle's engine, making her sick.

    Angela Williams, 53, called 911 around 7:35 a.m. to report the chemical smell on her bus, also telling the dispatcher it had happened before and it wasn't being done by the students....

    Police have found a child they said was unaccounted for on Aug. 15, 2017, after a Pinellas County school bus driver made up to 39 children get off her bus 10 blocks from Lealman Innovation Academy. The driver pulled over at 39th Avenue N and 28th Street N and asked the children to get off. The school is located at 4900 28th St. N. [SAMANTHA PUTTERMAN | Times]
  4. Five things to expect from the Pinellas School Board workshop


    Here's what you need to know about the Pinellas County School Board workshop, which starts at 9 a.m. at 301 Fourth St SW in Largo. Check out the agenda and supplementary materials here.

    - Nurses for all...

  5. New effort aims to help a 'taken for granted' group: students in rigorous high school classes


    Years ago, Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick was an Advanced Placement teacher in southern Mississippi, tasked with teaching a college-level English class to high school students.

    But when her gifted students struggled with the heightened demands, she didn't know what to do. She found that academic research overwhelmingly focused on under-performing students.

    "I didn't know what I could do at that time to really help them, other than be supportive and be a listener and be an encourager," Shaunessy-Dedrick said. "I only had intuition and the will to try to understand, but I didn't have enough tools."...

    Shannon Suldo (left) and Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, both professors at the USF College of Education, have spent 13 years researching high-performing high school students, especially those in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs. This year, they're putting their findings to the test in 16 schools across Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. [Photo courtesy of Shannon Suldo]
  6. Pinellas revises its recess guidance


    The Pinellas County school district received some heat earlier this week when it named math and engineering centers as the sole example for schools to spend recess, which is supposed to be 20 minutes of unstructured, free-play time.

    District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf emailed revised guidance to a Times reporter on Wednesday. It doesn't eliminate language on math or science activities (they're suggested as part of indoor and outdoor play) but the guidance gives several examples of how schools may spend that time. It also names options that have been considered structured "brain breaks."...

    Students at Sexton Elementary in St. Petersburg participate in recess in 2015, before all schools were required to offer it. Starting in August, a new state mandate says all traditional public schools must offer 20 minutes of free-play recess every day. The school district, however, previously suggested math and engineering centers can be considered free-play opportunities.
  7. Today: Hundreds of school buses hit area roads as Hillsborough, Pinellas practice for the real thing


    It's the annual ritual that signals summer vacation is pretty much over.

    More than 1,000 school buses will be on Tampa Bay area roads Wednesday morning and afternoon in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties even though public school classes do not begin until Thursday.

    At last count, Hillsborough has 973 buses on the road, not including spares, and Pinellas 450.

    BACK TO SCHOOL 2017: A Times special report...

    Hundreds of school buses will be roaring to life Wednesday as drivers run practice routes in preparation for the start of classes in the area's two largest school districts, Hillsborough and Pinellas. The first day of school is Thursday in those two counties and Monday in Pasco and Hernando counties. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  8. School board member told teen: 'If you don't stop, you won't make it to 18'


    Before she left the classroom to join the Pinellas County School Board, Eileen Long sat down Dejarae Thomas for a talk.

    Long, a science teacher at Clearwater Intermediate who was elected to the board in August, taught Thomas for two years. Though he was no longer her student that year, he often hung out in her classroom, and she kept tabs on his grades, attendance and social circle, which were far from ideal....

    Pinellas County School Board member Eileen Long, a former teacher at Clearwater Intermediate, taught Dejarae Thomas, 16, who died in a fiery wreck early Sunday morning.
  9. Meet the 'friendly little robot' that will help teach coding in kindergarten this year (w/video)


    It's all about the basics for kindergartners: numbers, letters … and programming?

    The Pinellas County school district, which starts classes on Thursday, has found a way to introduce the fundamentals of computer coding to its youngest learners this year. The district has purchased 100 "Bee-Bots" to be used in kindergarten classrooms throughout the county.

    BACK TO SCHOOL 2017: What you need to know...

    The Pinellas County school district has purchased 100 Bee-Bot toys for use in kindergarten classes throughout the district, starting with the 2017-18 school year. [Terrapin Software / YouTube]
  10. Pinellas says it's revisiting guidance of math, engineering centers as recess


    Some Pinellas County school district parents were rattled when guidance given to schools solely named math and engineering centers as suitable ways to spend unstructured, free-play recess.

    Following the statewide mandate signed into law earlier this summer, which does not specify whether recess could be spent indoors or outdoors, the district included this in its teaching and learning handbook given to schools:...

    Students at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg participate in recess last year, before all schools were required to offer it. Starting in August, a new state mandate says all traditional public schools must offer 20 minutes of free-play recess every day. The school district, however, suggested math and engineering centers can be considered free-play opportunities.
  11. Antonio Burt, Pinellas' former Transformation Zone leader, to lead 'iZone' in Tennessee


    Remember Antonio Burt, the former leader tasked with turning around the Pinellas County school district's most struggling schools?

    He resigned in May for personal reasons (he recently married and his wife lives in Memphis), but now he's taken on a similar role in Tennessee....

    Antonio Burt, who resigned in May from his post as the Pinellas County school district's Transformation Zone leader, will now be in a similar role overseeing low-performing schools in Shelby County, Tennessee.
  12. Numbers, letters...and coding for Pinellas kindergarteners


    It's all about the basics for kindergartners: numbers, letters...and programming?

    The Pinellas County school district has found a way to introduce the fundamentals of coding to its youngest learners. The district has purchased 100 "Bee-Bots" to be used in Kindergarten classrooms throughout the county.

    It's part of a new district initiative and a growing trend to get kids familiar and interested in coding -- an expanding and lucrative career....

    Jayden Patel, 8, (left) gives Kathy Cotter, 66, a high five after Patel and Lauren Almodovar, 8, (second from left) showed Cotter how to program a Bee-Bot, a programmable floor robot, at Shorecrest Preparatory School Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. The kids showed Cotter how to program the Bee-Bot, then let her try it.
  13. Tonight: Area school districts unveil their budgets and tax rates for 2017-18


    The area's three largest school districts, each with its own set of fiscal issues, will give the public a first look at their 2017-18 budgets tonight in public hearings around Tampa Bay.

    The Hillsborough County School Board will take a preliminary vote on a nearly $3 billion budget and a proposed property tax rate of $6.60 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value — down from last year's rate of $6.91....

    Photo illustration. []
  14. What you need to know about the 2017-18 Pinellas County School Board budget, tax rates


    Following a delayed funding calculation from Tallahassee, the Pinellas County School Board is ready to publicly discuss the proposed budget for the 2017-18 school year. 

    The first public hearing on the tentative $1.5 billion budget and revised tax rate will be held today at 5:01 p.m after it was rescheduled from July 25. Board members will discuss levying a proposed rate of $7.01 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, which is lower than last year's rate of $7.32....

    The Pinellas County School Board holds its first public hearing on the $1.5 billion district budget and a reduced tax rate for 2017-18. The hearing will start at 5:01 p.m. at the Pinellas County Schools administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo.
  15. With Florida's recess mandate set to take effect, some worry schools will water it down


    Just like reading, math and science, recess is now a part of daily life in Florida's traditional, public elementary schools beginning when classes start over the next two weeks.

    A sweeping education bill signed into law this summer carries several mandates, including one parents across the state — especially in Pinellas County — had been rallying for: 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess every day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade....

    Nicole Bond, center, plays with her daughter, Evey, 4, and her son, Ethan, 7, at St. Petersburg's Crisp Park. Bond joined other parents in successfully lobbying for a required 20-minute free-play recess period in every Florida elementary school. Now she fears some wiggle room in the law will prompt schools to hold the period indoors. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]