Make us your home page

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. Largo man accused of impersonating law enforcement officer in Land O' Lakes


    A motorist who deputies say flashed emergency lights, wore a necklace with what appeared to be a law enforcement badge and threatened a driver with arrest in Land O' Lakes was arrested himself on Wednesday on a charge of impersonating a law enforcement officer.

    According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, John William Dawson, 49, was driving in his 2012 Chevrolet Impala with a Fraternal Order of Police license plate heading west on State Road 54 around 4 p.m. on Monday. The driver ahead of him said Dawson activated red and white emergency-type lights that he had mounted to his car's dashboard. He also flashed his headlights, which have a blue tint, according to an arrest report....

    John William Dawson, 49, of Largo, was arrested Wednesday in Wesley Chapel on a charge of impersonating a law enforcement officer.
  2. Newpoint schools' vendor Steven Kunkemoeller arrested in Escambia County


    One of two businessmen accused of swindling 15 charter schools throughout Florida, including six between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, turned himself into authorities Wednesday after being charged with racketeering and organized fraud.

    Steven J. Kunkemoeller, 56, of 793 Watch Point Drive in Cincinnati, was booked into the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola at 1:15 p.m. He was released minutes later on $100,000 bail....

    Steven J. Kunkemoeller, 56, turned himself in after a warrant was out for his arrest on charges of racketeering and organized fraud. Kunkemoeller owned businesses that sold goods at inflated prices to charter schools. He is accused of pocketing that money for personal expenses, including $175,000 for his home mortgage.
  3. St. Petersburg preschool worker, 58, accused of using 'excessive force' on two toddlers


    ST. PETERSBURG — A preschool worker was arrested this week after police said she used "excessive force" on two toddlers.

    Linda Faye Williams, 58, was arrested Monday on a charge of felony child abuse, according to St. Petersburg police, after she was caught on surveillance video repeatedly being rough with two 1-year-old girls at Leap of Faith Christian Preschool, 5441 Ninth Ave N.

    The video from June 16 showed Williams grabbing one girl and making her lie down, police said, while repeatedly covering her with a blanket that smothered the child's face....

    Linda Faye Williams
  4. Tropical Storm Cindy forms in Gulf of Mexico, tracks toward Louisiana


    Tropical Storm Bret may have fizzled into a tropical wave, but all eyes shifted to Tropical Storm Cindy, which formed Tuesday and threatens the coasts of Louisiana and Texas with downpours that could cause flash flooding.

    Based on current forecasts, it should have little effect on Tampa Bay.

    Forecasters extended a tropical storm warning for Cindy from San Luis Pass near Galveston, Texas, to the mouth of Pearl River east of New Orleans. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, Cindy was stationary about 250 miles south of Morgan City, La., and about 350 miles southeast of Galveston, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph....

    Tropical Storm Cindy formed in the Gulf of Mexico on June 20, 2017, and warnings have been issued for parts of Louisiana and Texas. [National Hurricane Center]
  5. Prosecutors: Businessman diverted education money meant for Pinellas, Hillsborough charter schools


    A businessman whose companies managed 15 charter schools in Florida, including six across Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, was charged Monday with racketeering in what prosecutors said was a scheme to steer public education money his way using huge markups, bogus invoices and a web of related corporations.

    From 2007 to 2016, according to an affidavit, charter schools controlled by Marcus Nelson May and his company, Newpoint Education Partners, received more than $57 million in public funds — including more than $1 million he used for personal expenses and to purchase residential and business properties in Florida....

    The exterior of Windsor Preparatory Academy in April 2016. The St. Petersburg school, one of several troubled charters managed by Newpoint Education Partners, closed in June 30, 2016. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  6. Newpoint Education Partners founder Marcus May criminally charged with racketeering


    Marcus May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners, the charter school management company that operated four now-closed charter schools in Pinellas County, was criminally charged with racketeering on Monday.

    According to assistant state attorney and designated assistant statewide prosecutor Russ Edgar, May discussed and outlined multiple schemes using more than $1 million in public funds. Edgar spent over a year poring over bank accounts and investigating funds spent from charter schools in Pinellas, Escambia, Bay, Hillsborough, Broward and Duval school districts....

    Windsor Preparatory Academy, a now-closed St. Petersburg charter school, was operated by Newpoint Education Partners. The founder of that company, Marcus May, faces criminal charges for alleged racketeering.
  7. Summer Bridge enrollment is up, but attendance drops slightly


    While registrations continue to climb for Summer Bridge, the Pinellas County school district's summer learning program, slightly fewer students are showing up for class compared to last year.

    Enrollment and attendance figures show that on the third day of Summer Bridge last year, 67.8 percent of 17,630 enrolled students from elementary to high school attended class. This year, that figure dropped to 66.7 percent out of 17,962 registered students, with the largest drop among high school students....

    Kindergartner Destiny Moore, (center) explores the world with binoculars as her Summer Bridge class goes on a nature walk at Fairmount Park Elementary School Wednesday, June 25, 2014.
  8. Pinellas' Transformation Zone schools see growth on Florida Standards Assessment exams


    Florida Standards Assessment results have been long anticipated by the staffs of eight elementary schools in the Pinellas County school district’s Transformation Zone, which are pushing to increase the percentage of students with a passing score of three or higher. These schools, all of which have track records of low performance, have a longer school day, teacher pay incentives and receive extra support....

    Pinellas is compared to other Tampa Bay area school districts and the statewide average on the Florida Standards Assessments English language arts exams.
  9. Pinellas School Board member: 'Sometimes white people say something racially insensitive'


    Linda Lerner says she has never disapproved of a retirement in her 27-year tenure as a Pinellas County School Board member.

    At Tuesday evening's board meeting, she explained why she would break that streak and vote against the approval of the retirement of Christine Hoffman, the former principal of Campbell Park Elementary. It was Lerner's first time publicly commenting on the matter....

    Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner speaks at an August 2015 board meeting held at the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth Street SW in Largo.
  10. Pinellas appoints new leaders in effort to turn around struggling schools


    LARGO — The Pinellas County school system has found a new leader in its high-profile effort to transform its most struggling schools.

    The School Board on Tuesday approved the appointment of Tzeporaw Sahadeo as director of the district's "Transformation Zone," replacing Antonio Burt, who announced his resignation last month.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Antonio Burt, the high-profile leader of Pinellas' school turnaround effort, resigns...

    Carlmon J. Jones is the new manager of talent acquisition for Pinellas County public schools. A former assistant principal, he will lead a three-person department created to hire more black teachers. [Pinellas County Schools]
  11. Sandy Lane Elementary principal Tzeporaw Sahadeo picked to be next Transformation Zone director


    Sandy Lane Elementary principal Tzeporaw Sahadeo has been chosen to replace Antonio Burt as the next director of School Transformation for Pinellas County Schools.

    The Pinellas County School Board agenda for today's 5 p.m. board meeting was updated this morning to add her appointment. If approved, the promotion will be effective July 1. 

    Sahadeo, 40, came to Pinellas last year to lead Sandy Lane Elementary, a Clearwater school in the Transformation Zone. Before that, she was an educational consultant and staff developer for Marzano Center, Learning Sciences International for three years. The Pinellas County school district implemented the Marzano model to evaluate all staff in 2015....

    Sandy Lane Elementary principal Tzeporaw Sahadeo will be Pinellas County Schools next director of School Transformation pending School Board approval.
  12. Summer Bridge begins today in Pinellas


    Summer Bridge, the Pinellas County school district's summer school program, kicks off its fifth year today.

    Enrollment in the six-week program reaches another record high with 16,896 students registered between elementary, middle and high school grade levels, surpassing last year's beginning enrollment of about 16,000. The district saw enrollment growth across all grade levels.

    The Gradebook will follow up on how many enrolled students attend the program later this week. Last year, around two-thirds of registered students showed up to classes....

    Sixth grade teacher Elizabeth Lindenberg, Pinellas Park Middle School, teaches a group of students preparing for fifth grade at Woodlawn Elementary School, St. Petersburg, Tuesday, June 21, 2016 during a session of the Summer Bridge Program. The students were studying nonverbal communication skills. The program was started three years ago by Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Grego to prevent student learning loss, especially in low income areas. Students shown include, left to right: Triniat-e Brown, 10, Madison Mitchell, 9, Audrey Tucker, 10, and Addison Suarez, 11, all of St. Petersburg.
  13. In Pinellas schools, a more urgent search for black teachers


    CLEARWATER — Darion Bentley could be an older brother to the students he helped teach at Bear Creek Elementary in St. Petersburg.

    He is 24, a recent graduate of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University's College of Education. And like some of his students, he grew up in St. Petersburg, black and poor.

    Bentley spent the past school year as a co-teacher in a fourth-grade classroom at Bear Creek. Now he wants his own classroom, so he put on a sharp navy sweater over a patterned shirt and spent Thursday morning schmoozing at the fourth-annual Pinellas County Schools teacher job fair at Countryside High....

    Shantia Blackmon (left), 30, from St. Petersburg, talks with Jocelyn Kelley, 29, from North Carolina, as they sign up for an interview with a school and network at a Pinellas Schools County Job Fair at Countryside High School in Clearwater on June 1, 2017. Blackmon is currently a substitute teacher and is looking for a full-time teaching position teaching kindergarten through second grade. Kelley is a second grade teacher in North Carolina who recently moved to St. Petersburg. She actually is heading back to Carolina to finish her last week of teaching school there and then back here to St. Petersburg.
  14. In switch, assistant principal Darlene Lebo slated to lead St. Petersburg High


    Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has changed his mind on who should be the next principal to lead St. Petersburg High.

    Darlene K. Lebo, an assistant principal at the school, is his new pick to fill the post, according to a School Board agenda posted online late Tuesday.

    Lebo, whose colleagues penned a letter to the board in support of her as principal, said she was officially offered the job Friday and was excited about the new position....

    Robert J. Gagnon, an assistant principal at Northeast High, was first picked to lead St. Petersburg High. School superintendent Mike Grego learned "new information" regarding Gagnon's past in Lake County and pulled the recommendation.
  15. Pinellas school employee left two young children home alone overnight, authorities say


    A school employee who works with the Lakewood High band in Pinellas County was arrested Monday on charges of child neglect after, officials say, he left two children unsupervised for more than 24 hours.

    According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Joshua Ladrice Roundtree, 28, left his two children, ages 3 and 9, at home alone Sunday in Tampa to attend a noon work meeting for a job unrelated to the school....