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New State Task Force Shines Light on Foundation’s Work to Close Achievement Gap

New State Task Force Shines Light on Foundation’s Work to Close Achievement Gap

(Dec. 9, 2021)

Earlier this year, the Pinellas Education Foundation’s signature work to address gender achievement gaps gained serious momentum when the State of Florida created the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys. Foundation CEO Stacy Baier and Pinellas Schools Superintendent Michael Grego were among those selected to serve on the new task force.

This is the latest noteworthy chapter in a story that has deep roots within the Foundation. Lawmakers passed a bill to create the task force following a presentation that highlighted research, interventions, and positive outcomes of the Foundation’s Closing the Gap program, which launched in 2013 to address the gender achievement gap between boys and girls.

Professional development for teachers has become a major focus. The Foundation and district are making plans to build a micro-credential for educators through a multi-year training program focused on gender equity, culturally relevant teaching, and brain-friendly strategies and structures to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap.

“This achievement gap really impacts the whole country and every demographic you look at,” said Jim Myers, co-chair of the Pinellas Education Foundation’s Closing the Gap Committee. “And we started thinking maybe this was something we could really impact, if we could find a way to address it in a way to bring both boys and girls forward.”

The issue was also compelling to board member Sebastian Dortch, who co-chairs the Closing the Gap committee with Myers. “I joined the Board in 2014, and the gender work sounded particularly intriguing,” Dortch recalled. “It touched a heartstring—the idea that we could somehow impact Pinellas County by getting boys more proficient in both reading and comprehension. The committee took the stance that reading is a gateway to all branches of education, whether it’s mathematics or science. If we could somehow increase literacy in this segment of the population, we felt they would do better academically and in disciplinary referrals.”

The groundbreaking program began at 10 pilot schools, where teachers received instructional strategies and school-wide grants to close the gap for boys in literacy achievement, where sometimes the gap between boys and girls exceeds 10 percent. Research shows that boys are increasingly falling behind their female counterparts in English Language Arts, and boys are disproportionately receiving more behavioral referrals.

“It is so fulfilling to see this issue move from local to statewide attention,” said Dortch. “We look forward to assisting the state as they implement new strategies across other districts, leading to better academic outcomes for more boys and girls.”