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NEWS RELEASE: $1 Million Donation Funds New Pinellas Early Literacy Initiative, Preparing Pinellas County VPK, K-2 Students to Become Stronger Readers

NEWS RELEASE: $1 Million Donation Funds New Pinellas Early Literacy Initiative, Preparing Pinellas County VPK, K-2 Students to Become Stronger Readers

(August 9, 2021 – St. Petersburg) Leaders from Pinellas County Schools, Pinellas Education Foundation, and the Helios Education Foundation recently announced a new four-year collaboration to support the county’s VPK and K-2 teachers.

The Helios Education Foundation is investing $1 million, along with a $500,000 contribution from the Pinellas Education Foundation, totaling $1.5 million to form the Pinellas Early Literacy Initiative.

From left to right: Caprice Edmond, Pinellas County School Board member; Charles Hokanson, Sr. VP of Strategic Engagement and Community Partnership of Helios Education Foundation; Stacy Baier, CEO of Pinellas Education Foundation; Dr. Michael Grego, Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools; Charles Harris, board chair of Pinellas Education Foundation; Robert Byelick, treasurer, Pinellas Education Foundation. 

Through the initiative, school-based teams of principals, assistant principals, and literacy will participate in a monthly literacy cohort, Communities of Practice, led by the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center to implement evidence-based literacy instruction from the Instruction and Intervention modules. Teachers will be receiving coaching support throughout the process as well. PCS recently began a three-year strategic partnership with the Lastinger Center. The Initiative is also supported by Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, and the Riley Education Foundation.


Several data-based findings precipitated the initiative:

  • In 2018-19, Pinellas County Schools engaged in an external review process of the K-5 English Language Arts Curriculum and Instruction. A major finding of the review indicated a lack of foundational skills and teacher knowledge, which is consistent with recent research showing that preservice knowledge and training is often inadequate in preparing teachers to effectively teach students how to read.
  • Kindergarten readiness has stayed largely flat across the last several years, and Black third grade students are 23 percent less likely to achieve proficiency in reading proficiency than their non-Black peers. Studies show the educational inequities can be diminished by high quality preschool and primary instruction. The Early Literacy Initiative places a strategic focus of equipping leaders and teachers with the knowledge and skills to provide early interventions to students in need.
  • The Florida Department of Education’s testing and accountability structure emphasizes grades 3-5, forcing schools to focus more resources toward those later years, although research supports earlier intervention. The inclusion of prekindergarten in this initiative, paired with amplification of coaching resources in earlier grades is intended to transform the current model of literacy supports, making the case to bring those resources earlier in the instructional cycle.

The participating elementary schools for the 2021-22 school year are:

  • Melrose Elementary School
  • Fairmount Park Elementary School
  • Sandy Lane Elementary School
  • Lakewood Elementary School
  • Campbell Park Elementary School
  • Maximo Elementary School
  • Lealman Avenue Elementary School
  • High Point Elementary School

Additionally, five community-based PreK centers are participating: Head Start programs at Connie Marmaro Center, Jordan Park Center and High Point Center, as well as private child care providers Sprout Academy of St. Petersburg and Magnolia Day School of St. Petersburg.

“Right now, too many kids are starting not ready for kindergarten,” said Stacy Baier, CEO of the Pinellas Education Foundation. “The Pinellas Early Literacy Initiative will work to build closer alignment in what students are learning by investing in early childhood education from both public and private providers. By building a common understanding and extending the science of reading into VPK classrooms, students will arrive to kindergarten ready to be successful.” – Stacy Baier, CEO, Pinellas Education Foundation 

“Helios Education Foundation is proud to join Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas Education Foundation to address the challenge of children who start kindergarten ill-prepared for success, who struggle at school because they may not have had access to a quality preschool environment that promoted a love of language and literacy, and who – through nothing but geography – found themselves not surrounded by books but by boundaries. When our community delivers on the promise of education  ̶  and we will deliver on that promise  ̶  student potential is fulfilled, lives changed, and futures expanded.” – Charles Hokanson, Senior Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, Helios Education Foundation   

About the Pinellas Education Foundation 

The Pinellas Education Foundation is a coalition of business and community leaders who collaborate to improve the quality of public education. Together, we advocate for high-quality public education, create programs to improve student and teacher performance and raise funds for scholarships, grants and teacher recognition. 

About the Helios Education Foundation 

Helios Education Foundation is dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to succeed in postsecondary education. As a result, we strategically partner to ensure more students are academically prepared at every stage of the education continuum—from early learning through postsecondary education—and ultimately, graduate college and career ready.