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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. When school is out, a Pinellas camp for autistic kids offers a much-needed service


    ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Wiseman's cell phone rings at least once a week, usually after 9 p.m., with a call from a desperate parent.

    The voice on the line is tired, defeated. Once again, their child was excluded from an after-school program or summer camp because of another extraordinary meltdown, a reality for a kid with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    Wiseman's been on the receiving end of those meltdowns, many by his own son, Ben, who was diagnosed with autism three years ago. The bites, scratches and bruises on his arms and legs are from kids who need a different environment....

    Matthew Wiseman, executive director of the Pinellas Autism Project, launched the program in April 2016, inspired by stories out of his son's school. His goal is to create an after-school program for kids with autism and, in the same building, a one-stop center for families with autistic children. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. Epilogue: Music professor Rita Osborn insisted that her students experience the arts live

    Human Interest

    The thousands of students who signed up for Rita Osborn's music and humanities classes at St. Petersburg Junior College knew what they had to do to pass.

    They could study and memorize material for tests, but they wouldn't earn more than a C if they didn't attend concerts and plays, which she often starred in. The same went for her students at Gibbs High in the 1960s.

    Her method worked. Many of her students went on to become professional musicians, professors and colleagues. That includes her daughter, Joan Epstein, who is in her 37th year teaching music at Eckerd College....

    Rita Osborn insisted that her music and humanities students experience performances in addition to their classroom work. "For many of these people, it was the first way they experienced the arts live," said her daughter, Joan Osborn, who became a music professor at Eckerd College. [St. Petersburg College] 

  3. At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements


    ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.

    He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt, nicknamed I-75. The field house still lacks central air.

    "It was one of the happiest times of my life," said Carter, who played baseball and graduated with the class of 1965....

    St. Petersburg High alumni on Tuesday announced a drive to complete a $2 million campaign to pay for new athletic facilities, including an artificial turf field, a rubberized track, home and visitor concession stands and other features. [Rendering courtesy of Bob Carter]
  4. Student burned in High Point Elementary fire had a lighter


    CLEARWATER — A High Point Elementary student who was airlifted with burn injuries Wednesday had a lighter at school, district officials say.

    Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Wolf on Thursday said the student was burned while in possession of the lighter and described it as an "isolated incident involving one student and was not part of a classroom activity."...

    The entrance of High Point Elementary, 5921 150th Ave. N, where a student was burned Wednesday and taken to Tampa General Hospital. Officials said Thursday the student had a lighter at school. [Pinellas County Schools]
  5. Student burned in fire at High Point Elementary, airlifted to Tampa General


    CLEARWATER — A High Point Elementary student was airlifted with burn injuries after a fire broke out at the school Wednesday afternoon.

    The Largo Fire Department responded to the call around 2:20 p.m. and is still investigating the cause of the fire, said spokesman Terry Tokarz. A boy was transported by Bayflite to Tampa General Hospital's burn center.

    Tokarz said the boy's father was on the scene and that the boy was "alert and talking to us."...

    The entrance of High Point Elementary, 5921 150th Ave. N, where a student was burned in a fire at the school Wednesday and airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. [Pinellas County Schools]
  6. FSU suspends all fraternities, sororities following death of a pledge


    Florida State University president John Thrasher has indefinitely suspended all fraternities and sororities following the death of a fraternity pledge and another student's unrelated drug arrest over the weekend.

    The pause was necessary to "review and reflect on the loss of a young life," the university said in a statement Monday.

    "For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life at the university," Thrasher said at a news conference. "There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it."...

    The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house is at 423 West College Ave. in Tallahassee. A 20-year-old pledge at the fraternity, Andrew Coffey, was found dead on Nov. 3, 2017. Three days later, Florida State University president John Thrasher announced that all fraternities and sororities at the school would be indefinitely suspended. [Joe Rondone | Tallahassee Democrat]
  7. Hurricane Maria evacuees start over in the Tampa Bay area


    CLEARWATER — After two weeks of no work, no income, no cell phone signal and no power, Bianca Vazquez decided it was time to leave her home in Humacao, Puerto Rico and move to Florida — permanently.

    She booked the first one-way flights she could find for herself, her 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. Her 2-year-old, Bryan, would stay behind with her parents until she got everything settled....

    Bianca Vazquez listens to Carmen Ramos from Lutheran Services talk about Head Start at a relocation clinic at the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater on Thursday. Vazquez recently left Puerto Rico with her 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and is staying at her sisters. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  8. Letters and emails show strife as Canterbury School's board resigns


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Canterbury School of Florida has been gripped in recent weeks by strife and bruised feelings over a back-and-forth tussle over who will lead the private institution over the next few years.

    School spokeswoman Heather Lambie confirmed this week that a new board of trustees plans to renegotiate the contract of Canterbury's longtime head of school, Mac H. Hall, and "hopes to reach an amicable resolution with him." ...

    Mac Hall’s contract as Head of Canterbury School of Florida is up for renewal.
  9. Pinellas to host bilingual panel to help Hurricane Maria evacuees


    Pinellas County government is hosting a bilingual panel Thursday featuring community organizations providing help for local Hurricane Maria evacuees.

    The informational panel in English and Spanish will begin at 9:30 a.m. at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus, 2465 Drew St. Participating agencies include Hispanic Outreach Center, the Pinellas County school district, the Supervisor of Elections, the Salvation Army and RCS Food Bank....

    Patients, from left, Kofi Boateng, Francis Massicott and Joselle Connor await evacuation at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix on Tuesday (9/26/17) in the wake of two category 5 hurricanes back-to-back in just 12 days, with the most recent one, Hurricane Maria, making landfall in St. Croix last Tuesday at 2 a.m. Seven Aeromedical Evacuation members worked with 3 critical care air transport team members, 1 medical attendant and 5 flight crew members to complete the mission using a C-130 airplane out of MacDill Airforce Base in Tampa.
  10. Canterbury board resigns, replaced by four new members following decision not to renew head of school


    Nearly two weeks after the board of trustees at Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg decided to not renew the contract for their head of school of 13 years, all board members will resign and be replaced by four new members.

    An email obtained by the Times was sent out to families on Saturday informing Canterbury families of the board's shakeup. The email comes after a contentious town hall meeting held at the school Oct. 16 regarding Mac Hall's departure as head of school at the end of the school year....

    At least 13 board members on Canterbury School of Florida's board of trustees have resigned or agree to resign following a controversial decision not to renew its head of school of 13 years, Mac Hall. Four new members have since been appointed and just one ex-officio member will stay on, according to an email obtained by the Times.
  11. In Pinellas, a push to find where the gifted kids are


    ST. PETERSBURG — Six third-graders trickled into the media center and began fidgeting with colorful puzzles called tangrams. It's how they wrap their heads around adding and subtracting fractions.

    They have some of the best grades and test scores in the school, and they know it. It's why they were pulled out of their regular schedule to go to "talent development" class at Lakewood Elementary....

    Third-grader Toriana Parker, 8, works on a fraction problem using puzzle pieces in Deborah Davis' class at Lakewood Elementary, where a handful of students complete critical thinking projects with multi-step prompts and play games to challenge high performers. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  12. Pinellas school board member (and mother of a high schooler) pledges to sign petition for later start times


    The new online petition pleads with the Pinellas County School Board and superintendent Mike Grego to change the high school start time from 7:05 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., just like neighboring Hillsborough County.

    It says scores would improve, graduation rates would climb and fewer teens would fall asleep behind the wheel. It offers links referring people to research. And it argues that if Hillsborough can do it starting next August, why can’t Pinellas?...

    Pinellas School Board member Eileen Long, a mother to a high school and middle school student, says she will sign a petition to move high school start times up from 7:05 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The online petition has generated nearly 1,900 signatures.
  13. Now that there's daily recess, one school board wants to end required PE


    Hordes of moms fought for years to get the Florida Legislature to make a law requiring 20 minutes of daily recess in all traditional public elementary schools. That's on top of 150 minutes of state-mandated physical activity -- time often used for physicel education classes.

    Some of the founders behind the "recess mom" movement were taken aback this week when they saw the Florida School Boards Association proposed legislative platform for 2018. A bullet point suggested eliminating the PE requirement but keeping daily recess for all students, including those in charter schools that are currently exempted....

    Representatives from every Florida school board will meet in Gainesville on Thursday to discuss and vote on their official legislative platform for 2018. Citrus County has proposed repealing the requirement of 150 physical activity minutes a week.
  14. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers


    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    None of the schools had as much as 30 to 40 percent of staff with three years or less of experience as the report found in the 2014-15 school year, but some schools still skew high percentages of first-year teachers....

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.
  15. Some teachers allege 'hostile and racially charged' workplace at Pinellas Park Middle


    PINELLAS PARK — Two black teachers at Pinellas Park Middle have requested transfers out of the school, alleging the work environment there has become "hostile and racially charged."

    In a letter addressed to Pinellas County school district officials, the presidents of the Upper Pinellas and St. Petersburg branches of the NAACP said the problems began when nine minority teachers banded together over the summer to develop an after-school tutoring program primarily for black students, who scored the lowest on this year's state English language arts exam. ...

    Pinellas Park Middle School at 6940 70th Ave N, where some black teachers have alleged they were treated with hostility by colleagues after starting a tutoring program for black students. Just 22 percent of black students were proficient in English language arts in last spring's state tests. Two black teachers have asked to be transfered, according to a letter from two local chapters of the NAACP. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]