Origins of Pinellas County Schools
The Pinellas County school system was officially formed in 1912 when Pinellas County separated from Hillsborough County. The newly formed public school system acquired 22 schools with 2,888 students and 89 teachers who had previously been part of the Hillsborough County School District.
The first superintendent was Dixie M. Hollins, a Texas native, who moved to Clearwater in 1908. In 1959, Dixie M. Hollins High School in St. Petersburg opened in his honor. Hollins served until 1920. By the end of his tenure, the district had grown to 35 schools, with an enrollment of nearly 5,500 students.
The Boom Years
The years from 1920 to 1927 were “boom” years in Pinellas County, and the district grew rapidly with enrollment increasing to 19,000 by 1927. Thirty-three new schools were built to accommodate the growing population, spurred on by a burgeoning tourist industry supported by expanding road networks and mass-produced automobiles.
In 1923, the district purchased its first fleet of five school buses, and the first district supply warehouse was established in 1926. The Pinellas County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (PCCPTA) was organized in 1928.
The Great Depression
Enrollment dropped during the Great Depression, reaching a low point of 12,650 students during the 1930-1931 school year. District officials instituted several cost-cutting measures as the economic depression wore on, including limiting the use of electricity, paying employees in scrip, eliminating positions, shortening the school year and temporarily shuttering some schools.
Only two schools were built during the era, but Pinellas County Schools did see other additions, such as the beginning of the district’s special education program in 1930 and the organization of the Pinellas County Teacher’s Association (now the Pinellas Classroom Teacher’s Association) in 1933.
Economic Recovery and Growth
The economic situation improved as the Great Depression came to an end, but soon PCS students and teachers were mobilizing to support American efforts in World War II. A dearth of supplies rerouted to assist in the war efforts meant few buildings were constructed during that time.
After the conclusion of World War II, the district expanded rapidly. Many soldiers who had visited local training facilities and military hospitals during their service relocated to the area.
The end of World War II also signaled the beginning of adult education in Pinellas County, as returning war veterans returned home to finish their education. In 1945, the district established the first adult education program in the state. The district’s special education services and programs, now known as Exceptional Student Education, also expanded greatly between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. This included the forerunner of the district’s Hospital Homebound program, a school-to-work program, and speech and physical therapy services. The district’s gifted education also began during this period. Student enrollment grew from approximately 16,000 in 1946 to about 69,000 in 1962. Between 1948 and 1965, the district constructed 64 new schools.
In 1956, the state Legislature passed a law making the superintendent’s position an appointed post. A year later, a local referendum increased the number of School Board members from five to seven, as it stands today (the School Board originally had three members but had increased to five members in 1946). In 1960, Pinellas County Schools became the first district in the state of Florida designated a “Blue Ribbon” school district by the National School Board Association and the American Association of School Administrators. The honor was bestowed to districts nationwide based on excellence in the areas of student test scores, teacher salaries, administrator-teacher rapport, and construction.
Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing “separate but equal” schools, Pinellas County Schools built nine additional all-Black schools between 1954 and 1963. In 1964, only 200 of the district’s Black students attended desegregated schools. As the result of a class-action suit filed by attorney James Sanderlin on behalf of five Black families, a U.S. District Court ruled in January 1965 that Pinellas County Schools must submit a plan to desegregate district schools. The district submitted an initial plan two months later. However, comprehensive desegregation did not occur until 1971, when Pinellas County became the first system in Florida to approve a voluntary, all-inclusive desegregation plan.
Reorganization and Expansion
In 1974, the School Board divided the district into four areas, each with its own “area” superintendent, the precursor to today’s hierarchy. In 1975, Pinellas County Schools was the first public school system in the state to require teachers to pass a screening test before being hired. Five years later, the state Legislature required that all teachers pass a state test to receive certification to teach in Florida. The first written “Student Code of Conduct” was approved in 1977. That same year, the district’s already robust kindergarten offerings expanded to all elementary schools.
The county’s first “fundamental” school started in 1976. In 1979, the Pinellas County School Board was named the National School Board of the Year by the National School Board Association.
In 1984, Pinellas County Schools began its Homework Helpline for students. That same year, the district started what is now known as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at St. Petersburg High School – the first IB program in the state. That same year, the district began what is now known as the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. In 1987, when the district celebrated its 75th anniversary, Pinellas County Schools was the 20th largest district in the nation with approximately 97,000 students and 118 schools.
The creation of specialized programs began to grow in earnest in the 1990s. In the early 1990s, federal grants made possible the creation of programs devoted to technology and the arts. Additionally, the district established programs devoted to medical professions, gifted studies, and teaching arts, and a second high school IB program was created. The first full-scale middle school magnet at John Hopkins Middle School, which is dedicated to the arts, journalism and multimedia, was created under a federal grant in 1998.
Since then, dozens of specialized programs have been launched at schools throughout the district. Today, Pinellas County Schools offers more than 80 magnet, fundamental and career-focused programs.
Pinellas County Schools Referendum
In 2004, Pinellas voters first-approved a half-mill property tax that boosts reading, music and art programs; provides up-to-date technology and textbooks; and helps recruit and retain quality teachers. The Referendum has been approved by large margins every four years since. And in November 2020, nearly 80 percent of voters chose to renew the Referendum, the largest margin ever.
Dr. Michael Grego took the helm as Superintendent in September 2012. By the summer of 2013, Pinellas County Schools launched a new summer learning program aimed at stopping summer learning losses and preparing students for maximum success. The nationally-recognized program has expanded to serve thousands of students each summer.
Pinellas County Schools revamped its strategic plan and in 2014, the district developed the Bridging the Gap plan aimed at closing the achievement gap between Black students and their peers. Since then, the district has seen positive progress in many areas, including graduation rates, student achievement and minority hiring.
In 2015, the district earned districtwide accreditation for the first time, and has maintained its accreditation status.
Construction and Modernization
Many schools have been revamped, rebuilt and re-opened. In 2014, Kings Highway Elementary and Gulf Beaches Elementary opened as technology magnet schools. In 2017, a new Largo High School was completed. And, in 2018, the district opened its first full-time technical high school, Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School at Seminole. That same year, Midtown Academy opened as a Center for Cultural Arts & Gifted Studies. And in 2019, the district reopened Palm Harbor Middle School as Elisa Nelson Elementary as a magnet school for gifted learners and students with reading challenges.
In the 2019-2020 school year, PCS opened several College and Career Centers, with plans to open centers at all traditional high schools. Today, plans are underway to open College and Career Centers at all traditional high schools.
The district has continued to invest in construction projects to ensure that facilities meet the innovative instructional and operational needs of students and staff. Melrose Elementary was completely rebuilt, including a community center for neighborhood use. Other projects included a new veterinary science building at Jacobson Technical High School, and new classroom additions at North Shore, Shore Acres, and Sawgrass Lake elementary schools.
Major renovations also took place at Orange Grove Elementary, San Jose Elementary, Pinellas Park Middle School, Tyrone Middle School Center for Innovation and Digital Learning, East Lake Middle School of Engineering, Clearwater High School, St. Petersburg High School, Tarpon Spring High School Leadership Conservatory for the Arts, and Pinellas Technical College-Clearwater. In 2022, the district broke ground on a partnership middle school with the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, which is slated to open in 2024.
Emerging from the Pandemic
At the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis, Pinellas County Schools made a quick transition to digital learning, distributing more than 26,000 digital devices. Through a new initiative called PCS Connects, Pinellas County Schools is eliminating the digital divide by becoming a complete 1:1 digital district. Pinellas County Schools successfully reopened schools and supported student and family choice with three high-quality learning options that became a model for the state.
The district continues to celebrate record-high graduation rates. Pinellas County Schools achieved a graduation rate of 92 percent in the 2020-2021 school year, topping rates in Florida’s largest districts. Increased resources from the Bridging the Gap plan have also resulted in record graduation rates for Black students and the lowest achievement gap in district history.
Pinellas County Schools is the largest employer in Pinellas County, the eighth largest district in the state and the 28th largest district in the nation.
The current superintendent, Mr. Kevin K. Hendrick, is the district’s 18th superintendent.