Pinellas County Schools 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 that had previously been part of the Hillsborough County School District.
The first Superintendent of Schools 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 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 for the purpose of conferencing, leadership training, and coordination of local PTAs.
Enrollment dropped during the Great Depression, reaching its low point of the period with 12,650 students during the 1930-31 school year. District officials instituted a number of cost-cutting measures as the economic depression wore on, including limiting the use of electricity, paying employees in scrip, eliminating positions, and 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.
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. However, 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 passes a law making the superintendent’s position an appointive 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.
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 by district officials 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 the late 1990s, dozens of specialized programs have been started at schools throughout the district to respond to the changing needs of Pinellas County students and families. Currently, Pinellas County Schools offers a wealth of educational choices, including more than 60 application programs suited to students’ interests, talents and abilities.
In recent years, several schools have been rebuilt. The new Largo High School was completed in 2017 and construction on the new Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School at Seminole was completed in 2018.
In 2019, Pinellas County Schools is the seventh-largest district in the state of Florida and the 26th-largest district in the nation with more than 100,000 students. Pinellas County Schools is now the largest employer in Pinellas County, with more than 16,000 full- and part-time staff members. The district’s original “fleet” of five buses has grown to approximately 600 buses that run more than 500 routes daily, transporting about 32,000 students twice per day.
The current Superintendent, Dr. Michael A. Grego, is the district’s 17th superintendent.