Big hopes for "game changer" community school in Tampa

Tampa's Newest School: Mort Elementary

They're calling it a "game changer".

Hillsborough County School District leaders have high hopes that Mort Elementary School in Tampa could change the entire neighborhood and make a big difference in student performance.

The school at 1806 E Bearss Avenue in Tampa is near University of South Florida’s campus.

It has a food and clothing bank, will offer adult education classes (including parenting, English classes and courses on financial literacy and career success). The school even has a medical wing to offer basic health services to students and family members, and eventually may even be open to members of the entire community.

The focus is on shifting the entire neighborhood, to not only help the students but the people who live and work around the school.

The idea is if you make the community better, the kids have fewer things to stress about.
And that's important in a school where 95% of kids qualify for free and reduced lunch and where some parents worry about basic needs like food and shelter.

After hearing so many heartbreaking stories about his students living in motels, not eating anything for dinner and parents having to choose between paying rent or taking their kids to the doctor, the principal at Mort Elementary decided he needed to do more.

Principal Woodland Johnson helped coordinate community partners like Florida Hospital, The University of South Florida, Van Dyke Church, the University Area Community Development Corporation and the Children’s Home Society to turn the school into a community campus. The community partners came together to provide funding and commit to supporting the school for the next 25 years. Since the school doesn't completely rely on state funding, it is less vulnerable to government cutbacks.

While the community school is first of it's kind in Tampa Bay, there is a similar school in Orlando.

Ever since they switched to a community school, Evans High School in Orlando has seen graduation rates climb from 60 percent to 80 percent. The community also saw $48 million economic boost.

That's why there are now 18 more community schools being planned across Florida to mimic the design at Evans High School, beginning with Mort Elementary.


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