It’s been nearly two years since the Tampa Bay Times published “Failure Factories,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning series focused on five struggling elementary schools in south St. Petersburg that were not provided the promised additional resources after they were resegregated. The series unleashed philosophical and political debates involving poverty and race, the responsibilities of parents and the government and the merits of public schools and privately operated schools. Yet there remains a simple truth that is too often minimized: Educating these children is hard, often heartbreaking work that occurs in the classroom without nearly enough public and financial support.
The Times’ Cara Fitzpatrick spent last year chronicling the progress and setbacks of the faculty and students at one of those five schools in the original series, Fairmount Park Elementary. Her reporting revealed real-life stories that rise above stereotypes and defy boilerplate solutions.
There was the perpetually upbeat principal who refused to surrender to low expectations. She deals with the same challenges facing high-poverty schools through the ages and the increased scrutiny of legislators who specialize in unintended consequences. The policies and legislation coming out of Tallahassee make experienced teachers wary of putting their job evaluations on the line in struggling schools, forcing principals to recruit straight off college campuses to fill spots in the most challenging classrooms.