When official rankings in 2014 showed five of the 15 worst schools in Florida were clustered in Pinellas County’s black neighborhoods, the local School Board should have declared a state of emergency.
Instead, board members and other leaders in this mostly white and conservative southern county did nothing, refusing even to acknowledge that black children here were failing at higher rates than black children virtually anyplace else in Florida. They excused it as the natural state of things, saying it was no different than the challenges faced by any other school system across the nation.
Then a group of reporters and data experts from the Tampa Bay Times picked up the story. Using millions of rows of data and innovative digital storytelling techniques, the Times knocked down each and every official excuse for what was besetting black students in Pinellas. The stories laid blame for the problem where it belonged – at the feet of local leaders whose neglect transformed five decent schools into failure factories.