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Hitting the Books

Four years ago, Raymond James Financial partnered with Mount Vernon Elementary School in St. Petersburg as part of the statewide Partnership to Advance School Success (PASS) program. Under PASS, businesses provide management expertise and money to low-achieving schools. Raymond James contributed $100,000, but the ultimate strategy for improving the school relied as much on increasing volunteer support as it did monetary assistance.

Mount Vernon Elementary, which had earned triple "D's" on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, now gets a double "A" rating from the state. "We kept hearing great stories about all the parents showing up for monthly family meetings" at Mount Vernon," says Sarah Lind, a policy administrator for the city. Lind got together with school officials and Elliott Stern, senior vice president of office services for Raymond James, to find out "exactly what they did to turn the school around."

This year, St. Petersburg is extending the PASS program to seven area schools. Thirteen local companies have agreed to provide between $75,000 and $100,000 to each school over a three-year period. With state matching gifts, the schools will receive a total of $1.1 million over the next three years.

The expansion of PASS will complement a similar program that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker instituted several years ago. That program now teams 73 companies with the city's 47 schools, providing them with everything from eye exams to one-on-one mentoring. Baker says the partnerships give the schools a solid support structure. "They don't feel isolated anymore. It makes the schools feel more a part of the community again."

Last year, 10% of all Florida schools and 12% of Pinellas County schools improved a letter grade. In St. Petersburg, 38% of the schools improved a letter grade.

"It's what the community needs to do," says Gail Eggeman, Baker's grants and education coordinator. "Education can't stand alone anymore. To make a great city you just have to bring everyone together to support the schools. They're our future -- our future workforce."

By 2005, all St. Petersburg schools were paired with corporate partners.

*Improving at least one letter grade on FCAT scores
Source: St. Petersburg mayor's office