2016 News

Progress Continues as Mort Community School Model Approved by Hillsborough County School Board

(June 15, 2016, Tampa, Fla.) — The USF College of Education joined alongside partner organizations participating in the Mort Community School Model on Tuesday afternoon to present to the Hillsborough County School Board the group's memorandum of agreement for the partnership. The agreement was unanimously approved by the school board, and will continue through the month of June in 2017.

The community school model is coordinated by Children's Home Society of Florida, along with partners including the University Area Community Development Center, Tampa Family Health Centers, Tampa Innovation Alliance and the USF College of Education. Each organization will provide support and resources to the community school, to continue the growth and improvement of the surrounding community and Mort Elementary School.

"This is a natural extension of the partnership work within the College of Education," said USF College of Education Dean Vasti Torres, who is also a board member of the University Area Community Development Board. "The ultimate aim of any college of education is to contribute to the advancement of every person within our communities, and we are very happy to be a part of this program."

The Community School model at Mort Elementary School — a large urban school located within five miles of the USF Tampa campus — will afford its students and families the opportunity to access resources to help them receive widely needed services, such as secure housing, food, clothing and employment. Member organizations of the partnership, alongside the school's faculty and staff, will work on expanding existing resources already established at the school, including a food pantry and clothing closet. A parent resource center will also be established, and wellness classes and activities will be planned based on feedback from students at the school.

At Mort, 99 percent of the more than 800 students who attend the school are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and the overall grade for the school awarded by the Florida Department of Education was an "F" in the 2013-14 school year. With the creation of the Mort Teacher Leader Academy — a clinically-centered model of teacher leader preparation provided by the USF College of Education in collaboration with the leadership and teachers at Mort — progress towards improvement was visible, with the school's overall grade moving up to a "D," and almost reaching a "C" ranking in the previous school year.

"The Mort Teacher Leader Academy is an amazing example of how Hillsborough County Public Schools and the University of South Florida can collaboratively innovate to empower teachers, improve student achievement, develop leadership capacity and facilitate school renewal," said Dr. Rebecca West Burns, the USF College of Education's Teacher Leadership Certificate Coordinator, who acts as a liaison for the college and the teacher leaders at Mort Elementary School. "Mort's transition to a community school, and potentially a community professional development school, will elevate the role of schools, colleges of education and communities working collaboratively to make a difference in the lives of children and the communities they serve."

Through this partnership, the USF College of Education will maintain active involvement in the community school model, participating in its development and providing strategic planning support. The College will also provide faculty and student research and internship opportunities at Mort, and assist with economic development of the surrounding community.
With the Community School model, it is the hope of the organizations involved that there will be development and ongoing improvements within the community and at Mort Elementary School, and that the model will continuously evolve to meet the needs of the students and community it serves.

About the USF College of Education:

The University of South Florida College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 20 for online graduate programs. The USF College of Education has more than 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.