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The Hillsborough County School Board votes to close Just Elementary in West Tampa

The seven members of the Hillsborough County School Board sit behind their dais with a row of people watching. They are seated in front of blue curtains and two flags.
Hillsborough County School Board
The Hillsborough County School Board voted 4-3 Tuesday to close Just Elementary in West Tampa.

After hours of public comment, board members voted Tuesday to close Just Elementary. A second vote will be held on May 9.

Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting did not offer good news for Just Elementary School.

Despite hours of public comment asking the board to reconsider, board members voted 4-3 to close the West Tampa school.

Superintendent Addison Davis says Just Elementary has been on a decline in both enrollment and performance since 2015.

Currently, Just has only 284 students.

“This is a point where we have 47% capacity at a school. And we look at where these individual students have been,” Davis said.

He added that even with new housing developments in the area, parents are not choosing to send their children to Just.

"If I knew this was stability, if I knew this community, the individuals in these new developments were picking Just (Elementary) and we saw the forecastability of growth, (we) would not be here tonight," Davis said.

“But openly, when you look at the determination of whether or not (parents) are selecting Just Elementary School, we have to be realistic about that point,” he added. “If you look at analytics and take emotion out, the answer is no."

Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools sitting in leather armchair in a dark blue suit.
Hillsborough County School Board
Hillsborough County School Board Superintendent Addison Davis speaks at a school board meeting on April 18, 2023.

“Right now, we look at last year's analytics, this school was rated an F school," Davis said, pointing out that only 11% of the Just student body were proficient in literacy and 22% proficient in math.

“You compare (those numbers to) the district level, there is a major disconnect, a major gap,” Davis said.

For the 2021-22 school year, Hillsborough County public schools had an average math proficiency score of 53% and reading proficiency score of 51%.

"When we look at the particular situation, it breaks my heart," Davis said.

Many community members spoke out during hours of public comment, opposing the closure of Just Elementary.

Tampa native Keith Smiley told the board the decision would not benefit the students it's supposed to help.

“When you move children, you lose the sense of community and you lose the sense of togetherness," he said. "So when the kids grow up together, they know each other, then as you know each other and you know your teachers and you become a part of the community, you decrease violence and crime.”

Other speakers pointed to the fact that Just Elementary had a minority enrollment of more than 98%.

“I'm disappointed because your plan seems to honor the sacred cows of our county schools, while not addressing the issues that stifle achievement improvement in the underserved community,” Stanley Gray of the Urban League of Hillsborough County told the board. “This plan lacks the appearance or symbols of equity. This plan will not improve education outputs or achievements.”

The proposal will go up for a second vote on May 9.

If approved, the school board will move forward with shutting the school down. Current students would be rezoned to Booker T. Washington and Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary schools.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.