Advancing Literacy and Closing the Achievement Gap for students in South St. Petersburg

aka SPPF M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program   |   St Petersburg, FL   |


Our mission is to "advance literacy and help close the achievement gap in South St. Petersburg, FL". SPPF was created in 2014 by the family of the late Shirley Proctor Puller, a local teacher and literacy champion. We strive to provide educational services to underserved children in this "at-risk" community of Pinellas County. Our goal is to offset the effects of poverty and to help reverse the poor educational outcomes occurring today. The Core Program combines literacy and STEAM initiatives and is delivered during OOS times -- namely summer and after-school. Our mission is to advance literacy and close the achievement gap for students in South St. Petersburg. We believe that in doing this, we can significantly impact the future trajectory of the overall community and the city.

Ruling year info


Interim Executive Director

Bridgette Heller

Main address

4133 Cortez Way So.

St Petersburg, FL 33712 USA

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NTEE code info

Children's and Youth Services (P30)

Youth Development Programs (O50)

Community, Neighborhood Development, Improvement (S20)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

In 2015, Tampa Bay Times published a Pulitzer Prize winning expose an entitled “Failure Factories” which compared the results of public elementary education in South St. Pete. to those of other schools throughout Florida and nationally. Key facts/assertions include: - 8 of 10 students failed Standardized Reading tests; - 9 of 10 students failed math; 95% of black students tested are failing reading or math; - “these neighborhoods in southern Pinellas County are the most concentrated site of academic failure in all of Florida.” School data from 2017 ( make it clear these community elementary schools have not improved in a meaningful way. At SPPF, we advance literacy and help close the achievement gap for students in South St. Pete. We help hard-working, often undereducated, parents/caregivers in this "at-risk" community (who feel helpless, hopeless in the face of bureaucracy) achieve better education outcomes for their children.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program

Math - Art - Science - Technology - Reading: Educational Enrichment Programming serving underrepresented minorities in south St. Petersburg in key out of school times; after-school and summer. We also offer a tutoring program to kids in local schools by matching them with college students to improve grades, increase self esteem and develop community relationships.

Population(s) Served
At-risk youth
Economically disadvantaged people

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of students showing improvement in test scores

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Children and youth, Ethnic and racial groups

Related Program

M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Context Notes

i-Ready assessments (pre and post our 8-week summer session) in Reading/Math determine student improvement. Goal 1: to prevent summer slide. These are percentages.

Number of students who demonstrate improved overall literacy

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Ethnic and racial groups, Children and youth, Students

Related Program

M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success


Context Notes

Goal 2: to have students show improvements toward Grade Level Reading. The number is the percentage of students with meaningful gains in i-Ready Reading scores.

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

The Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation (SPPF) is a 501(c)(3) founded in 2014 to honor an inspiring educator from South St. Petersburg who served Pinellas County students for over 35 years. Our mission is “to advance literacy and close the achievement gap of children in South St. Petersburg.” Our primary program goals reflect this mission to 1) advance literacy 2) close the achievement gap for students South St. Pete.

Advancing Literacy:
We want every student attending our M.A.S.T.R. Kids Summer Programs to improve his/her grade level reading performance. Realistically, 80% of students attending the M.A.S.T.R. Kids for eight weeks during the summer with attendance of 90% will post improvement in his/her grade level reading performance.

Closing the Achievement Gap
We firmly believe that M.A.S.T.R. Kids students are talented, capable learners. With proper education/development, each one can achieve at levels similar to the majority population within the district and the nation. Realistically, 80% of students with attendance of 90%+ in our Summer Program will post zero learning loss in reading and in math (vs. 10 -12 week norm for students of similar circumstance). In addition, a higher percentage of students attending the program for multiple years will achieve passing scores on FSA than peers from the community schools.

Our secondary goal is to help parents/caregivers and students become empowered champions for their education outcomes. This requires the organization address several barriers identified in early research. Specifically:

1) Low engagement and knowledge -- parent engagement in community schools is low. Parents often lack the knowledge and/or confidence to navigate the bureaucracy of the school system. They report being “overwhelmed” and “intimidated”. They report feeling “in the dark” about their students’ overall school performance. They generally feel kids are “performing well” or “really not doing well”. They know if the student passed or failed the FSA. Typically, they cannot answer specific questions about performance — i.e. is the student reading at grade level? has the student mastered basic math facts? Why did the student fail the FSA?

2) Low ability to pay – in this community 42% of children under 18 live in poverty. It is infeasible to expect parents to pay a significant portion of HH income for academic intervention. Most parents expect quality education to be "free".

3) Mindset Barriers -- “Summer = Vacation” – summer is viewed by most as a time when children are free to play and socialize. It’s a “break” from school. At SPPF, we are working to help parents understand that summer months can be an opportunity to improve/acquire missing academic skills to improve performance.

The primary strategies utilized by the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation include:
1) intervention during out-of-school time (OOS)
2) use Literacy + STEAM (Science, Teachnology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum
3) use certified teachers with experience in the subject AND required cultural sensitivity to teach in South St. Petersburg
4) leverage research based curriculum with strong links to common core standards
5) engage the community broadly as literacy champions to ensure holistic support for parents and students

SPPF focuses on out-of-school activities to change the student’s academic trajectory. We provide active intervention that engages both the student and the parent/caregiver in achieving the academic goals set for students. We work directly with students to help improve literacy and to close the achievement gap. Our flagship program is the M.A.S.T.R. Kids Summer Program with a goal of reducing summer learning loss as students from economically “at-risk” areas tend to lose ten to twelve weeks of learning during summers months due to lack of academic engagement. The SPPF M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program (Math, Art, Science, Technology and Reading) provides academic intervention/enrichment to kids, grades K- 8. Certified Teachers deliver curriculum in small classes (15 - 18) to maximize instruction. We use Ready Reading curriculum by Curriculum Associates as it has demonstrated instructional success with a diverse “non-Caucasian”, “economically disadvantaged” student population, similar to students we serve. We also use Ready Math curriculum. For STEM, SPPF partners with the National Inventors Hall of Fame to purchase and deploy their STEM curriculum. To ensure exciting Arts instruction we partner with local Arts Programs and Artists who conduct workshops, studio visits, dance and art classes. This curriculum enables a hands-on, fun, learning environment where students practice newly acquired core skills.

SPPF conducts pre and post assessments in Reading and Math using the i-Ready diagnostic as it is proven to have a high correlation to FSA scores. We educate students and parents about student strengths and challenges revealed in testing. We also recommend strategies and tactics to improve performance for students during the school year.

We are hoping to expand the MASTR Kids program in the next twelve months to include an after-school component which we enable us to serve students year round and secure even greater progress in closing the achievement gap.

SPPF has been very fortunate in that our CoFounders have strong backgrounds in business and finance. Ms. Heller, has led market research, strategic planning, operations management, marketing and human resources for SPPF. These functions leverage her background of 35 years as a corporate executive having run large business units for Kraft, J&J, Merck and Danone. Mr. Puller has led financial management and reporting for the organization consistent with his career as a CPA and Financial leader. He was most recently the VP Finance for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department.

Work to date has been largely enabled by a seven year start-up grant from the Heller Family. Each year the organization has increased external support for the program through private donors, corporate donors and grants. Larger funders include the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, United Way Suncoast, and Pinellas Community Foundation. In addition, SPPF has benefited greatly from partnerships/collaborations in the delivery of services. Key partnerships and collaborations include the Juvenile Welfare Board Book Bus, NOMAD Art Bus, Arts4Life Dance Studios, Keep St. Pete Lit Arts Literary Community.

M.A.S.T.R. Kids Summer Program -- 2018-2020 Reading Results

Student Population and Cohort Trends --
2020: This was the first year of an expanded, year-round program. The program started in January with 18% of 63 students performing on grade level. 33 students remained through June, due to COVID mandated shift to remote programming. 88% of students made meaningful improvement in at least one reading domain (e.g. phonemic awareness, comprehension, etc). 56% of students improved reading scores by at least one full grade level, 11% advance two grade levels and 7% of these students advance three grade levels. 36% of students were reading on grade level by the end of term, a significant improvement vs. the. 18% start.

2018-1019: Student diagnostic testing indicates that in total, twelve percent (12%) were on grade level at the start of the 2018-2019 summer program, while eighty-eight percent (88%) of students were one or more grade levels behind. A representative cohort of students is identified (attended previous year) and reflects notable advancement as compared to new students. Returning students’ diagnostic testing indicates that twenty-two percent (22%) began the program on grade level. Forty percent (40%) of students achieved learning gains in Reading during the eight-week program, as reflected in pre and post diagnostic scale scores. Advancements are noted specifically in Reading Comprehension, High Frequency, Words, Vocabulary, and Phonics. Incredibly, twelve percent (12%) of students advanced a grade level during the eight-week summer program! The third-grade cohort (returning students) completed the program with fifty percent (50%) on grade level and twenty-five percent (25%) advancing one grade level between diagnostics. One hundred percent (100%) of entering kindergartners tested on level and were ready to start school. Summer learning loss was prevented for eighty percent (80%) of the program’s students based on pre and post diagnostic placement, closing the “income-based reading gap” for South St. Petersburg.

Source: iReady pre and post program diagnostic testing

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    In early August, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we completed a telephone survey with parents to determine how many would be sending students back to school physically and how many would attend school remotely. We also asked parents if there was anything SPPF could/should change to be more helpful to them during this time. We heard that many parents were too overwhelmed to provide students with homework assistance. We have historically offered ELA and STEAM enrichment only, during the after-school time-period. As a result, this fall, we modified our program to add "homework help" for about 25% of our students served.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, Staff find it hard to prioritize feedback collection and review due to lack of time



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Board of directors
as of 07/04/2021
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Bill Puller

Owner, William M. Puller, CPA

Term: 2016 - 2020

Mario Farias

CEO-Managing Partner at Farias Consulting Group

Marketa Teal

Adjunct Professor USF

Lillie McFarley

Program Supervisor R-Club

Tom Seriani

Retired Educator, Teacher Trainer

Virginia Valenote

Retired Medical Office Manager

Bridgette Heller

Former President Nutricia -- Specialized Nutrition Division of Danone

Cassandra Jackson

Parent Liaison, Pinellas County School Board

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 11/2/2020

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Black/African American
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


Equity strategies

Last updated: 11/02/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.