Changes in leadership and instruction in Pinellas County Schools
Changes in leadership and instruction in Pinellas County Schools
One of the areas of greatest concern as I meet and talked with parents and community advocates on behalf of children is that information does not reach them in a timely manner. Such a delay gives rise to misinformation and missed opportunities.
Allow me to share with you the activities and movement in the five transformation schools and several other schools that have been identified as on the cutting edge of having concerns regarding the learning gains of students.
Per the State of Florida Department of Education, any school receiving two consecutive Ds or an F must have a Turnaround plan submitted to the state. This turnaround plan can take on one of four options:
• All employees are terminated from their positions and must be re-interviewed for their post if they desire to remain at that school (this option was exercised in the past at Gibbs High School prior to the arrival of Dr. Kevon Gordon when the state threatened to come in and take over the school due to low performance)
• The principal and other leadership staff are transferred, a new principal and new leadership are brought in (with the expectation that the new leadership has the tools to invigorate the staff and the students and engage the parents and community in an affirming way)
• Turn the schools over to the state and those schools then become Charter Schools or Privatized
• Maintain everyone in their respective places and submit a plan to the state defending the districts position not to make any changes.
During the last School Board Workshop on April 12, the Turnaround proposal was discussed in detail. A representative from the Department of Education was present as well as Maria Scruggs, President and Denise Ford, Education Committee Chair of the NAACP, Ashley Green and Jayson James representing Dream Defenders, Michael Gondolfo representing PCTA, Nelly Henjes representing PESPA, representatives from PCTA, news media both print and television, and staff just to name a few.
A very clear and concise explanation as to why a turnaround plan had to be constructed and presented to the state for approval. Included in that presentation was also a presentation regarding the implementation of the Transformation components by Antonio Burt, and discussion regarding the hiring of a Minority Affairs team member.
In light of the proposed changes and attempting to assure that the proposal included the changes I have sought regarding discipline, I made a very strong reiteration in regards to the changes in the discipline policy and the changes surrounding suspensions and arrests.
For the five Transformation Schools, Melrose, Fairmont Park and Campbell Park have new principals. Maximo and Lakewood Elementary retained their principals as has been reported in the Tampa Bay Times.
The second component relates to instructional staff. Teachers can decide to “Opt-Out” which means they desire not to teach at their current school and request to be transferred to another school in the district. This option was taken by a number of teachers who were at Melrose and other Southside Schools when we moved to Neighborhood Schools (coined as White Flight at the time). As a part of the Union Contract this has been agreed upon and those teachers are assured a job in the district. The other form of an “Opt-Out” is for those teachers whom the principal has requested that they not remain at their school. One on one interviews are conducted by the principal. If principals are to be held responsible for student improvement along with the Superintendent, School Board and Leadership, they must be able to assemble a team they believe will assist them in being supportive and successful in assisting the student, parents, other teachers and campus support staff, and community. This decision is based on teacher evaluations, teacher performance, and the individual class performance, the additional 1.5 hour we are adding to the school day, and the one on one conversations. As of today, the numbers for Opt-Outs are as follows (keep in mind these numbers change daily):
• Fairmount Park has 15 opt outs, 2 opt outs by the principal with 16 vacancies
• Maximo has 10 voluntary opt outs, 4 opt outs by the principal, with 19 vacancies
• Lakewood has 15 opt outs, 4 opt outs by the principal with 19 vacancies
• Melrose has 12 opt outs, 3 opt outs by the principal with 22 vacancies
• High Point has 7 opt outs, none by the principal, with 4 vacancies
• Campbell Park has 6 opt outs, 4 opt outs by the principal, with six vacancies
• Sandy Lane has 18 opt outs, none by the principal, with 16 vacancies
• Gulfport Elementary has 24 Opt Outs, none by the principal, with 29 vacancies
Those teachers who were opted out by the principal can apply at any other school in the district in their field of discipline. Not to be debated in this communication, (but certainly applicable for discussion at a later time) please note that teachers are on an annual contract.
I realize this may be a lot of information to glean at one time, and for some, this may be redundant. However, I want to assure as many stakeholders as I can, particularly those in District 7, that I too share their concerns and have been working and will continue to work diligently and closely with all parties to provide accurate information and to bring forth concerns and ideas to the other board members and staff.
The first PCS Graduation is May 30 (Hamilton Disston Students) at the SPC Allstate Center. It is a time when students are nervous and excited all at the same time. I am following up with staff on graduation numbers, making sure that those who may have fallen short were made aware of such quite some time ago and not at the last minute, that a plan has been devised to assist them in ascertaining their High School Diploma as quickly as possible, that all testing data is complete, and that students are ready to prepare for the next phase of their lives.
I shudder to have anyone think or believe that this is a shell game. Our student’s future, our community’s future is no game at all. The state sets the rules through statute and as a Constitutional Officer, I am duty bound to follow them. That does not mean that creativity and options cannot be inserted to boost service delivery. I intend on pushing proven programs (such as the partnership with Dr. Pemberton’s reading program from UF’s Latsinger Institute, Pastor Clarence Williams with Cross & Anvil, and Dr. Kevin Gordon of SPC- funded by the state to the tune of $400,000 thanks to Rep. Rouson and Rep. O’Toole) for the district to emulate for the benefit of our students. There is so much work to be done. Teachers, Principals, Support Staff, community organizations, pastors, volunteers and mentors-THANK YOU! I know this road has been tumultuous to say the least. I stand committed to serve and do what I can so that students are successful. I am humbled to be able to continue to serve my community. That is my call; that is my aim; that is my focus.
Rene Flowers Pinellas County School Board Member, District 7
These are the views and written opinions of School Board Member Rene Flowers individually and should not be construed as the position of the Pinellas County School Board