Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hillsborough initiative aims to give schools “all hands” during testing season

Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent Jeff Eakins announced a push this week to send central office workers out to schools that need assistance during the state testing season.

He's calling it "All Hands On Deck" and it is aimed at many of the 24 schools that are in state-ordered turnaround programs this year.

"We want to make sure we have a laser focus on all of our schools, especially those in the greatest need," Eakins said Monday.

Principals last week were asked to pull together wish lists for their area superintendents. They might need help covering lunch, bus ramp duty, or more expertise in math and reading.

The area superintendents forwarded those lists downtown, where district leaders have spent the early part of this week organizing the temporary deployments.

Booker T. Washington Elementary, an F school that is trying to improve to a C to avoid having to call in an outside operator, wants the ability to work with students in small groups on their math skills, chief of schools Harrison Peters said.

District resource teachers are needed to help sharpen student skills at Sligh Middle, a D-rated magnet school.

The administrators and specialists might find themselves supervising classes as they use the media center so the teachers can work with small group of kids who need extra help.

"Or we might need someone who can walk a kid out of class so he can calm down," Harrison said. "We want to keep our experts in front of the children as much as possible."

The operation will last 40 days.

Not all schools need this outside assistance, Eakins said. He is especially concerned about those with gaps in their staffing, or have hired new teachers who might yet be fully secure in their jobs.

Hillsborough has seven longtime D and F schools, including Washington, that the state targeted for drastic intervention if they do not improve to at least a C. Another 17 D-rated schools had planned to spend the current year formulating their improvement plans. But, due to a change in state law, those improvement plans began immediately when the school year began.

Addressing the School Board last week, Eakins said he wants to "quiet the noise" about under-performing schools by helping each school earn at least a C.

Florida Standards Assessment testing begins at the end of this month with retakes of the high school writing exams. It continues through March and April.

A side benefit to Operation All Hands on Deck, as the district continues to trim down its central operations and push more resources into the schools, is that the experts will get to spend time back in the classroom.

"We all have to remember why we got into this," Eakins said. "This will bring people back to their roots."

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