Teachers to Eakins: Let us keep our principal!

Marc Gaillard is the principal of Edison Elementary School in Tampa. [HCPS Photo]
Marc Gaillard is the principal of Edison Elementary School in Tampa. [HCPS Photo]
Published March 12

A group of teachers at Edison Elementary School launched a petition drive this week to try and prevent their principal from being transferred to another Achievement School.

The teachers, joined by other employees at the East Tampa school, want Marc Gaillard to remain, and for the school to continue to improve under his leadership.

“Why not use Edison, which is doing the right thing, as a prototype?” asked Sharon Bratton, one of six Edison teachers who met with a Tampa Bay Times reporter on Monday.

Moving Gaillard, said teacher Alyce Kushner, "is not good for the children and it's not good for the families. It's not in the best interest of the school, and it's almost like they want to see the Achievement Schools fail."

Edison is one of several in the group of 50 struggling schools that are bracing for possible personnel changes before summer.

It happens this way for a number of reasons. As Superintendent Jeff Eakins explained when he moved 18 principals on one day in June, it is better to make the changes early if it appears a school will receive a poor grade. Otherwise, the state will likely order a change at a time that is even more disruptive.

This year there is a second reason to make the changes early: The district is trying to recruit teachers to some of the schools before summer, to prepare for next year. Moving the principals early lets teachers know who the schools’ leaders will be.

But that logic did not ease the Edison teachers’ disappointment when they heard Gaillard might have been tapped to lead Sulphur Springs Elementary, which has an F grade.

Eakins said Tuesday that he knew of no such plan; and that, as a K-8 school, the new principal would need to apply for the job.

While not directly involved in the Edison situation, Eakins said it is difficult to balance the very compelling needs of some of the Achievement schools with the knowledge that pulling a principal out will have a profound impact on the school and its community.

“We have to go after principals who are effective,” Eakins said. “But both sides have to want to do something like that. We just don’t make changes without being sensitive to all things concerned."

Gaillard, 49, joined the district in 2002. He was promoted in February 2016 from his job as assistant principal of Edison to principal. At the time, Edison had an F grade. It was one of the seven original schools in the "Priority" group, the precursor to the current Achievement initiative.

Teachers at Edison Elementary School circulated this petition earlier in the week. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Teachers at Edison Elementary School circulated this petition earlier in the week. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

The teachers described Gaillard as relentlessly positive, someone who eats lunch with the children and plays board games with them in the media center.

The school mantra is “every student matters, every moment counts.”

Staff turnover is low, they said, and morale was high - until now. The school grade is now a C. Now, Kushner said, “at least ten teachers are talking about leaving.”

The teachers said they are tired of seeing a revolving door of principal leadership in the district’s highest-poverty communities. “It’s a vicious cycle, and we want it broken because it doesn’t work,” said Amy Stoffer.

Bratton asked, "why don't they take a principal away from the high-achieving schools? Because the parents would flip out."

Eakins said Tuesday that, although there will be some moves this year - among other things, some principals are retiring - he does not think it will be anywhere near as widespread as it was last year. In less than a year, 42 schools changed principals districtwide.

As for the Edison situation, he said, “if I were a teacher, I would feel the same way. I wish I had a lot more Marcs.”

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