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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

On the road with Eakins and the teachers



Rumors are flying as the Hillsborough County School District emerges from the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers, and these rumors fueled some of the questions in a teacher town hall meeting Wednesday at Gaither High School.

Eakins assured the group that the district will keep the best of EET -- such as its mentoring program and the common language of good teaching. But a core feature -- peer observers who score teachers to determine their evaluations -- will evolve into "non-evaluative" form of feedback.

He also acknowledged that, now that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has held back some of the $100 million that was expected, the district is funding some of the work that Gates used to cover.

As for reading coaches, writing coaches and other specialists: Eakins was short on specifics, but said he values their work and is looking at ways to make use of their talents with perhaps less of the duplication that exists now.

This was the second in a series of teacher town hall meetings and, like the first one last week at Armwood High School, it unleashed a lot of frustration.

Among the themes:

1. Math teachers detest SpringBoard. They really do. At least three said the College Board product has actually harmed their students. They complained that their class textbooks were taken away and replaced with the SpringBoard workbooks, which no one -- not the tutors, not even the teachers themselves -- seems to understand. They begged Eakins to please give them their textbooks back. He said he would look into the matter.

2. Elementary teachers are sick of all the testing. This is not a new issue, but a recurring one that had some teachers close to tears. They can rarely take their students to the media center, they said. One fourth grade teacher said she does more assessing than teaching.

3. School is not fun anymore. Several teachers said this, citing culprits that include testing, peer observations and district-dictated curriculum. One teacher said she hates her job. Another said she is not fulfilled. The descriptions were really that dramatic.

4. Kids need counselors. Gaither, with 2,100 students, has only four, said counselor Myla Uppercue. A kindergarten teacher said behavior at her school is out of control, and she's lucky if they can get a psychologist out there one day a week.  

Eakins mostly listened, thanked the teachers for their candor and answered whatever questions he could. He said afterwards that he enjoyed the session.

Some of the issues -- such as those involving pay -- are unresolved, as the district is still negotiating with the teachers' union. Others hinge on state law, or are so complex that no one expected a neat answer.

"You can't make sweeping changes overnight," Eakins said at one point. But he said he shared their desire to make teaching and learning more fun, and give more autonomy to those in the classroom. "We're going to get to that point where you will actually feel that shift take place," he said.

The next teacher town hall meeting is on Monday, 5:30 p.m. at Riverview High School.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 8:50pm]


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