Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins updated the School Board Tuesday on the district's seven high-needs Elevate schools. We'll post regular updates too, as the district has pledged to improve education at these seven long-struggling schools.
Sulphur Springs K-8 School has a multi-level "house" system, as seen in the Harry Potter books and, closer to home, at Franklin Boys Preparatory School. The system is designed to encourage students to take more responsibility for the school and their behavior. "Each house has a color, a crest, a chant," Eakins said.
Potter Elementary is now sufficiently staffed, Eakins said. Although Potter's principal told The Tampa Bay Times on the first year that there were five teacher vacancies, Eakins said that on the second day, "every single student was being taught by a certified teacher." He did not give details, but described "a heavy lift" by Donell Underdue, the new area superintendent. (Districtwide, there were still 180 teacher vacancies at last count.)
Fourth graders and fifth graders at Potter will care for a greenhouse that will be built on Aug. 29.
At Booker T. Washington Elementary, 5th grade students are designing a garden that volunteers from Idlewild Baptist Church will build on Saturday as part of the church's day of service at area schools.
Edison Elementary is ramping up communication with students and parents through regular data chats and folders that also track attendance. A community event is planned on Sat, Sept. 10 that will include food, raffles, games, prizes face painting and two parent information sessions.
Eakins did not mention McLane Middle School, but teacher mentor James Gibbs contacted The Times to say morale there is better than it has been in the last four years he has been involved with the school.
"It's really been a transformation, he said. "The dedication level is tremendous."
McLane, as the Times reported in 2015, has struggled for more than a decade because of a district decision to bus all of East Tampa's middle schools out of the neighborhood unless they were in magnets. The largest number wound up in McLane, which battled some of Hillsborough's worst behavior problems, due largely to the long bus rides.
While test score results continue to lag, Gibbs said he has observed a much more cohesive faculty and an increase in confidence on the part of students and parents. Participation was high at a recent open house and students, so far, sense they are cared for.
"We want to make this a safe place for the kids," Gibbs said, and that doesn't mean just physical safety, "We don't want them to think, 'we got bused here,' but it's their home and we want them to feel like they're at home."
Look for more Elevate updates over the course of the school year.