State Board of Education okays turnaround efforts for Pasco, Hillsborough schools
Plans to turn around some of the most academically troubled schools in Hillsborough and Pasco counties met close scrutiny, but little criticism, from the Florida Board of Education as it reviewed the proposals Wednesday afternoon.
Board members asked pointed questions, focusing intently on leadership and teaching changes at the schools, before ultimately approving the plans for Pasco's Hudson Elementary and Hillsborough's Lockhart, Potter, Gibsonton and Mort elementary schools, and Van Buren and Memorial middle schools.
Vice chairman John Padget pointed out the importance he placed on Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning's comment that the success or failure of Hudson's plan falls at the feet of new principal Dawn Scilex. Board members criticized plans from other counties that did not include new school administration.
"You gave the clearest statement ... that your principal is in charge and not an outside consultant," Padget said.
Board member Andy Tuck added that principals who "are sticking their neck out" to run such difficult schools deserve commendation and praise. He and others were interested in knowing why some schools kept their leaders while others didn't.
Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins explained that, in his district, three of his schools required new leadership, while three others had other more urgent needs. He pointed to Mort Elementary, for example, as a place where the current principal is spearheading an effort to create a community school with social services to meet student concerns beyond academics.
Potter, by contrast, was a school where major changes were needed, Eakins said, with leadership "an obvious key." He said he asked community leaders for help in selecting the new principal, and "they're behind that principal now." The school also has 40 new teachers, he added.
Eakins said he expected strong improvement at the school that commissioner Pam Stewart and board members said was their gravest concern in Hillsborough.
"Four F's in a row," board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey said of Potter, "Time's a wasting."
Easkins stressed his district's restructuring, from the top on down, is all focused on improving academics, especially at the turnaround schools. He said the efforts look to "sustainable success," and are about much more than any sole action.
"It is about every single thing you do that is going to set up success for students," Eakins said.
Browning shared how the Pasco district has changed its approach to turnaround since its first effort with Lacoochee Elementary. It dropped a differential pay program, which he deemed a failure, instead taking steps to attract highly qualified teachers who desire to be at Hudson regardless of the pay.
The school has added staff positions including counselors, social workers and instructional coaches. It expanded training and district-level supports, as well as outside services for social and emotional needs, he added.
"We are putting much more emphasis on that this year," Browning said.
Board member Gary Chartrand asked principal Scilex if there was anything she didn't think she was getting, but needed.
"I feel like I have the right people in the right strategic places to move this school to a C, absolutely," Scilex responded.
The board unanimously approved both districts' plans.