TAMPA — Stephanie Ragusa was in danger of losing her teaching job months before she was accused of having sex with students, according to school records released Tuesday.
The reason: She wasn't a very good teacher.
In December, the principal of Martinez Middle School warned Ragusa, 29, that her young teaching career was in jeopardy without "immediate and sustained improvement."
Ragusa was first arrested March 13. One week later, the principal packed her spring evaluation with "needs improvement" and "unsatisfactory" marks and, in an accompanying letter, indicated that Ragusa would not be recommended for employment the next school year.
"As per numerous conversations, memos and meetings, I have serious concerns regarding your ability to effectively meet the needs of the students entrusted in your care," wrote Kathleen Flanagan, now principal at Smith Middle School.
Ragusa, hired in July 2006, was one of 60 nontenured teachers in Hillsborough County who were either not hired back this year, or who resigned before that could happen, according to school spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.
Still jailed after three arrests this spring, Ragusa is accused of having sex with two students at Davidsen Middle School, where she previously taught.
School spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the timing of Ragusa's poor evaluation was not influenced by her arrest but rather based on the principal's observations during the school year. Nontenured teachers must be notified by March 31 if they are not going to be rehired.
Ragusa's evaluation was completed March 20. The memo outlines 27 areas where Flanagan was dissatisfied with her employee's performance; it doesn't mention Ragusa's legal troubles.
She wrote that Ragusa was not prepared for parent conferences, arrived late for meetings and became defensive when given constructive criticism.
Flanagan took issue with Ragusa's classroom instruction techniques, including the lack of feedback given to students and inability to engage students in learning activities.
"It is evident that you have not established and maintained acceptable student behavior as it has been reported to me that other teachers' classes are disrupted by the noise coming from your class," the principal wrote. "On several occasions, fellow team members have gone into your room to regain control."
Ragusa received just one satisfactory mark: for dressing appropriately and being well groomed.
Before her arrest, the personnel file shows, she had been reprimanded for improperly restraining a female student and for using profanity in front of students. She was on medical leave at the time of her arrest.
Should the school system have ousted Ragusa sooner?
"I think we're dealing with a situation where everybody has 20-20 hindsight," Hegarty said. "I think the principal was doing a very good job of either trying to work with the new teacher, or trying to document that she wasn't doing a very good job."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.