Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Column: Some Pasco student start times, lunchtimes, passing times to change in fall

Students, teachers and staff at Pasco County’s middle and high schools will see changes in their daily schedules when they return to classes in August.

Some campuses will see their start and end times shifted by a few minutes. Some will have their passing periods between classes adjusted. A handful will see their lunch periods shortened.

The reason? To ensure that all students receive an identical number of minutes of instruction. As a side benefit, district officials should be able to better plan if they have to close for several days because of a hurricane or other emergency.

It was Hurricane Irma, the September 2017 storm that shuttered schools for more than a week, that pushed the district in this direction.

The Florida Department of Education waived two school days of the required 180 for districts that canceled classes because of Irma’s threat, sheltering needs and the resulting cleanup.

When Pasco officials began to calculate how much time they had to add back into the calendar, they discovered the answer wasn’t the same for every school. Some needed 2 minutes a day to reach the minimum amount of instructional time, while others needed 8 minutes daily or longer.

Many, meanwhile, required no change at all.

This information provided the "bright light" signal for superintendent Kurt Browning to reassess school scheduling — not just bus times, but all the time between arrival and dismissal.

"I don’t need to be in a position of calling all my schools and asking, ‘How much instruction time do you have?’" Browning said.

If the district faces another emergency situation, he said, the administration must be able to make a single decision on makeup time for everyone.

He’s already begun hearing complaints from students in schools slated to move to 30-minute lunch periods, from a current 50 minutes.

"It is essential for students to have proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, as it is essential for optimizing school performance and ensuring that all students will have a chance at attaining success," Pasco High student Ethan Rampersaud wrote. "Therefore, a thirty-minute lunch period would not be enough to ensure the needs of proper nutrition and health are met."

Browning said he expects to talk to school cafeteria workers to see if they can find efficiencies in their service, but he did not anticipate changing his position.

"There will be changes that students and teachers will see when they come back in August," he said.

The proposed schedule is expected to go to the School Board for approval in June.

DISPUTE RESOLUTION: Hardly a day goes by when a parent doesn’t have a concern about the way something is happening at a Pasco County school.

It’s the nature of the business.

Most times, parents try to resolve their issues with their child’s teacher or principal. Sometimes, though, they aren’t satisfied.

"So who do they call next? They call the superintendent," who generally farms out the problem to a department director or assistant superintendent for attention, said superintendent Kurt Browning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is variation in the answers, even on the same concerns for different people. The district, Browning said, has become big enough that it needs to handle all such situations similarly.

So he is creating a dispute resolution office to serve as the clearinghouse for parents who need help beyond what their schools offer. District staff researched and recommended the idea, which comes from Broward County schools.

Hilda Martin, principal of James Marlowe Elementary School, will head the division, which will be a part of the district student support programs department. She’ll take a position that has been allocated but unfilled for more than a year, and her principal post already has been advertised.

Browning said he wanted a person with school-based leadership experience, because that’s where most of the complaints and inquiries arise.

"We hope most of the inquiries will be resolved by the principals and their staffs," he said.

If not, they will go to the dispute resolution office, which is to serve as a clearinghouse and one-stop information-gathering service to help parents.

"There’s no sense in shopping for the answers," Browning said.

The office is still being organized, and is expected to be operating for the 2018-19 school year.

SCHOOL SECURITY: Pasco County schools have begun hiring security guards to monitor elementary schools, just days after creating the new positions.

Florida’s school districts have until August to recruit, hire and train at least one armed officer or guard for every campus under state law adopted in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County.

Many officials have worried they don’t have enough time, money and qualified manpower to get the job done — especially with many local governments refusing financial help. But they’re racing to make it happen.

When Pasco first adopted its plan — a hybrid between a district police force and armed employees — it was among the first in the state to do so. Even then, superintendent Kurt Browning raised questions about getting everything in place before classes resume in the fall.

Since then, several more districts including neighboring Pinellas and Hillsborough, have jumped on board with the same idea, potentially vying for the same applicant pool.

Teams of Pasco school and Sheriff’s Office employees began interviewing candidates on May 10 and had nine offers out within the day. Another 28 applicants were approved but awaiting background checks.

Many were retired police and military.

The district plans to hire 53 guards and one security director. It has another round of interviews scheduled for May 21.

Candidates who are hired will get one week of paid orientation and classroom training June 4-8, and 132 hours of paid Pasco Sheriff’s Office training between June 11 and July 10. Guards also will undergo drug, psychological, and fitness assessments, district officials said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected]

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