Pasco schools don’t plan to move teachers over state scores

Published August 15 2018

Florida school districts recently received their teachers’ state "value-added" scores, and some scrambled to reassign those who got poor marks out of schools in turnaround status.

But Pasco County wasn’t one of them, despite state rules relating to percentage of teachers with low scores in those schools.

Pasco has five schools implementing state-mandated improvement plans. Superintendent Kurt Browning said he has no intention of simply transferring teachers around because of their VAM.

(On a separate but related issue, the district has let go about 30 teachers because they failed to pass the state certification exams, human resources director Christine Pejot said.)

"We are not going to hit that panic button," Browning said. "I would want to argue with the state."

He said the district plans to assign training and mentors to any teachers who received low VAM marks while working in one of the turnaround schools, to help them improve their skills. They might move positions within the school as well, if that would benefit both teachers and students, Browning added, noting that’s what the district did a year ago under the rule.

He criticized the state for adopting such an exacting standard for the schools.

"The state is inserting itself to force districts to make personnel decisions based on one piece of data," Browning said. "It’s just not right. We know our people better than the FDOE (does)."

He further directed his criticism to the state’s new rules on turning schools around, adopted in 2017. Among other things, it limited district choices for turnaround initiatives and reduced the time for showing improvement.

Browning said requiring districts to move teachers is "just as crazy," as is forcing them to hand control of struggling schools over to outside operators after two years of an improvement plan.

"They know full well it takes more than two years" to see meaningful change, he said.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Two weeks after all but one of the candidates for Pasco County School Board sat for interviews, the United School Employees of Pasco’s political action committee declined to recommend any of them.

The District 1 and District 3 races each have three candidates, while District 5 has four hopefuls.

"We’re going to wait until after the primary," USEP president Don Peace said.

That strategy could leave the group voiceless in backing its preferred candidates, if voters settle the matter on Aug. 28. It’s been known to happen.

Peace said the USEP Tiger Pride decided it would have more say after the slates are winnowed down.

He noted that in other instances, races with three or more candidates did not see anyone receive a majority, leaving the top two vote-getters to face off again in the general. In 2010, for example, all three seats up for election went to a runoff.

That included District 5, which had three hopefuls and ultimately was won by Steve Luikart, who served two terms and is now retiring.

Tara O’Connor, one of four seeking to replace Luikart, stood nearby as Peace explained his position. She expressed disappointment at the move, and wondered why the USEP might wait.

No one from the organization offered further explanation. Speculation has circulated on a couple of possibilities. Among them:

– The District 5 race features two current teachers who are USEP members. Perhaps the USEP did not want to pick one over the other, or did not want to be seen siding with neither.

– District 1 and District 3 have incumbents seeking new terms. Perhaps the USEP did not want to alienate the incumbents by recommending an opponent, or side with an incumbent with whom the USEP does not agree on some key issues.

That has not stopped the USEP from recommending in the past.

USEP Tiger Pride made $500 contributions to several board candidates in past years before the primary election. It also had its sister organizations in other counties send donations to those candidates.

This year, though, the group has different leadership. And it has put a lid on campaign support through the primary.

If any races remain after Aug. 28, the USEP expects to weigh in then.

VIRTUAL FINALS: For the new school year, Florida Virtual School announced it no longer will require students to pass a course final exam to receive credit in that course.

They still will have to earn an overall passing grade, though, and complete the course Discussion Based Assessment.

Pasco eSchool, a franchise of FLVS, is not going to follow that model, though.

"I am concerned about this decision luring students over because their standards are lowering," principal Joanne Glenn wrote in an email explaining her decision to superintendent Kurt Browning.

Glenn has advised the Orlando-based school that Pasco will continue to require students to pass their finals to earn course credit. Pasco is one of the three largest FLVS franchises in the state, and recently was named 2018 Florida Virtual School of the Year among large districts.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @jeffsolochek.