TAMPA — Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins appointed 18 principals on Tuesday, so many and with so little notice for some that two members of the School Board tried to delay their approval.
Eakins said he had little choice after this week’s release of school grades, given the way the state has been treating schools with low student test scores.
In January, the State Board of Education ordered him to move principals out of four schools even though his own data showed they were doing a good job.
"I attempted to defend our principals very vigorously last year, and to no avail," he said.
So, after school grades came out on Wednesday and Eakins identified schools with repeated D or F grades, he tried to be pro-active.
In addition to appointments he planned to make at Tuesday’s mid-day board meeting, he added a long list of school-to-school principal transfers.
D-rated schools were given principals from A and B schools. Some principals were moved a dozen or more miles from their past posts.
As word spread on Wednesday, teachers and parents called School Board members to complain.
Board member Melissa Snively, whose east Hillsborough district is losing the principals of Bevis and Boyette Springs elementary schools, was the first to object.
"I’m very frustrated," she told Eakins and the board.
"I do not believe that less than 24 hours is an adequate amount of time to reach out to my constituents, to get feedback from the community.
"We are trying to cultivate trust and communication between the school district and our stakeholders. I have to go back to my constituents, who are going to come at our School Board with pitch forks and torches and try to figure out why this is happening. It seems underhanded, and it isn’t transparent at all."
Board member Lynn Gray, who has emerged as Snively’s lone ally on the often-divided panel, agreed. She added that changing out a principal after just three years, to satisfy a preference by the state, goes against research that indicates it is best to stay longer.
When it appeared Snively and Gray might be able to delay the appointments, board member Cindy Stuart said that the board did not have the authority to do so. In addition to doing what is best to bring equity to the schools, she said, Eakins must answer to the state.
"We are being forced by the state to actually be proactive in our moves on the schools that are struggling," Stuart said.
"We got school grades yesterday and there has been a flurry of activity since that. We know that we did not achieve what we wanted to. In some schools we did, and we are very excited about that. Other schools — and students, more importantly — are struggling."
She thanked the transferring principals and reminded those facing longer commutes that "you signed up to be a principal."
As for backlash, she said, "the community is not happy about the D and F schools we have either."
She got a round of applause when she added, "This is not about the adults in the room. It is about kids. Kids!"
That last part offended Snively, who told her, "I don’t appreciate the implication that my motivation or any other board member’s motivation is anything other than doing what’s right for our students our stakeholders and our communities."
Board member Tamara Shamburger, the tie-breaker with April Griffin and Sally Harris absent, sided with Eakins.
"Most of these schools are in my district," she said. "Our kids don’t have five years. They don’t have one year. They don’t have two weeks."
Snively’s motion to postpone the appointments failed 4-1. The board then approved the appointments unanimously.
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol