Hernando County students aren't the only ones with lots of studying to do. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, whose first day on the job was Thursday, has promised to take a measured approach as a leader and doesn't plan to make radical changes as he finds out what works here and what needs attention. Still, there are major issues on tap for the district, and Blavatt, 63, who came out of retirement after last serving as superintendent for 12 years in Boone County, Ky., will need to get up to speed quickly. While the School Board has the final say on most policy issues, board members typically turn to their top executive for more details, guidance and recommendations. Herewith, some highlights of the new superintendent's list of issues that he will need to study up on:
1. Tight budget
District officials expect another tough year ahead for school funding. Board members shot down a proposal to cut bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school, but are considering fees to participate in middle school sports.
2. School start times
The board also is pondering a proposal to change school start times to cut down on bus costs. The first bells at high schools would ring later, and elementary students would start earlier.
3. Principals and personnel
Blavatt may not be planning major administration changes of the sort that drew criticism of his predecessor, Wayne Alexander, but he will be the one deciding on principal reappointments next month. Two veteran principals are retiring in June: Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles at Fox Chapel Middle and Jean Ferris at Suncoast Elementary. So are two longtime district-level employees with years of institutional memory: Diane Dannemiller, director of federal programs, and curriculum supervisor Dave Schoelles. Another personnel issue bubbled to the service last week: Teachers at Westside Elementary allege that principal Dominick Ferello bullies his staff and is often not on the job.
4. Magnet admissions
A committee is collecting information about other magnet programs in the state to dial in the admission process here in Hernando. The School Board put off a discussion of the magnet committee last month to wait for Blavatt's arrival.
5. Gifted program in transition
After much debate and some passionate pleas on both sides, the board decided earlier this year to move the district's Quest Academy for the Gifted, currently in its second year, from Explorer K-8 to Challenger K-8. The transfer will happen over the summer, in time for the start of next school year.
6. Weeki Wachee High opens
Construction of the $55 million school is on time and on budget, and attendance zones are set. But teachers and staff still need to be hired, and Blavatt has arrived to help oversee the final phase of preparation.
7. A new way to grade schools
The state's new differentiated accountability system combines federal and state standards to evaluate and improve lower-performing schools. The system ranks those schools on five tiers, and the higher the tier, the more aggressive the improvement strategies. Eleven of Hernando's 22 schools are on one of the tiers.
8. Two 'D' high schools
Among the schools on the highest tiers are Hernando and Central high schools. The district is seeking at least $1 million in federal grants to add staffers and programs to turn the academic tide.
9. Class size and Senate Bill 6
The School Board last week approved a staffing plan that saves positions in magnet, theme and other non-core areas, with the hope that voters statewide will approve less stringent class-size restrictions. If that doesn't happen, the district might have to overhaul its staffing plan midyear and could face financial penalties. Also, school officials are already considering the possible effects of Senate Bill 6, which would overhaul how teachers are evaluated and paid and require districts to set aside 5 percent of its budget for evaluations.
10. Politics and potential for new bosses
Blavatt easily won over all five School Board members during the interview process in January. Three seats on the board are up for grabs in the fall, however. John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield have yet to say if they will try for another term.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.