Friday, May 25, 2018
Education

After shake-up of Pasco media specialist jobs, some stay, some go

Ellen Lindow worked as Pasco Middle School's media specialist for 16 years, with no plans to leave.

She begins her new job as librarian at Hillsborough's Jennings Middle School this month.

Why?

Because she didn't make the cut for Pasco County's new information communication technology literacy coach pool, created when the School Board eliminated school-based media, technology and literacy specialist jobs to save about $4.5 million. Lindow said she chose to head to a district where she felt her profession is more valued.

"I'm a librarian. That's what I do," she said. "They were taking that away from me. I had not ever been a classroom teacher. I really felt it would be a disservice to my students to be something I am not."

Pasco County officials established the new ICT coach positions in the spring as a budget savings measure but also as part of an overhaul of positions that the administration contended had lost their focus. About 170 employees found their jobs eliminated, and they faced the prospect of trying to win one of these new ones, accepting a classroom teaching slot (if they were qualified) or looking elsewhere.

Officials had hinted that many of the workers would fit the ICT coach qualifications. But, as assistant superintendent Amelia Larson noted, "We didn't guarantee the people would have the ICT position. We guaranteed them they would have a position."

As it turned out, 43 of the 170 displaced specialists won one of the new spots. Some never tried, suggesting they wouldn't want a job that aimed to combine three roles into one. Many who applied were rejected.

That caused some bitterness.

"They knew who they wanted to get rid of and who they didn't," said Michele Martinez, who vocally opposed the change during several Pasco School Board meetings. "They wanted to get rid of the media specialists."

Martinez was Lacoochee Elementary School's media specialist until the change. She's been placed in a science classroom at Centennial Middle School.

Eight of the 56 media specialists were placed into the ICT coach pool in the first round, with a couple more added in a second pass through. Twenty of 57 technology specialists were selected, along with 13 of 56 literacy specialists. Two others were named literacy coaches.

"We were all qualified for it, but it had nothing to do with qualifications," Martinez said, explaining that she has a master's in media and works at the community college as a reference librarian. "I was shocked when I didn't get into the pool. I was shocked when some others didn't get into the pool."

A handful, like Lindow, found new jobs in other school districts rather than stick around.

Larson said a team of experts developed the job description and the set of questions to ask the applicants, and then scored their answers.

"There were many people who were on the verge of the cutoff point. I am hoping these people will reapply," Larson said. "Our goal was not to displace people. I hope people understand that. ... We did it to move the district forward in a different way."

The exact path remains murky, even for some of the people selected to the new posts. They said the district has done little in the way of training or communicating the full scope of their new responsibilities.

"I am trying to be optimistic," said Brandon Maldonado, a former technology specialist who took the ICT coach job at Watergrass Elementary. "Like everyone else, I am taking a wait and see approach. ... But the prospect of doing the responsibilities of three unique areas, I am not sure how that is going to go."

Maldonado said he has spent some of his summer volunteering to prepare for the new year, working with primary teachers on new assessments, planning for professional learning communities and working with his assistant on how to provide media services to students.

"But that's my best guess," he said.

Larson acknowledged that the transition might be bumpy. Until school is in session and the implementation begins in earnest, she said, it won't be clear what adjustments and tweaks will be needed.

"It's not going to be perfect," she said.

But the goal, she continued, is to make sure that schools provide needed technology and media services in a way that best serves students, with all teachers more capable of doing the work. The old model, with overlapping jobs and a lack of focus, could not continue, she said.

"All we can do is promise to move forward with the best intentions," Larson said. "We will help to build the capacity of the ICT coaches."

Lindow said she was excited to begin on a new path and disappointed to see how Pasco's plans were playing out, particularly among her former colleagues.

"It was really sad that so many people didn't feel wanted in Pasco County," she said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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