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Anxiety, stress at an A-rated school

VALRICO — A principal at one of the county's top elementary schools will keep her job for now.

But following the release Monday of a report noting the "very stressful work environment" at Alafia Elementary, the ultimate fate of principal Ellyn Smith remains unclear.

Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia is expected to review the findings, which were presented to the school staff at a meeting after school.

"These are the recommendations of the team, and ultimately the superintendent decides what happens," district spokesman Steve Hegarty said. "I think she's going to take them very seriously."

While focusing more on the school as a whole than on Smith, the review found that the stress felt by teachers and administrators reflected what parents were feeling. Words such as "fragmented," "distress" and "anxiety" were used to describe the climate at the A-rated school.

The two-page report noted that some parents and staff feared retaliation for speaking openly and honestly with reviewers. It also pointed out that a major issue concerns the staff and parents comparing current practices with those of the past.

"Necessary changes cannot be made in isolation by a single person or group," the report states. "It will take the administration, faculty and staff, as well as the parents working together, to create a healthy school community."

The report also lists a dozen areas in which the school and its staff are doing commendable work. Overall, it contains nearly three dozen recommendations for the school administration, teachers, district personnel and parents.

The assessment was planned before issues regarding Smith were aired publicly at a School Board meeting last month. A dozen parents at that meeting registered complaints.

High teacher turnover, low morale and student safety on campus were among the gripes. The parents said they wanted to get rid of Smith.

Two weeks ago, Elia dispatched a team to the school. The committee spent three days there interviewing teachers.

Since June, school officials have held at least six meetings regarding the situation at Alafia, long considered one of Hillsborough County's best. It's one of the few schools to earn straight A's since the state began issuing grades.

Parents say its reputation is endangered by tensions on the campus. Parent Beverly Harbord said she's eager to get her hands on the review.

"We didn't know what the end result would be," she said. "I went to the School Board meeting and spoke about the negativity at the school, and the surveys that were done last spring and the high percentages of negativity on those. So far, I'm surprised to hear the outcome."

Smith, who has been an educator for more than 30 years and spent seven years as principal at Seffner Elementary before coming to Alafia in 2005, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2454.

Anxiety, stress at an A-rated school 11/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 17, 2008 4:07pm]
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