LAND O'LAKES — Three Pasco County schools will get heightened attention from superintendent Kurt Browning when the new semester begins Monday.
Browning wants to investigate complaints emanating from Connerton Elementary, Hudson Middle and Wesley Chapel High to determine "what is really at the heart of all the angst in all these schools."
"We're going to get that rectified," he told the Times. "We need to find out what the distractions are at the schools, and we need to fix them."
Connerton came under scrutiny in the spring, amid complaints about principal Anna Falcone's leadership. Former superintendent Heather Fiorentino removed the school's assistant principal and allowed unhappy staff members to transfer, while leaving Falcone in place. The griping about Connerton has dwindled in recent months.
Hudson Middle landed on the district radar screen in July, when the United School Employees of Pasco released results of a teacher survey showing the vast majority found principal Terry Holback led through intimidation. Holback kept her job despite the blistering survey, with many teachers departing instead. School Board member Steve Luikart said he has continued to receive some complaints, which he forwarded to Browning.
Wesley Chapel High had not risen to the public eye as far as having a problematic climate. But Browning said "rumblings" from the school had come his way, and School Board member Allen Altman also had heard some concerns. Neither would elaborate.
Browning stressed that he did not have any agenda except to eliminate anything standing in the way of increasing student performance.
"The fact is, if we don't have happy teachers, we're not going to have happy students," he said, adding that he intended to begin a regular rotation of climate surveys to keep a closer eye on morale and other issues within the schools.
USEP president Lynne Webb welcomed Browning's approach.
"As the superintendent, he needs to act and take a second look at the types of allegations that have come up," Webb said. "I am still hearing of similar complaints."
She and Browning spoke during Browning's campaign about conducting more frequent climate surveys. If he takes that route, Webb suggested, Browning first should conduct a shorter "snapshot survey" to determine whether any campuses need immediate attention that cannot wait for their turn to arise.
School Board members supported Browning's intent to delve into the school-based issues. They remained hopeful that Browning's plans to spend more time in the schools along with his top lieutenants might avert the need for formal surveys, by discovering potential problems before they explode.
"I expect the learning community directors to have their fingers on the pulse," Luikart said. "If there is a climate issue there, they're the ones that ought to pick up on it long before you can complete a climate survey."
Whatever method he adopts, Browning is sending a clear message that he is serious about attacking impediments to positive morale and strong academic performance, board member Joanne Hurley said.
"There may or may not be a problem," Hurley said. "But just admitting something needs attention is the first step toward getting better results. At least he is willing to take a look at it."
The act of talking to people goes a long way toward creating trust and relationships, added board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley. If the staff sees that the superintendent and his team will listen, Crumbley said, that could lead to better understanding and compromise as tough decisions must be reached on finances and other matters.
With the words must come action, though, Webb said.
"If someone feels comfortable talking to the superintendent … but doesn't see any follow-through," she said, "you could visit the school 100 times."
Browning insisted that he is intent on getting to the core of what's happening at the schools. If changes are required, he said, he'll make them.
"I am not on a witch hunt," he said. "I want the facts."
The principals for all three schools in question could not be reached for comment.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.