BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's multimillion-dollar plan to improve its two struggling high schools represents some new approaches to supporting teachers, identifying students who need extra help and making sure students get to school and stay out of trouble.
Some job descriptions for a corps of new staffers — attendance monitor and family liaison, instructional practices coach, intervention specialist — illustrate the three-pronged approach.
The district expects to receive at least $3.5 million in federal grant money over the next three years for Hernando and Central high schools — $759,000 for each school in the first year, and at least $500,000 per school in the second and third years. The schools qualify for the 1003(g) grant because they are among the lowest performing 5 percent of Florida high schools.
Some of the money will go toward performance bonuses and the purchase of new hardware and software. Most, however, will be used for additional staff.
The nine school-level job descriptions are a clear indication of the holistic strategy each school will use to boost academic performance, administrators said. Central principal Joe Clifford and Hernando principal Ken Pritz oversaw the crafting of the job descriptions for their respective schools.
"We understand where we are, where we have to go and how to get there," Clifford said. "Through this grant, we will have the support necessary to get to where we can meet our goals."
The main goal is to identify struggling students and give them the tools and extra instructional time to master skills they need for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Both schools have scored Ds in the last few years in the state's accountability system, and face tougher sanctions if they don't improve. The state released grades for most schools on Friday; however, high school grades will be released in November.
Central and Hernando each want to hire an instructional practices coach who would, among a host of other duties, help teachers develop individual lesson plans for low-performing students.
Central will hire intervention specialists in the areas of reading, math and exceptional education to assist those coaches and teachers and "drill further down for those kids who need content-specific support," Clifford said.
Hernando High plans to hire a technician to maintain and provide reports on all student assessment data. The school also wants a literacy intervention paraprofessional and a technology assistant to help students in computer labs.
"We're trying to focus on classroom instruction and student data, and we need to attack where we see deficits," Pritz said. "If classroom instruction improves and learning is happening, the assessments will take care of themselves."
Just as essential, schools need to help students overcome the distractions that become obstacles to learning and make sure they show up for school in the first place, the principals said.
Both schools would get intervention support assistants to identify at-risk students, communicate with their families and set up plans to tackle issues with behavior, substance abuse, poverty and other obstacles to learning.
And both schools would have an attendance monitor to keep track of how often students miss school, to reach out to families immediately when absentee rates raise red flags, and even take students to and from school when necessary.
"If a student misses 10 days within the first 20 days of school, they're done. They're not going to pass," Clifford said. "We have to make sure these kids are not falling through the cracks."
Central will hire a family liaison to communicate with parents and encourage local businesses and nonprofit agencies to get involved to support the school, especially in the form of mentoring programs, Clifford said.
Hernando plans to hire a teacher to focus solely on student behavior issues. That will free up two of the school's assistant principals, who spend much of their time on discipline problems, so they can focus on curriculum and instruction, Pritz said.
"As far as taxpayers are concerned, that's a more effective use of an administrator who earns a pretty decent salary."
All told, Central hopes to add eight staffers and Hernando would hire seven, though those numbers could change depending on funding.
The schools succeeded in crafting job titles for their specific needs, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.
"I think it's a wise use of what resources they have," Blavatt said.
The jobs will be advertised as soon as the district receives confirmation of the grant award, Blavatt said. The hope is to have the positions filled by the end of this calendar year.
The ads for the jobs will note that the positions can be guaranteed only for the three years when funding is available. The district could decide to use its own funding to keep some or all of the positions if they prove effective, though.
Despite that uncertainty, current district employees and even staffers at the two high schools are expected to apply for the jobs, school officials said.
Internal candidates who fill the job would likely have no problem finding another post in the district if necessary, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. Having someone familiar with the district and its high schools would benefit students, Vitalo said.
"These kids don't have time to wait for someone on the learning curve," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]