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Hernando schools plan changes if two low-performing schools do not improve

BROOKSVILLE — If two of the Hernando County School District's lowest-performing schools fail to bring up their state grades this school year, the consequences will be significant — some of them costly.

Eastside Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle would be required to extend their days by an hour next year, reassign teachers who have failed to demonstrate classroom success and give quarterly performance bonuses of $250 for teachers who meet certain criteria, according to a state-mandated "turnaround" plan that district officials have devised.

The cost of the plans: more than $1 million out of the school district's general fund and nearly $300,000 from federal programs.

The School Board on Tuesday morning will get its first chance to discuss the plans, which must be submitted to the state by late March. They will not go into effect unless the schools fail to move up a grade, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Last year, Eastside dropped to an "F," the first failing grade in the district's history. Fox Chapel, while showing improvement, earned its second consecutive "D."

Superintendent Lori Romano says she believes the schools will make enough gains this year that they will not need to implement the plans. If the measures must be put in place, she says, the funding necessary to carry out the actions will be given a high priority.

"We can't continue to allow schools to be failing," Romano said.

The "turnaround" plans up for consideration at Tuesday's workshop are known as a "district-managed turnaround." It's one of five options the state gives districts, and is often considered the least drastic. The other options include closing a school, becoming a charter school, contracting with an outside entity to operate the school or creating a hybrid of those choices.

A majority of people who responded to a survey preferred the district-managed option, saying it gave the schools "flexibility and a voice in shaping change," according to the plan.

Both plans come with 16 state requirements.

One of the most significant actions each school would face would be to increase learning time in the schools by 300 hours annually, including 180 hours dedicated to all students.

That's the most costly provision.

At Eastside, the district would need to pay an additional $340,000 for salaries and $200,000 for transportation. Fox Chapel's salary costs would increase by $375,000, and an extra $150,000 would be needed for transportation.

The district must also create a system to reassign or replace teachers deemed most responsible for their students' failure to improve, according to the plan.

That will be determined by looking at a portion of the teachers' annual evaluations — the part conducted at the school level — and by examining the performance of their students on relevant assessments. Only teachers whose students are among the lowest-performing would be reassigned, and the changes would only apply to the school's core instructors — reading, writing, math and science.

Each school also could be assigned additional staffing, though that would not take effect until 2015-16.

The $250 performance bonuses would go to teachers who miss fewer than two days of instruction, volunteer to participate in professional development programs and do not receive any evaluations below "effective" throughout the year.

Both schools would also apply for $750,000 school improvement grants. At Eastside, the money could be used to finance a technology academy. At Fox Chapel, it could go toward a new college/career readiness program specifically tailored to needy and "at risk" students.

It's unclear whether any of the grant money could be used for other parts of the "turnaround" plans.

Romano noted that many of the measures that would be required in the "turnaround" plans have already been implemented.

"We put those mechanisms in place because they're (the) best practices and should have been there anyway," she said. "We may not have been in this place if we had them."

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Find him on Twitter @HernandoTimes.

Hernando schools plan changes if two low-performing schools do not improve 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 6:56pm]
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