Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

High-poverty schools continue to wear on teachers, surveys show

TAMPA — School districts offer cash bonuses. They hire teacher coaches. They appeal to the idealism of educators who want to make a difference.

But the proof is in their own data: It's hard to teach at a high-poverty school.

There's less buy-in from parents. Kids don't follow the rules. There aren't even enough computers. And staff turnover is sky high.

"We have 32 new teachers on board," said Krystal Carson, principal of Potter Elementary School in east Tampa, which is struggling with behavior and other issues.

Although virtually everyone is happy at Grady Elementary in South Tampa and Bevis Elementary in suburban FishHawk Ranch, the atmosphere at other schools is wanting, according to this year's Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey.

Job satisfaction numbers run from 50 to 60 percent at Dowdell Middle, Van Buren Middle and Miles Elementary schools, called renaissance schools because they serve the lowest-income students.

It's a similar story in Pinellas County, judging by the last climate survey released in 2014. Although 77 percent of teachers countywide were satisfied with their jobs, those numbers were 56, 58 and 60 percent at Fairmount Park Elementary, Lakewood Elementary and Meadowlawn Middle — all schools where more than half the students come from homes in poverty.

"It's not about the money," said Julie Hiltz, a teacher leader and media specialist in Hillsborough.

In her job at Lutz Elementary School, she is part of a staff that has been together for years, sometimes teaching multiple generations. That stability builds trust. "You tend to give a person the benefit of the doubt," she said.

At a school where she used to work, serving a less stable community, "parents would walk in the front door ready to fight."

The challenge of staffing high-needs schools stymies many districts, as seasoned teachers often opt for less stressful jobs in middle-class neighborhoods.

Despite their best efforts, districts end up filling vacancies in their highest-poverty schools with teachers who are new to the district or right out of college.

"They are extremely dedicated," Pinellas teachers union president Mike Gandolfo said of teachers who work in schools under state improvement plans.

But he acknowledged many first-year teachers leave, or are pushed out, and do not get the support they need from administration. "There's no job security," he said. "There is a general climate of fear."

Although Pinellas has not yet released its 2015 statistics, the Hillsborough numbers offer an in-depth look at contrasting attitudes at more than 200 schools.

Composite scores, measuring how many questions drew positive answers, tended to be higher at schools in the suburbs and comfortable sections of South Tampa. Eighty percent of the time, they were lower than average at the renaissance schools.

At Just Elementary, which borders the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, 9.5 percent of teachers said students follow the school rules. Districtwide, the number was 70 percent.

At Pierce Middle School in Town 'N Country, only 20 percent of teachers said they had enough time in their day when they weren't teaching.

Asked if "parents and guardians are influential decisionmakers at this school," fewer than one-fifth answered yes at Dowdell in the Clair-Mel area, and at Shaw Elementary near the University of South Florida. At Potter, the number was 6.3 percent.

Not one teacher at Van Buren Middle in Sulphur Springs agreed that parents are decisionmakers.

Sherry Ochs, Van Buren's teacher of the year, wondered if some teachers rushed through the survey. Though acknowledging parents do not make school decisions, she said the staff works hard to accommodate individual parents. And the school is working to reactivate its PTA.

"It's definitely a challenge," Ochs said. "But it's rewarding in the same breath. You think you are changing their lives. But they wind up changing yours."

Van Buren also had the lowest percentage — 3 percent — of teachers among schools that weren't exceptional centers who agreed students follow the rules. Ochs attributed the behavior problem largely to students who are older than middle school age, and said the school is addressing it.

In 2014, Brandon's McLane Middle School had the lowest response to the behavior question, also 3 percent. Since then, McLane, which buses hundreds of kids from east Tampa, has worked to make routines more consistent and improve relationships with its east Tampa families.

This year, 17.7 percent of McLane's teachers said students follow the rules, better than at nearly a dozen other schools, including Chamberlain High (9.6 percent) and Potter (5.9).

Carson, who became principal of Potter in late 2013, said the elementary school worked extensively this year with male students and will build on those efforts next year with a character education program.

She's reaching out to churches and community organizations for help. "If I can get a mentor for every child on campus, that would be fabulous," she said.

And it helps to have a positive attitude. "I personally believe that all kids can learn and all kids can behave," she said.

Although teachers typically gave the most positive answers at schools in wealthy neighborhoods, there were exceptions.

Dunbar, a West Tampa medical and science magnet school, had some of the happiest teachers, with a composite score of 96 percent. But the percentage of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches was relatively high at 83 percent.

It's a small school, with only 287 students. Principal Sarah Jacobsen Capps also said she is deliberate about maintaining a culture of collaboration.

"We have constant conversations and reflections on what we're doing," she said. "We always talk about it all the time. Even after we saw the survey results, we asked, 'Where else should we focus?' "

Contact Marlene Sokol at msokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356. Follow @marlenesokol.

.to learn more

Survey results

Visit The Gradebook blog at tampabay.com for a school-by-school look at the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey.

High-poverty schools continue to wear on teachers, surveys show 05/24/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2015 3:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays power their way to 5-1 win over Orioles before embarking on crucial road trip

    The Heater

    St. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't get many hits in the early going Wednesday, but they got a couple that went a long way and that was enough to beat the Orioles, 5-1.

    Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) hugs catcher Jesus Sucre (45) after Souza's solo home run in the seventh inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. Man accused of sexually assaulting 5-year-old girl

    Crime

    ZEPHYRHILLS — Pasco sheriff's deputies have charged a Zephyrhills man with sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl in his care.

    Brett Campbell [Photo Courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Florida GDP growth in first quarter 2017 ranks 21st among states, still outpacing U.S.

    Economic Development

    Florida's gross domestic product or GDP rose 1.4 percent in the first quarter, slightly faster than the nation's growth of 1.2 percent and placing Florida 21st among the states for growth rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

    Not too hot. Not too cold.

    These Jackson Square Townhomes began hitting the west Hillsborough County market late last year and continued to be sold into the first quarter of 2017. The real estate sector was the biggest driver of Florida's gross domestic product, which rose 1.4 percent in the first quartrer of 2017.  [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  4. Coming to Netflix in August: 'The Defenders,' 'Death Note' and more

    Blogs
    Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox and Mike Colter in Marvel's The Defenders.
  5. Report: $36 million worth of guns stolen in Florida in four years

    Public Safety

    An estimated $36 million worth of guns was stolen in Florida from 2012 to 2015, according to an analysis released this week by the Center for American Progress.

    Broken glass litters the floor of Tampa Arms Co. after thieves drove a pickup  through the front of the gun store and stole more than 40 weapons, including handguns and semiautomatic rifles. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]