Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Education

Hillsborough teacher survey finds trouble spots amid rosy overall results

TAMPA — Hillsborough County public school teachers are happy. They feel safe in their schools. Principals give them the materials and help they need.

That's the district's reading of this year's Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey, which shows rates of agreement to positive statements at 80 percent and above.

But those are averages. A closer look at Hillsborough's neediest schools shows teachers are not so happy.

Their students don't behave. Their buildings are a mess. Some do not even feel safe on the job.

At Memorial Middle School, fewer than half agreed that "overall, my school is a good place to work and learn." The district recently assigned that Seminole Heights area school a new principal, April Gillyard, with hopes that she will turn things around.

At Edison Elementary in East Tampa, just over a fifth of teachers find parents are "influential decision-makers." Only 3 percent at Potter Elementary say the students follow rules of conduct.

These schools and nine others are undergoing turnaround efforts ordered by the district, the state or both. The district committed this year to significant improvements at each one.

Some were successful. Morale improved greatly at Miles Elementary, where the number who find the school is a good place to work nearly doubled.

And some schools already were in good shape. Lockhart Elementary, despite being on the state list, showed 100 percent scores in some areas. Principal Sharon Waite credited a coordinated effort to enhance the school environment, planning, teacher training and instruction.

"The entire Lockhart family — parents, community partners, staff and students — continue to work together … to ensure the success of all our Cougars," she said.

Potter's scores were especially low. Between Jan. 9 and March 10, when the survey was given, the district was working to stabilize Potter after an exodus of teachers in the fall. Both last year and this year, the survey response rate was low at Potter, a likely factor in the results.

Morale improved at McLane Middle School, which struggled in the past with student violence and used to have agreement rates as low as Potter's are now. Today, 83 percent of McLane's teachers say they enjoy working there.

Numbers improved across the board at Sulphur Springs, a school that is gradually expanding from elementary to kindergarten-through-eighth grade.

At Booker T. Washington Elementary, sentiments were mixed. Teachers say they are getting better training. Thirty-one percent say parents are influential decision makers — a low number compared to the whole district, but 10 points higher than in 2016.

But behavior remains a problem at Washington, with only 10 percent of teachers agreeing that students follow the rules.

Principal Jaime Gerding said two-thirds of her teachers are new, which makes comparisons to last year less than reliable. And she suspects training they got this year in handling students' emotional needs have not yet had an impact on behavior.

Like other principals, Gerding looks forward to reviewing the results with her staff.

"I'm very encouraged," she said. "Even though the survey shows we still have work to do in several areas, it shows the foundation we laid this year is serving us well and I look forward to seeing improvement next year."

Around the district, including some schools on the turnaround lists, teachers agreed most often to statements about training and autonomy.

That's no accident, administrators said. Training now takes place at the schools during the work day, instead of at Saturday sessions across town.

"I think our superintendent has made a concerted effort to say, 'principals are the leaders of their buildings, teachers are the leaders of the classrooms, you are the experts,'" said Patti Simmons, supervisor of data analysis.

Simmons was encouraged by responses about the school buildings, after a year of loud complaints about malfunctioning air conditioners and tightly rationed supplies. If things were that bad, she said, the survey would not show an overall 84 percent agreement in the facilities and resources section.

But, again, that wasn't the case everywhere. Only 24 percent of Gibsonton Elementary's teachers agreed their school is "clean and well maintained."

The district pays the California-based New Teacher Center $57,000 a year to administer the TELL survey, which teachers take anonymously. The results help administrators work on trouble spots and determine where to assign new principals.

They're being shared at a time of tension in the workforce, much of it related to the district's severe financial challenges.

"Even though we are hearing stories that may make us think otherwise, our teachers are quite committed to the job," Simmons said.

"They believe that the work is very important, and that they have opportunities to collaborate as well."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol

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