Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Interim Pinellas superintendent questions teacher training effort championed by his predecessor

Interim Pinellas superintendent John Stewart said Friday he plans to scrutinize one of his predecessor's key projects: a teacher-training partnership that sparked a debate last summer.

Stewart said the costs of the venture with the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning are substantial, and he hasn't seen any evidence so far that it has rubbed off on student achievement. He referenced a clause in two contracts with Lastinger, totalling $1.6 million and approved by the School Board last month, that would allow the district to bail.

"Somebody's going to have to tell me that we're getting something for that (money) or we're going to exercise the out clause," he told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

Lastinger director Don Pemberton e-mailed a lengthy response.

"As for the most reliable data that could be used to evaluate this program," he wrote, "we said it earlier and we say it again: Ask the teachers — hundreds of them — if this program has value and should be continued."

Stewart's comments came in a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview in which he offered other frank takes on how the district spends money.

He said Pinellas needs to be just as careful with state and federal funding as it was with local sources. He said he welcomed a Pinellas Education Foundation plan to have business experts review district spending practices. And he said he was concerned about the fate of a voter-approved property tax increase, up for renewal next year, which brings in more than $30 million annually, most of it for teacher salaries.

"This is not a healthy tax climate," he said. "Anybody who isn't concerned isn't paying attention."

Stewart's strongest remarks were about the Lastinger project.

Former superintendent Julie Janssen cultivated the partnership to revamp the district's teacher training efforts. The center itself aggressively has hyped it as a national model.

The program is designed to help a handful of teachers in struggling schools earn their master's degrees and to help a much broader group of teachers learn an "inquiry-based approach" to tackling problems. Since 2007, when the partnership began, Pinellas has spent $3.7 million on it, with most of the money coming from state and federal grants. UF and the Helios Foundation have chipped in another $2.8 million.

Despite months of questions, the board voted unanimously in August to extend the contracts for a year.

Stewart, who began work Sept. 6, said he was "disturbed" when finance staff presented him with an accounting of the program's costs. He also said Pemberton recently called the district and asked if the two should meet.

"I said yes. And as quickly as possible," Stewart said. "Because I want to see what they're doing.

"I don't want to beat up an old phrase, but we want results, not activities," he continued. "If we got activities, those activities need to show something in the way of a result. What do we have in the way of increased student performance? What do we have in closing the gap?"

Interim Pinellas superintendent questions teacher training effort championed by his predecessor 09/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 10:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.