Saturday, August 18, 2018
Education

New procedures announced for review of Pasco valedictorians, salutatorians

Months after a contentious rollout of Fivay High School's 2017 valedictorian and salutatorian, Pasco County School District officials have set forth strict class-ranking procedures aimed at avoiding a similar mess.

The message to high school leaders, sent Sept. 22, details a month-long review of grade-point averages at all high schools that will culminate in an official mid March reveal.

"It is important that during the school year when administration and school counselors meet with students to discuss their GPA and class rank, that students understand the class rank is unofficial until it is announced on March 12th," Samantha Del Valle, a district teaching and learning supervisor, wrote in her memo.

"Schools should follow (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) guidelines when discussing GPA and class rank information. This information should never be shared with other students, parents or media outlets."

The student privacy issue emerged last March, when it became evident within the walls of Fivay High that its Top 10 list included some inaccuracies. Two students vying for the top spot had received differing advice on which courses would count, and each thought they had earned the valedictorian spot.

Parents of the two raised concerns and questions publicly about who really deserved to be No. 1. One of the parents, who works as a teacher, accessed student records to see for herself which teen had the higher GPA after expressing doubts about the list.

Eventually, superintendent Kurt Browning named the two co-valedictorians, saying problems existed, and pledged to make changes before Class of 2018 honors are set.

SHAKE-UP: Rayann Mitchell, the Pasco School District's director of teaching and learning, has taken a reassignment as assistant principal at West Zephyrhills Elementary School.

Mitchell had been in her post since April 2016. During her time leading the department, she had dealt with some controversial issues, such as how to change grading models.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said the transfer came by mutual agreement.

"It was the right fit for her. She was eager to take the position because of the need to move West Zephyrhills Elementary," Browning said.

The school is Pasco's sole remaining D-rated elementary in the state's grading system. It received a new principal in the spring and is involved in a turnaround plan.

With the personnel change, Browning said, the teaching and learning department could face an overhaul as well.

"We needed to think about changing things in OTL," he said. "I wanted a little more focused approach to meeting the needs of schools."

REZONING LAWSUIT: Having failed to reach a deal in mediation, lawyers for the Pasco School District and the parents challenging a recent revision of west-side attendance zones went to court Sept. 19 to schedule a trial.

They scheduled four days — Dec. 4 to 7 — to argue the case, which focuses on whether some advisory committee members violated the state's open meetings law by privately discussing items they would later vote on as their recommendation to the superintendent.

School district lawyer Dennis Alfonso said he worked to ensure he would have enough time to present a case. During the injunction hearing, which took place over several days, Alfonso's arguments were made almost entirely during cross-examination of the plaintiff's witnesses.

He had a couple of his own witnesses testify after hours on the final day of the proceedings, and made some small protestations that the plaintiffs drew out the case, preventing him from mounting a full defense.

Alfonso said he intends to introduce more arguments during the full trial.

FEMA FILING: During Hurricane Irma, the Pasco School District opened 22 schools to more than 22,500 residents and 2,000 pets. District staffers worked at the shelters, fed the evacuees, transported home those who needed a ride, then cleaned up afterward.

Employees who volunteered to work earned 1.5 times their regular salaries.

The district put forth all of the money, with a reminder from assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn to keep receipts and other documentation for eventual reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the School Board the district has 30 days to initiate a claim, and 60 days to file it. Staff will be working hard, Swinson said, but also have their regular load to handle.

To help, she asked the board to approve hiring a consultant at a fee of up to $10,000.

Board members did not blink at the request. Chairman Allen Altman, who works in insurance, said getting the FEMA filing done right is "extremely important."

Besides, board member Colleen Beaudoin observed, the cost of the consultant also is reimbursable.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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