LAND O'LAKES — When Kurt Browning took office in November, he knew the Pasco school district had some troubled schools.
After getting the results last week of a recent climate survey, the superintendent added several more to his list. Among them:
• Sunlake High School, which had the lowest percentage of staff saying key school decisions are made collaboratively (19.4 percent) and the administration handles conflicts constructively (28 percent).
• Gulf Middle, where only 30.4 percent of staff said their school has a positive atmosphere conducive to learning, compared to 67.6 percent district-wide.
• Fox Hollow Elementary, where just 42.9 percent of staff said they like working at their school, compared to 82.4 percent district-wide.
Those three popped up in addition to Connerton Elementary and Hudson Middle — where some discontent has been steady for at least a year — as well as perennially struggling Hudson Elementary and double-D rated Fivay High. The district staff is continuing to analyze the results to see if any others rise to the list of concerns.
"The first thing we did was to give each school the results of their own survey," said Amelia Larson, assistant superintendent for student achievement. They also got district-level data to compare. "They will start seeing, is this an issue that stands out in a positive or negative way ... as they start moving toward school improvement planning season."
Sunlake fared among the worst schools in several areas including climate, culture, decision making and leadership. Just 29.8 percent of staff respondents said the school's overall atmosphere is positive and helps students learn. Related questions netted similar responses.
Larson said Sunlake principal Garry Walthall already has requested help from the district to improve performance. The school recently got a new assistant principal, Marcy Maxwell, who comes from Land O'Lakes High and, Larson said, has strong leadership skills.
Also seeking additional assistance are Hudson Middle principal Terry Holback and Connerton principal Anna Falcone, who have already been assigned a mentor: retired principal and administrator Renee Sedlack. Each has asked for focus groups at their schools to delve more deeply into concerns and seek solutions.
"They are getting pretty intense coaching," Larson said. "The fact that they want to know more is a pretty positive thing."
Help also will be on the way for the other schools landing on the district's list for needing improvement, Larson said. Some already have received state assistance, such as Gulf Middle, which had the lowest school climate rating of any middle school.
Gulf Middle principal Stan Trapp said a state assistance team is returning to his campus on Monday to continue working with his team to improve the school. The survey highlighted the areas that Gulf is focusing on, he said, and the school is slowly seeing improvement.
"It takes time for programs to work," Trapp said. "We feel like we're headed in the right direction, but we also know we have a long way to go."
Larson said having the survey responses — more than 18,000 staff, parents and students answered — made it easier to pinpoint needs.
"We can't say we're going to provide differentiated supports if we don't have the data to base the differentiation on," she said.
The information also helped identify high performers that can serve as district models. Shady Hills and Gulf Highlands elementary schools, for instance, lately have consistently shown strong academic outcomes in addition to having positive climate survey results, even as they deal with what are considered difficult demographics such as heavy concentrations of low-income students.
Other schools with high marks in the key groupings included Anclote and Wiregrass Ranch high schools; Double Branch, Lacoochee, Odessa, Sand Pine and Watergrass elementary schools; and Crews Lake and Long middle schools.
"When all the variables are working together, it doesn't matter what population you have," Larson said.
The administration also plans to use the results to find areas that demand attention districtwide, and then tackle them. Larson said the effort would begin in five areas. Those were:
• Shaping long-range vision.
• Creating a hospitable environment for teaching and learning.
• Sharing leadership responsibilities.
• Allowing for instructional leadership.
• Training managers to handle their many assignments.
The issue of academic preparations remains a high priority. Larson noted the disconnect districtwide between the responses to two questions as a key indicator.
Only one-third of staff members responded that they felt students "generally come to my class at the beginning of the term prepared for the grade level or courses I teach." Yet more than 80 percent agreed that "students attending my school are receiving a good education."
Larson did not worry so much that 42.7 percent of school staff were undecided when asked if they think the district is headed in the right direction.
"I think that's good. This is the baseline," Larson said. "Next year I would be concerned if people said that."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.