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Pinellas poised to empower schools

LARGO — After more than a year in the works, the Pinellas County School District is ready to implement a plan that it says will give principals, teachers and parents more say in how their schools are run.

Superintendent Julie Janssen told School Board members at a workshop Tuesday that more than 25 elementary, middle and high school principals are "chomping at the bit" to move to a system of "decentralized decisionmaking," formerly known as site-based management, as early as this fall.

The plan would shift many decisions, including how many teachers a school should hire, from the district to the schools. Principals would be required to collaborate with teachers, parents and community members in determining which academic programs would work best for their populations while staying within the boundaries of state and federal mandates.

"This is possibly the biggest change the school district has seen in decades," said board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea. "Decisions have always been driven from the top down. This is a chance to have the input come up from the schools."

Site-based management, first proposed by former superintendent Clayton Wilcox, became a key issue in both the superintendent search last summer and in School Board elections last fall. The plan under discussion at that time, championed by the Pinellas Education Foundation, was based on a system in place in the Okaloosa School District.

Janssen's revamped plan is based on one used by the Orange County School District with elements borrowed from schools in New York and Washington, D.C., that calls for more principal-teacher co-operation than the Okaloosa model.

The idea is to expand decentralized decision-making to all schools in the district using the first group of schools as a guide, Janssen told board members. But each school must decide for itself that it wants to go in that direction.

"If you don't have ownership it won't work," she said. "That is the key to this entire process."

Board member Janet Clark, a critic of the site-based management plan Wilcox introduced, said she's glad that Janssen has committed to continue working with principals over the summer to make sure they're ready for the added responsibility.

"My concern was that we were expecting too much too soon from them," Clark said. "Their main focus still needs to be curriculum and instruction."

Pinellas poised to empower schools 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 6:40pm]
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