Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

Pinellas school administrators express some unease on survey

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One in three people who work in the Pinellas County schools administration building do not believe the school system is meeting its goals.

Twenty-eight percent don't think the organization is ethical.

And less than half believe the school district is putting the right people in the right jobs.

This is according to a survey recently released by the school system, conducted in the spring and completed by 261 employees who work in the district's headquarters.

The seat of power for Pinellas schools, the administration building houses 82 departments ranging from curriculum development, student services and dropout prevention to payroll and information technology.

Although these administrators have been surveyed before, this is the first time Pinellas broke out their results from other non-school-based employees.

About 66 percent of central-office workers agreed with the statement, "The goals and objectives of this organization are being reached."

One in three disagreed with the statement, "The way this organization is run has improved over the last year."

Superintendent Michael Grego said he understood employees' frustrations. There would have been confusion about whether the district was meeting his goals, he said, because there had not been clear goals before he took charge 11 months ago.

"I came to that same conclusion," said Grego, explaining that he talked with school principals this summer about the district's new strategic plan, which includes targets for student achievement, school environment, curriculum, budgeting and technology.

Overall, 90 percent of administration office employees said they were satisfied with their jobs. Nearly 97 percent said they had good working relationships with their co-workers, and 82 percent said they feel "emotionally well" at work.

But on both the survey and additional comments obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, administrators found significant fault with the district's methods for recruiting and hiring:

"There is an obvious 'Good 'Ole Boy' network at work in this school district for promotions, etc."

"Vetting of leadership staff has always been weak prior to hiring."

"Each new superintendent that comes in observes that the district is 'top heavy' and eliminates positions but eventually puts their 'buds' in high positions making the district top heavy… again!!"

In the survey, 49.6 percent of those who work in the administration building agreed with the statement, "This organization is selecting the right people for the right jobs." Nearly half of employees said that when people start new jobs, they are not given enough guidance and training.

While 73 percent said they feel "emotionally attached" to the school system, only 40 percent said there were enough opportunities for their career to progress within the organization.

(The comments also include 164 respondents from the Walter Pownall Service Center, which includes food services, maintenance, the school police department and other staff.)

Speaking with the Times editorial board last week, Grego said the hiring process has changed in recent months as he shook up administrative positions and installed new principals at 19 schools.

"The days of placing mediocre people in positions of leadership are absolutely over and we're hiring and recruiting the right people," said Grego, adding that he interviewed all administrators and made sure they received a "tremendous amount of training."

In a subsequent interview, he also highlighted a new assistant principal training program he created as the district tries to create an internal pool of candidates for top jobs.

School Board Chairwoman Carol Cook said that since the survey was administered in the spring, she has seen principal appointments be made in "a more purposeful way."

Cook said she felt that assistant principals were no longer being promoted to principal positions before they were ready. And, she said, the district now was less concerned with hiring principals with similar backgrounds to students. Specifically, Cook said the district would not prioritize placing a black principal at a predominantly black school.

"It's not necessarily who's the best African-American for the school, it's who's the best principal," she said.

But long-serving School Board member Linda Lerner said the numbers gave her pause — particularly the 40 percent of administrators who saw no future in the district.

She also was unsure why more than one in four administrators didn't think the school system was ethical. She said she planned to bring both issues up at the next School Board work session.

"We've talked about this in past years, that we really do (career planning) for our students, and we really need to see what we're doing and not doing for our employees," Lerner said. "You don't want to lose good employees."

Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Lisa Gartner can be reached at [email protected] You can also follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

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