Pinellas schools chief revamps teacher training partnership with University of Florida's Lastinger Center

Interim Pinellas schools superintendent John Stewart is upending one of his predecessor's biggest projects, a 4-year-old teacher training partnership with the University of Florida that was billed as the "new Gatorade."

Stewart said Friday that he and officials with UF's Lastinger Center for Learning agreed to immediately reshape the venture, which is contracted through the rest of the school year. He said he did not plan to spend district money on it next year.

"I am confident that we will be successful not only in using our resources more wisely going forward," he told School Board members in an e-mail, but in offering better training, too.

The board voted unanimously in August to extend the contracts after an intense debate over the program's effectiveness.

Some experts say the program, which is being used in a handful of districts, is promising. It is also popular with many teachers. But studies to gauge its impact on student achievement are several years from completion.

"I feel like it's the right call," said board member Terry Krassner. "The accountability piece and the data piece were missing from Lastinger. That was troubling to me."

Board member Peggy O'Shea said she needs to hear more before she passes judgment but said she didn't "think the board needs to micromanage this."

Lastinger director Don Pemberton said the center often adjusts its partnerships to meet the needs of new superintendents.

Former superintendent Julie Janssen made Lastinger a mainstay of her efforts to revitalize teacher training. The program was designed to help a handful of teachers in high-poverty schools earn master's degrees and to help a broader group of teachers learn an "inquiry-based" approach to tackling problems.

Since 2007, Pinellas has spent $3.7 million on the effort, with most of the money coming from state and federal grants. UF and the Helios Foundation have chipped in another $2.8 million.

A portion of the Pinellas-Lastinger partnership, involving Helios and focused on math and science teachers, will remain intact, Pemberton said. It's set to continue through 2014.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas schools chief revamps teacher training partnership with University of Florida's Lastinger Center 10/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 8, 2011 1:15am]

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