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Pinellas schools chief tries to focus on back-to-school; classes start Monday

With television cameras pointed at her Wednesday during a back-to-school news conference, there were things Pinellas County superintendent Julie Janssen wanted to talk about.

For example, the expansion of the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate programs. A new science, technology and math curriculum. And the activities planned for the district's 100th birthday.

But eventually the questions turned to Tuesday — the day the Pinellas School Board is expected to vote on whether to terminate its $200,000 contract with Janssen.

Her response to questions about her future: "For now, I have one job to do. It's to get school started, get teachers in every classroom, get the right teachers, the right administrators in every school."

More than 101,000 Pinellas students head back to school on Monday.

Janssen declined to talk in detail about her status, ceding the microphone to board member Peggy O'Shea, her most loyal supporter and the only member present Wednesday.

O'Shea listed the options presented to the board: dismiss with cause, dismiss without cause, or negotiate a settlement.

"Or," O'Shea said as almost an afterthought, "to continue employment, of course."

While board members have not publicly stated their preference, several outlined persistent concerns in evaluations of Janssen this week.

Board members Terry Krassner, Linda Lerner and Robin Wikle submitted evaluations of Janssen on eight standards, including leadership, communication and curriculum planning and development.

"Dr. Janssen has been given many opportunities for improvement," wrote Linda Lerner, "but has not shown a recognition or understanding of the need to improve. She has a tendency to blame others and fails to take personal responsibility or effective action when faced with constructive criticism."

Despite her critique, Lerner called Janssen "hardworking, very knowledgeable" and dedicated to student success.

Among the issues Wikle cited: Janssen's decision to extend employment for high-ranking administrators after they retire, her lack of communication with the board and employees and two attempts in two years to hold off surveying employees about their job conditions despite a board request that such a climate survey be conducted.

O'Shea said she didn't give Janssen any ratings less than "meets expectations."

Board members Janet Clark and Lew Williams said they were still working on their evaluations. Chairwoman Carol Cook said she didn't expect to have hers done before Tuesday.

At Wednesday's news conference at Countryside High School in Clearwater, Janssen described what she believes to be her successes since taking over the district in 2008: slashing a budget with minimal harm to classrooms, raising graduation rates, involving more students in advanced courses and implementing a strong professional development program.

In retrospect, Janssen said, she could have pushed harder to improve academic achievement during her first year. "When you step into the position I'm in now, it's almost like moving a barge," Janssen said. "And it takes a lot more time. Lots of retirements happen. Lots of new people come in."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8707.

Pinellas schools chief tries to focus on back-to-school; classes start Monday 08/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 12:10am]
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