Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas' teacher training overhaul struggles to gain traction

One of Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen's leading initiatives — creating a national model for teacher training — continued to come under fire Thursday, put in the crosshairs because of budget woes, tensions with School Board members and some of Janssen's own missteps.

Members peppered her at a special workshop with more questions about the district's direction, particularly with a much-hyped partnership with the University of Florida's Lastinger Center for Learning.

For weeks, they've asked for evidence that the venture is rubbing off on student achievement in high-poverty schools. But it wasn't until the workshop — more than a week after the board postponed a vote on two Lastinger contracts — that Janssen's administration offered a plan that outlined how it would evaluate the program in coming months.

"This is a good start … but it would have been helpful if we saw this before we had the discussion at the board meeting," board member Linda Lerner said. "Again the board finds itself making important decisions … without the basic information."

"This has been going on for three years," board member Terry Krassner said. (The partnership actually started in 2007.) "Where was this (evaluation plan) three years ago?"

It remains to be seen whether the Lastinger contracts will survive a board vote next week. But Janssen said after the workshop that she hoped the additional information will get the project back on track.

"This piece is the heart and soul of what I believe is the right thing to do," she said.

Since becoming superintendent in fall 2008, Janssen has pushed to overhaul teacher training, both to jump-start anemic gains in student achievement, especially in poor schools, and put Pinellas back on the map as a forward-thinking district.

The idea has potential.

Other districts have overlooked professional development as they've grabbed flashier pieces of the teacher quality puzzle, like tenure or evaluations. Some experts say teacher training is ripe for reform. Many teachers are fans.

A recent flood of teacher e-mails to district offices reflects that. "Overwhelmingly, they're positive," board member Peggy O'Shea said.

But in the past two years, Janssen's lofty goal has been deflated by snags both big and small.

• In fall 2009, she recommended hiring Janet Hernandez, an acquaintance from graduate school, to head professional development. Accused of creating a climate of fear, Hernandez was removed in fall 2010 and resigned a few months later. But a state review of professional development in Pinellas concluded that leadership instability had a "significant negative impact" on the district's efforts.

• In February, if not earlier, School Board members began asking Janssen for details about the cost of the Lastinger partnership. The superintendent did not produce them for months. Now board members are left to consider whether they can afford to help 124 teachers earn master's degrees (a big chunk of the proposed $1.6 million contracts) when 17,000 other district employees may be forced to take furloughs.

• In March, the state Department of Education issued its periodic review of professional development in Pinellas, but board members did not know about it until it was posted last week on the St. Petersburg Times education blog, the Gradebook. The overall results were mixed, but the reviewers — mostly officials from other school districts — gave Pinellas the lowest ratings possible on standards that relate to gauging the impact of professional development on student performance.

"To me, this is urgent," Lerner said, holding up a copy of the review. "We just can't keep working like this."

Janssen said the district has already responded in writing to the state's concerns. She said failure to get the board the state review was an oversight. "We won't let it happen again," she said.

She also said the professional development department —- which has a new director, Lisa Grant, formerly the principal at Gulfport Elementary —- is now poised to gain traction.

"I believe we have the structure in place," Janssen said.

The Lastinger partnership also got a plug Thursday from an influential group in the black community whose leaders strongly back Janssen.

The program benefits several predominantly black schools in St. Petersburg and should not be eliminated when it "may well be contributing to our positive direction," read a statement from the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students.

Handed to board members by deputy superintendent Jim Madden, the statement mentioned recent legal agreements that are part of a long-running desegregation case.

"We fully understand that these are tight budget times," it said, "but the principles of equitable funding which run throughout the memoranda of understanding require that programs designed to benefit poor students and to reduce the effects of the racial achievement gap should not fall victim to the Board's other budget concerns."

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

Pinellas' teacher training overhaul struggles to gain traction 08/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 5, 2011 12:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Cavern' closes westbound lanes on E Fletcher Avenue in Hillsborough County

    Roads

    Westbound lanes of E Fletcher Avenue are closed near the Hillsborough River to repair what the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office terms a "cavern" that formed under the roadway.

  2. Joss Whedon's ex-wife accuses him of cheating, being 'hypocrite preaching feminist ideals'

    Celebrities

    Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and big-budget action movies, which often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

    Joss Whedon at the screening of "Much Ado About Nothing" in 2014. Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole alleged in an essay published by The Wrap on Sunday that Whedon had multiple affairs during their 16-year marriage. (Associated Press)
  3. Pasco school's parents, principal seek compromise on behavior plan

    Blogs

    Leaders of a Pasco County elementary school that has come under criticism for its new behavior plan have offered an alternative model that sticks to its goals while also better considering younger children who might not understand the original terminology.

    This is the original chart that upset parents with wording such as "anarchy" and "conform to peer pressure" without any context.
  4. Jon Gruden, Rex Ryan meet with Jameis Winston on 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    One of the interesting guest stars on HBO's "Hard Knocks", which covers every minute of the Bucs' training camp and preseason, has been Jon Gruden. The legendary former Tampa Bay coach has popped up from time …

    In a teaser clip from episode 3 of "Hard Knocks", Jon Gruden and fellow former coach Rex Ryan meet with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston to discuss his past and future in the NFL. [HBO/NFL FILMS]
  5. German police seize thousands of 'Trump' ecstasy tablets

    National

    BERLIN — German police say they have seized thousands of tablets of the party drug ecstasy in the shape of Donald Trump's head, a haul with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900.)

    This undated  picture provided by Polizeiinspektion Osnabrueck police shows an ecstasy pill. German police say they have seized thousands of ecstasy pills in the shape of President Donald Trump's head, a haul  with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900). Police in Osnabrueck, in northwestern Germany, say they found the drugs during a check Saturday evening on an Austrian-registered car on the A30 highway. [Police Osnabrueck via AP]