TAMPA — Last year Pierce Middle School seemed to be the school that could do no right. The place went through three principals. A district report said teachers could not be trusted to show up for work.
Things are better at the Town 'N Country school, according to a teacher survey released to the Tampa Bay Times this week. Under principal Raymond Padgett, there are fewer complaints about paperwork, better communication with the community and a lot more students behaving.
The Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning, or TELL, study generated thousands of statistics and can be seen at Tampabay.com. It is the second study of its kind, allowing comparison from school to school and from one year to the next.
Response rates improved this year, a factor that might have contributed to more positive responses overall.
But Pierce's 17.8-point gain in its total score took effort.
"We started the 2013-2014 school year with a districtwide training titled 'Knowing Your Students and Knowing Your School,' " Padgett said in an email.
"As the new principal, this was one of the first chances I had to address my new faculty as a whole. Characteristic one was 'ownership' of all students, whether they are in our individual classrooms or not, and it really set the tone for the year."
A few schools showed even higher gains: Burney and Cahoon elementary schools and Leto High. Other schools, while in some cases seeing overall gains, had scores below 50 percent in categories such as "managing student conduct" and "community support and involvement." That means fewer than half the teachers who responded answered positively to questions about those issues. Memorial, Sligh, Turkey Creek and Van Buren middle schools and Potter Elementary school were included in that group.
Drilling deeper, the survey shows 7 percent of teachers at Van Buren agreed that "students at this school follow rules of conduct." Behavior problems persist even though the school's overall score of 60 is 12.9 points higher than last year.
At Shaw Elementary, which got a new principal on April 29, 17 percent of teachers said at the time of the survey they felt "comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important to them."
At Potter Elementary, which got a new principal in October and is trying to overcome an F grade from the state, only 12 percent of teachers feel they "have an appropriate level of influence on decisionmaking."
But the numbers can be misleading.
At Sligh Middle, where teachers gave low marks for community support, principal Angela Vickers described numerous projects and contributions from businesses and theme parks, the University of South Florida and organizations such as the Girl Scouts, as well as volunteers who live near the school but do not always have children there.
Twenty-seven guests were at the Great American Teach-In, she said, including an FBI agent and two zookeepers.
"Our community volunteers, who do not have students in our school, have amassed over 3,500 volunteer hours this year, which includes Saturdays," she said.
District officials said when the response is low, the results are not considered reliable. At Potter, the rate was 43 percent. The response rate was also very low at Chamberlain High School — 35 percent — and the responses were often negative. The school changed principals midyear, causing officials to wonder if teachers were confused about which leader they were evaluating.
Districtwide, the survey found teachers are most often concerned about demands on their time, although the data show that situation is improving.
"Nationally, we find that time is the hardest construct to get improvement in because it's often a finite resource," said Barbara Crock of the nonprofit New Teacher Center, which runs the survey.
TELL measures only teacher attitudes. Parents and students also took part in the district's climate surveys.
The Times requested those results and will post them online, as well.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]