Teachers get oriented before students return
Pinellas County teachers were welcomed back to work last week with several orientations.
On Tuesday, about 200 of them branched off from the Pinellas Park High School cafeteria into classrooms, where they sat at their students' desks to learn the curricula for new classes they are taking on, sometimes at new schools.
Most were returning teachers who are instructing another grade level or were displaced by class cuts and assigned to a new school.
Inside a cluttered classroom, Dawn Gonzalez, a district autism resource teacher, stood before about a dozen teachers. She stressed the importance of having parents provide the health needs of their special-needs children in the student profile — and establishing a clear schedule from the beginning.
Gonzalez said the demand for special-needs instruction has doubled in Pinellas County while the district cut special-needs staff.
"That's what we do here in Pinellas," she told the class. "We do more with less. That's what we all do."
Another roughly 160 teachers took part in an orientation Thursday also at Pinellas Park High.
290 students request transfers
The Pinellas school district received about 290 requests for public school transfers through the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, according to district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. That's only about 5 percent of the roughly 5,700 families who were eligible for the program, which the Legislature expanded this year to a broader base of struggling schools, but it's a higher percentage than usually requests transfers under similar No Child Left Behind rules. The deadline was Monday.
Six Pinellas schools had to offer the transfers. Most of the requests — about 170 —involved the two middle schools, Azalea and Pinellas Park. Another 89 involved the two high schools, Gibbs and Dixie Hollins, and 31 involved the two elementary schools, Fairmount Park and Sandy Lane.
Some requests are still being processed, so the numbers are preliminary, Zahn said. No school-by-school breakdown was available yet. Student assignment director Dee Burns said more information will be available Monday.
Communications job on hold
Board member Terry Krassner asked the Pinellas School Board last week to indefinitely delay a vote to approve the creation of a chief communications officer, a position that superintendent Julie Janssen had picked district TV manager David Cook to fill.
Board members Robin Wikle, Janet Clark and Linda Lerner said they thought the chief communications officer job description was written to suit a specific person (Cook), and not necessarily to fulfill, as Wikle said, "the function" of the job.
"You just can't do that," Clark said.
After limited discussion, Janssen offered to remove that job change — which would have given Cook a 12 percent raise — along with three other job description changes, until a future time.
'Turnaround officer' questions
Pinellas School Board members have been wrestling with the need for a full-time "chief turnaround officer" to oversee the district's most struggling schools.
"It's a hugely important job that is monitoring and visiting those schools on a regular basis," assistant superintendent Pam Moore told the board recently.
Rita Vasquez was the chief turnaround officer for a brief time until she was promoted to regional superintendent in February. Vasquez was paid $86,368 as the chief turnaround officer, with half of that funded through a school improvement grant and half with district money.
Board member Lew Williams has asked whether a principal on special assignment (Charlene Einsel) could serve as the chief turnaround officer. "I'm trying to look at saving a position," he said.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Education is recommending that the district get one. A DOE attorney wrote this, in response to an inquiry from Pinellas board attorney Jim Robinson about whether such a position was required:
"The Department's rule only specifies that a turn-around officer must be identified," assistant general counsel Mari M. "Miki" Presley wrote to Robinson. "The rule does not specifically require a dedicated, full-time position for this role, and the decision as to whether the identified person's role as turn-around officer will be full-time or in addition to other responsibilities will vary according to the needs of the district. For example, a very small district with only one school may not need a dedicated, full-time turn-around officer. On the other hand, larger districts with more extensive needs, such as Pinellas, could benefit from a dedicated, full-time turn-around officer and, for them, the Department would recommend a dedicated position."
Board members Williams, Linda Lerner and Terry Krassner all said they want more information, and Janssen said she would oblige. Board Chairwoman Carol Cook said the issue will be discussed at a future workshop.
Times staff writers Ron Matus and C. Ryan Barber contributed to this report.