School Board seeks to protect teachers leading health courses out of field

And Plato Academy Trinity moves into its new buildings.
Published October 9

To meet state curriculum requirements, Pasco County schools expanded their health course offerings this year.

The change could have meant several physical education teachers losing their jobs. Instead, the district let them lead the health courses while pursuing certification in the subject, if they didn't already have it.

But now, 53 Pasco teachers are classified as out of field for instructing health classes they had little choice but to accept. At some schools, as many as four teachers appear on the list, which went to the School Board on Oct. 2 for review.

That spike had School Board members concerned that some long-time teachers might end up jobless if they don't demonstrate subject-area mastery within the year.

"All these people are certified in the jobs they were hired for — I should say the majority," said board member Colleen Beaudoin, a college math instructor. "I do not want to lose these teachers."

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace, himself a veteran physical education teacher, called the scenario a looming crisis. He urged the district to "do everything we can to allow them to continue teaching here in Pasco."

He suggested the administration can take several steps to protect the educators, who were trained in one subject area and now find their jobs potentially threatened through no fault of their own.

Human resources director Christine Pejot said her office is working with all the affected teachers on certification exam preparations. The district has a success rate of just under 100 percent in getting teachers off the out-of-field list, she said, which often is long at the start of the academic year but shrinks dramatically over time.

Pejot further noted that teachers who struggle to get the certification can get an extension, and the superintendent can provide a one-time waiver as they continue to work on it.

"This isn't one and out. I have a lot of discretion," superintendent Kurt Browning said.

Peace said the union has been in conversations with the administration about seeking other paths, such as gaining permission for the district to locally certify teachers as having mastered the subject standards without taking the test.

Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said getting that authority can prove tricky, but his office is looking into it.

"It's something we need to do," Peace said. "We're talking about 12-, 15-, 20-year teachers who probably have a P.E. certification. … It's the older P.E. people that are mostly affected."

NEW PRINCIPAL: Eric "Matt" McDermott is slated to become Wesley Chapel High School's new principal.

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board of his selection of the Zephyrhills High School assistant principal on Oct. 5. The board still must give its final approval, though that is mostly a formality.

McDermott, 51, has worked as a teacher and administrator in Pasco County schools since 1996. He also has been a coach and athletic director.

For the past several years, he has worked closely with Zephyrhills principal Angie Stone, including leadership spots at Fivay and Sunlake high schools. This would be his first time leading a school.

He replaces Dee Dee Johnson, who was transferred to run Pasco Middle School. Browning selected McDermott from among seven candidates, including three from outside the county.

The School Board is scheduled to consider the appointment on Oct. 16.

NEW SCHOOL: Plato Academy Trinity finally moved to its new buildings on Oct. 8, nearly two months after its planned grand opening.

The charter school, serving about 250 children in kindergarten through fourth grade, was operating in a church about 2 miles from its campus while construction continued. The project was delayed because of problems with the contractor, and parents learned about the concerns just days before classes were to begin.

The school missed two previous deadlines to use its new facility. But it won clearance late Oct. 5 after completing all the items on its inspection check list and receiving a temporary certificate of occupancy.

Parents said they were thrilled with the results, and put the problems behind them.

"The only thing they don't have is a playground yet, but I guess they're working on getting that set up," said Ryan Abremski. "It was absolutely beautiful inside."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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