Times staff writers
As parents scrambled to adjust child care around Wednesday's early release day for Hillsborough County schools, the thought must have crossed more than a few minds: What really happens when students leave? Do teachers really make good use of the monthly, two-hour planning time that the union negotiated into their contract this fall? Or are they skipping out of classrooms to go shopping? The St. Petersburg Times checked Wednesday in random visits to 10 of the more than 200 schools in Hillsborough, and found faculty parking spaces remained mostly occupied long after students had gone. For a snapshot of what teachers were up to, see story, 6B.
Bloomingdale High School
The echoes of a cheer routine rippled throughout empty halls at the Valrico high school. Elsewhere, principal Mark West said, teachers were using the extra time to stay on top of grades, due out soon, and make appointments for parent conferences.
"This time is geared for teachers to do what they need to do to keep on task," he said.
Principal Jeff Boldt and a half-dozen teachers gathered, facing an Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test chart, talking quietly about ways to help students. Down the hall, biology teacher Michael Zanatian took advantage of a quiet to administer makeup tests, finish grading and string some holiday tinsel. Then the tennis coach had a 6:30 p.m. team meeting. Late nights and weekend work are common, he said.
Greco Middle School
A hour past the early 2:15 p.m. dismissal, geometry teacher Laurie Baumann sat in her Temple Terrace classroom, calling parents on her personal cell phone.
The first-year teacher and assistant track coach said the two hours offered a chance to contact hard-to-reach folks at work. She said also used the time to grade papers and meet with other teachers to coordinate testing.
"Early out days are always nice," she said. "Any time I can do work at work instead of bringing it home, it's great."
Seventy-six cars occupied the parking area. Principal Judith DeVore Rainone said only two of the 75 instructional staff members took the afternoon off, one for a funeral.
Jefferson High School
The Jefferson staff parking lot was nearly full. "It's just a regular day for us," said social studies teacher Johnny Balkmon.
Teachers are required to stay until almost three hours after school lets out, said special education teacher Angela Pinder-West. And most have plenty to do. "We have meetings with the department heads, talk about problems we're having, how we can change things," she said.
"It's mostly just trying to get caught up," Balkmon said. "Cause there's a lot to catch up on."
King High School
Early dismissal came at 12:40 p.m. By 1:15 p.m., most of the 1,875 kids had gone, but 139 cars remained in faculty parking.
"They're using it for what's intended," said assistant principal Yinka Alege. "We don't want it to be abused."
Martinez Middle School
Vehicles filled all but seven of the 32 staff parking spots. The Lutz school's principal, Shaylia McRae-Hall, was in a parent conference and unavailable.
Monroe Middle School
An hour after the children were gone, most of the teachers were either in their classrooms or meeting in groups to discuss coursework, said Monroe's acting principal, Ross Boyd.
Even with students gone, the office at this Riverview elementary bustled. Teachers and staffers flowed in and out. Cars filled the faculty parking lot. Behind a closed door, principal Winnie McCandless sat down to what the receptionist said would be a long parent conference.
Sickles High School
Principal Jake Russell didn't know the precise number of teachers who were in their classrooms planning, and declined to answer a reporter's questions. But an hour after the Citrus Park school released students, 71 of the 131 spaces in the faculty parking lot were still filled with cars.
Twin Lakes Elementary
Kindergarten teacher Lotus Eckstein reviewed her student assessment binder, regrouping students by ability. She fired off three letters to parents. All within the first hour.
Not that she was counting. After leaving, she planned to visit a book fair to buy material for her class library — with her own money. And to shop for pancake mix and punch for a class pajama party in honor of the letter "P."
"A teacher never has too much planning time," she said. "It's not a job that you can just leave."
This report was compiled by staff writers Rebecca Catalanello, Letitia Stein, Rodney Thrash, Emily Nipps and Chandra Broadwater.