Weeks into its turnaround effort, Hudson Elementary was losing teachers, some to positions within the Pasco school district.
Finding qualified replacements wasn't easy, with the state hovering and the threat of a year-end staff turnover if test scores don't rise. Making matters worse, one out-of-state job candidate who impressed principal Tracy Graziaplene ran into paperwork problems that threatened to derail her hiring.
Frustrated, Graziaplene asked superintendent Kurt Browning for advice on how to get quality new teachers into her school, which is trying to improve upon three consecutive state D grades.
She lamented that teachers leaving in the middle of things complicated Hudson Elementary's plans for progress.
"Our teaching contract in Pasco County allows teachers, once the school year starts, to take a different job in Pasco County," Graziaplene told the Tampa Bay Times. "That makes it difficult for us."
The message was not lost on Browning, who has sought a way to curtail midyear transfers since taking office a year ago. He proposed contract changes during summer negotiations, but United School Employees of Pasco leaders found the idea unfair to employees.
"We oftentimes have teachers who get transferred, maybe to places they did not want to go, or an opening comes up at a school that is more convenient to them or matches their teaching style," USEP president Lynne Webb said. "If you put a freeze on that, the opportunity will be gone."
Webb doesn't expect to budge. That's not stopping the administration from trying.
"We are bringing together a small group of principals … to have some discussions about is there something more we need to be doing about regulating transfers of teachers in the middle of the year," said Kevin Shibley, executive director of administration.
The issue, a priority of the superintendent, also is high on some parents' list.
Jennifer Corredor is among a group of Seven Oaks Elementary parents who blitzed Browning with complaints about the "downward spiral" their children's class took with the departure of their teacher, who accepted an instructor-trainer job at Lacoochee Elementary this fall. The teacher was one of three to leave Seven Oaks around the same time.
After the teacher moved, Corredor said, the class went through multiple substitutes, including a nine-day period in which a permanent replacement came and quit. She said her son, who struggled in the past, again fell behind academically.
Corredor called for a set transfer period, similar to some professional sports, for teachers who want to switch jobs within the district. She panned the midyear moves, "because it is an absolute disruption, and who ends up losing? The kids."
Seven Oaks principal Shirley Ray said she also found the changes disruptive.
"We do everything in our power to make the transitions as smooth as possible," she said. "Sometimes the transitions go very smoothly, and sometimes they do not."
Ideally, she said, she would prefer teachers stay the full year, unless emergencies arise.
Ray and Graziaplene pointed to neighboring districts as examples for Pasco to consider.
Hillsborough County allows midyear transfers for teachers taking higher paying jobs or newly created positions. They also can move if they make daily commutes of at least 20 miles round trip and would reduce that travel by switching schools.
"If they're just doing a lateral transfer, there's a time period in the spring, or there's an open transfer period in the summer," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.
Pinellas schools have a similar policy, with the added guideline that if a voluntary transfer is approved, a qualified replacement must be hired before it can take effect.
Those ideas and others will come to the superintendent's committee as it explores options, Shibley said. He cautioned, though, that the issue is complex because of the many factors at play — ones that could pit teacher needs against student needs.
Graziaplene, in her first year at Hudson Elementary, said she has been able to find new teachers. But bringing them into the fold of Hudson's turnaround efforts takes time, she added, which comes at a premium while trying to meet ever tougher state criteria.
Graziaplene hoped for a workable resolution.
"I understand the teachers' point. They're people too," she said. "But my head has to be around the student side of it."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.