The summer break offers a good time for the Hillsborough County School District to begin sorting out the problems at Pierce Middle School. A school assessment team this spring painted a troubling picture of discipline and morale among staffers and students alike. The new principal needs to improve the climate quickly, and the district administration should support any needed staff changes and reforms.
The problems at Pierce are serious and must be addressed immediately. Over a three-day period in May, the inspection team reported a leadership void, a breakdown in communication between administrators and staffers, and cliques among teachers that made for a difficult working environment. Tensions were so high, the team found, that some teachers had created "a climate of rebellion by not reporting to work." Administrators spoke to the staff through emails, not face to face. Teachers were not at their posts supervising students in the cafeteria or during class changes, causing "an obvious lack of adult supervision in high traffic areas." And Pierce had low expectations of the students it served from a low-income community in Town 'N Country. The district needs to halt the turmoil and put Pierce in an entirely new direction.
Raymond Padgett took over last week as the third principal in a year. He needs to address the internal strife that has created a toxic environment on campus. Pierce needs the right teachers — and they must show up for work. Padgett needs to open the lines of communication between the front office, staff and parents. It is tough enough for a school where one-third of the students are learning English as a second language to develop a common mission. But that's only harder when teachers revolt or question the administration's willingness to address their concerns. The new principal should separate legitimate complaints about the work environment from boiler-plate workplace carping. And Padgett needs to restore faith among staffers that they can and are making a difference in these students' lives.
The district and the School Board need to keep an eye on Pierce and work with Padgett to ensure he turns matters around and fosters a more promising environment for the future.