Re: Popular teacher forced to retire | story, March 23
Keep this teacher, whatever the cost
I was astounded to hear that Pinellas County may be forcing Robert O'Donnell out of teaching. As the quality of education is degrading in the country, we cannot afford to lose talented, dedicated, passionate educators such as Mr. O'Donnell. It would be a huge loss, not only to East Lake High School, but to Pinellas County.
Bob O'Donnell really lives for teaching. It is his passion, and it is evident when you meet him. Being in his classroom is an experience like no other. I was fortunate enough to have him twice — once for world history and once for AP European history.
Looking back on it now, most of my fondest classroom memories are of Mr. O'Donnell. He provides such a great learning environment, you can't help but be a part of what he is teaching. His lectures are legendary.
Mr. O'Donnell's classes are also some of the best college preparatory courses I had. Most high school teachers spoon-feed their students, never challenging them, never developing the skills they will need to succeed in college. Mr. O'Donnell's teaching is in line with higher education. Students must pay attention, take notes actively, study more than one chapter of material at a time, and apply what they've learned through testing on multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions. His projects are interdisciplinary and require the research, study and application of large amounts of information. He is tough, yet fair, and always open and accessible to student concerns.
I was in his classroom on Sept. 11, 2001, when I first heard the news of the terrorist attacks. His ability to be consoling to all of us and hold the classroom together, providing not only support, but also material for reference and understanding, was unforgettable. Above and beyond being an excellent instructor, he means well and always puts students first. In the years since graduation, many of my classmates have kept in touch with teachers and gone back to visit, and everyone includes Mr. O'Donnell. He creates a sense of community at East Lake and has been an inspiration to students and fellow teachers alike.
So many teachers take the easy way out. So many teachers do what is required and no more. Mr. O'Donnell is the best teacher I have ever encountered — he is irreplaceable. Whatever it costs to keep him, it is worth it. He had such a lasting impact on all of my classmates and so many students before and after us. It is doing the community a huge disservice to force him out of teaching.
Stephanie Sims, Oldsmar
Re: Popular teacher forced to retire
O'Donnell is an exceptional talent
I am writing in response to the article that discussed the unjust forced retirement of Robert O'Donnell.
My son graduated from East Lake High School last year with an unweighted GPA of 3.8 and went on to get accepted early decision to his dream college, Northwestern University.
While these statistics may look impressive, my son was rarely challenged and educationally inspired by his teachers during his high school tenure. It became increasingly clear to me, as a parent, why the Florida school system pales in comparison to other state school systems when it comes to academic excellence. The good news: Mr. O'Donnell was the exception to the rule and East Lake High School has been blessed to have him on its faculty.
Fortunately, my son benefited from the exceptional talents and educational expertise of Mr. O'Donnell while studying advanced placement European history under his tutelage. It amazes me that school superintendent Clayton Wilcox does not qualify history as an educational area of "critical need." As a parent, I can tolerate the educational administration's failure to consider drama, music, art or physical education as "critical need" priorities. However, it is unforgivable to compromise the integrity of historical education by claiming it to be "less important" than math or science.
Mr. O'Donnell is critical to the education of each and every student that he teaches. Mr. O'Donnell embraces the highest possible standards when he teaches and prepares his students to achieve 5's on their European history AP exam, vs. the typically accepted 3's of most teachers. He models a standard of excellence that Pinellas County compromises by not insisting that Mr. O'Donnell receive the contract extension that he deserves after serving the East Lake High School community for so many years.
Until Mr. Wilcox and Pinellas County prioritize quality education and retaining top-notch teachers such as Mr. O'Donnell, school budgets will not be well allocated and students will not receive the fine high school education they need to prepare them for life.
Ilene Gershberg, Palm Harbor