Eakins looks back on a year’s accomplishments in the Hillsborough County Schools

Changing the bell schedule was a major accomplishment.
Jeff Eakins is superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools. [John Pendygraft |TIMES 2015]
Jeff Eakins is superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools. [John Pendygraft |TIMES 2015]
Published Apr. 30, 2019|Updated Apr. 30, 2019

Despite deficiencies in reading, which he was upfront in acknowledging, Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins gave himself mostly top marks in his yearly self-evaluation.

Evaluations from the seven board members will be posted as agenda items for an upcoming School Board meeting. But, under Eakins’ contract, the evaluations are meant for reflection and feedback. They do not determine his job future with the district.

In 11 categories, Eakins gave himself eight “exemplary” scores, which are the highest and worth three points each. He gave himself “accomplished” scores in three areas: Developing and Promoting the Instructional Program; Participating in the Political, Social, Economic, Legal and Cultural Context; and Creating and Promoting a Culture for Learning and Safety. He did not rate himself as “progressing” or “requires action” in anything.

What went well this year?

In his essay, Eakins made several references to the new schedule of arrivals and dismissals at all schools. Under the old schedule, elementary bus runs followed the high school runs so closely that students often arrived late. “In 2017/2018, 74 percent of bus riding students arrived on time before the bell,” Eakins wrote. “By the end of the first semester of 2018/2019, 98 percent of bus riding students arrived on time before the bell.”

In the area of academic accomplishments, Eakins cited the 2017 results of Nation’s Report Card test of 4th and 8th graders. District leaders often describe Hillsborough as a leader among 27 large school districts in math and reading, based on these tests -- even though, in reality, the study compares Hillsborough to a lot of communities that are more purely urban. Not only that; in some of those rankings, Hillsborough was tied with the other districts. (In the case of 8th grade math, it was a 10-way tie for second place.)

State test scores are up across the board, he wrote, and achievement gaps between white and minority groups are closing, as are those between rich and poor students.

When it comes to reading, a subject the Tampa Bay Times examined recently in depth, Eakins acknowledged that third grade proficiency scores dropped by three percentage points in 2018. “I have challenged the district staff to address this as a top priority and develop goals within our strategic plan to monitor improvement,” he wrote. Not mentioned in the self-evaluation was an outside audit on reading practices that is under discussion.

Schools are getting better leaders under the district’s Principal Pipeline, Turn Around Leader Pathways and Supervisory Council Initiatives, he wrote. Mentors are providing more support at schools where students have the highest needs.

Eakins wrote about his Achievement Schools initiative, which seeks to direct required resources to schools that historically have been under-served and where students have under-performed. Work on that initiative highlighted the need for “a robust recruitment and retention plan,” he wrote, and he went on to describe his campaign to hire more teachers for the high-needs schools. Yet, in a section of the essay about finances, Eakins described “reducing the workforce by an additional 600 to 700 employees” so he could enter the school year with a balanced operating budget.

That balanced budget, he wrote, enabled him to ask the community for a half penny sales tax for capital purchases in the schools. In communications, an area where Eakins struggled in his early years, he gave himself high marks and described productive relationships with the teachers union, the media, and business organizations.

Eakins’ contract, his second since he became superintendent, lasts until 2020. He is paid $225,000 a year.