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Hillsborough prepares to expand the role of an outside operator for troubled schools.

Close to 9,000 students could come under the Phalen Leadership Academy umbrella. Another 3,000 could wind up in charter “schools of hope.”

TAMPA - With the Achievement Schools initiative nearing its one-year anniversary, Hillsborough County School District leaders are planning for the possibility that more schools will require state intervention.

A proposal awaits a School Board vote on Tuesday that would expand the role of Phalen Leadership Academies, an Indiana choice school operator that is assisting this year at Sheehy, Oak Park and Foster elementary schools.

The state identified the three schools, after a history of poor grades, for shut-down, conversion to charter management, or the less intrusive option that Hillsborough chose, bringing in an external operator.

School leaders say Phalen’s role has been largely supportive and collaborative, not a full takeover.

The plan for 2019-20 assumes that 10 more elementary schools will continue to have "D" or "F" grades, which would put them in the same position. Should they earn "C" grades or better, they would come off the list. The district would pay Phalen up to $3,756,000, which would include continued services at the original three.

Here are the schools, and their grades for the past two years: Sulphur Springs (F in 2018, D in 2017); James (F, D); Kimball (F, D), and these seven that all had two D’s: Forest Hills, Thompson, Dover, Folsom, McDonald, Palm River and Robles. Four - Sulphur Springs, James, Kimbell and Forest Hills - are part of a group the Tampa Bay Times identified in a special report on reading. More than half the children in those four schools tested at the lowest of the state’s five reading levels, signalling they will need intervention to handle their work in the next grade.

The 10 schools have 7,912 students. Oak Park, Sheehy and Foster have another 1,300.

Preliminary test data from the iReady system show that, despite the extra resources poured into the schools under the Achievement program, students were testing well below their peers at mid-year.

About half of Hillsborough’s students in grades 3 through 5 were at or above grade level in reading and math, according to a statistical report that the district released in January. The students were expected to make more progress between the time the test was administered and this time of the Florida Standards Assessments.

But the school-by-school statistics show some will have trouble making grades that satisfy the state.

Here are the winter grade-level-or-better rates for some of the schools on Phalen’s list: 27 percent in reading and 16 percent passing math at Kimbell; 19 percent in reading and 13 percent in math at James; 20 in reading and 17 in math at Robles. At Sulphur Springs K-8, 21 percent of elementary students were at or above grade level in reading while 18 percent passed their tests in math.

Teacher shortages have been a big problem at most of the schools listed above, and district leaders are looking ahead to the coming year to address that problem. At a community advisory board meeting this week, assistant superintendent Tricia McManus - who is also teaching part-time at James - said the district is monitoring progress in its new teacher recruitment plan, which extended the hiring period and offered cash bonuses to teachers in the Achievement group.

Teacher shortages were so severe in some schools that members of Superintendent Jeff Eakins' cabinet took part-time teaching shifts. Shown here is assistant superintendent Tricia McManus teaching a third grade math class at James Elementary in April 2019. [Marlene Sokol | Times]
Teacher shortages were so severe in some schools that members of Superintendent Jeff Eakins' cabinet took part-time teaching shifts. Shown here is assistant superintendent Tricia McManus teaching a third grade math class at James Elementary in April 2019. [Marlene Sokol | Times]

Phalen, in its proposal, described numerous forms of analysis and training for the principals and teachers. Services include climate surveys and interviews to assess school morale, pacing guides to help students master the material they are taught, a review of the texts and materials, and virtual training sessions for school staff. There is also a three-day new teacher training institute in the summer.

At Thursday’s meeting, McManus also described an “Achievement School Institute” that will take place for two full days to help teachers prepare for the challenging work.

Separately, the board will vote Tuesday on a proposal by IDEA, a charter group in Texas, to open four of what state leaders call “schools of hope.”

Launched by two Teach For America educators, IDEA, serves 45,000 students in and around Texas.

These charter schools move into areas served by low-achieving schools, based on the premise that children should be allowed alternatives.

The four - two elementary and two middle schools - would be located within five miles of Oak Park and Robles. Under the IDEA formula, the schools expand eventually to serve grades K through 12, serving close to 3,000 students after build-out.





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