True to his word, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins has scheduled a School Board discussion Tuesday on the issue of Native American-themed mascots.
The item, sparsely worded, appears on a packed agenda that leads off with a proclamation to commemorate the Juneteenth National Freedom Day.
Proclamations are standard fare during the televised portion of school board meetings, so this is not unusual. This next part is also boiler-plate, but worth restating: The district will observe the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States, to “improve student achievement, provide a student-centered learning environment that engages every child,” and “develop a culture of respect, trust, collaboration and equity.”
Tuesday’s meeting will be at Temple Terrace City Hall - which is highly unusual, but represents the board’s desire to get out into one of the many communities it serves. It starts at 3:30 p.m. But the plan - for now - is to keep cameras turned off during the first 30 minutes, when members of the public speak. It was during one of those cameras-off times on June 4 when board member Cindy Stuart introduced the motion to stall a long-considered plan to remove school mascot names that have Native American themes. The rest of the board backed her unanimously.
In between the Juneteenth item and the Native American item, there is a long list of air conditioning projects that the district has placed on the meeting agenda for possible discussion, instead of the consent agenda, as it showcases progress following voters’ approval in November of a half-cent sales tax referendum. Air conditioning and related improvements are planned at Blake High School ($6.1 million), Folsom Elementary School ($1.25 million), Colson Elementary ($3 million), Dunbar Elementary ($1.7 million), Woodbridge Elementary ($1.757 million), Durant High ($8.7 million), Knights and Lincoln Elementary ($10.8 million), Riverview High ($7 million), Lowry Elementary and Walker Middle ($8.2 million), Schwarzkopf Elementary ($1.8 million) and Sickles High ($15 million.)
A pair of new charter schools is also up for approval, under a drop-out recovery model called Northstar Academy and managed by a Fort Lauderdale for-profit company called EdisonLearning. Not long ago, the Pinellas County School Board approved a Northstar school for its district as well.
EdisonLearning made headlines in 2017 after a ProPublica investigation alleged students were signing up for one of its drop-out recovery schools in Ohio and attracting state funding, but not showing up for class.
Michael Serpe, the company’s director of communications, said Friday that the ProPublica article was not accurate, despite voluminous information he provided its reporter. In addition he said," you have to realize the constituency that is being served here. Everybody in this school is somebody who has dropped out, or their education has been interrupted for life circumstances. That was never taken into account."
EdisonLearning, which years ago had a promotional deal with basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, is the oldest for-profit charter school operator in the nation, Serpe said.
The applications in Hillsborough describe a combination of in-school and online instruction, with social workers and guidance counselors to help students overcome the barriers that caused them to fall behind. One school will be in Town & Country, where an earlier dropout recovery school that was operated by Accelerated Learning Solutions, closed for low enrollment almost a year ago. The second NorthStar school will be in Palm River. They will open in 2020 and each will serve 650 students in grades 6 through 12.
Finally, the district will name a principal for Eisenhower Middle School. Johan Von Ancken, who ran the school after serving as principal of Hillsborough High and then holding administrative positions downtown, has resigned.
A 10 a.m. workshop is also planned. That will be on the second floor of district headquarters downtown. It is open to the public and it will be about transportation and purchasing.