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Pinellas district nixes survey on ‘simultaneous’ teaching

Officials said they’d prefer to hear directly from individual teachers, rather than get anonymous views.

At odds with the district over the scope of complaints about “simultaneous teaching” — the mixing of in-person and online students into a single class — the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association this week suggested a faculty survey.

“We have to have straight data,” union president Nancy Velardi told deputy superintendent Bill Corbett at the negotiating table. “We can’t go by what I’ve heard or what you’ve heard.”

Corbett said he’d think about it. Days later, he said no.

The district, spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas said, “came up with a better plan.”

The execution, however, has made teachers more upset.

Rather than collect anonymous responses that it couldn’t act upon, Mascareñas said, the executive leadership team decided it would be better to get details from individual teachers who need help.

“We will be able to target their specific challenges,” she said, noting the resolution could be added technology, extra training or some other action. “Not everybody is having the same struggle.”

Related: Online, in-person students will share a teacher. ‘I don’t see how it can work.'

To gather this information, the district asked principals to send a letter to their teachers. It provided some stock language, and suggested that school leaders might want to personalize it.

Many didn’t. And the wording caused an angry backlash.

First, the letter complimented teachers for their hard work and dedication. The conditions have been “less than optimal,” it observed, with some difficulties emerging in the switch to online classes, a new learning management system and the use of simultaneous teaching.

“I am amazed at the progress we have made adapting to change,” the letter stated.

Then came the upsetting part.

“I am asking you to let me know if you believe that, currently, you are completely incapable of delivering instruction simultaneously,” it stated. “I would like to have an in-depth conversation with you regarding the barriers you are experiencing and what supports can be offered to build your practice and comfort level.”

It gave a 3 p.m. Friday deadline.

“There is no way they are going to go to their principal and say that,” Velardi said, adding that she encouraged teachers not to do so, as such an admission could come back during evaluation time. “If you want help, ask for help.”

Given the district’s approach, Velardi added, she remained unconvinced the district administration wanted to hear criticisms.

“We’ve been asking for a legitimate climate survey for a very long time. The district does not want to get the information because they know it is not going to be what they want it to be,” she said.

Even in the district’s focus groups on simultaneous learning, conducted Thursday, the teachers who participated indicated they either hated or “simply tolerated” the model, said Velardi, who attended as an observer. They shared that principals did not give teachers the option of whether to teach mixed classes, unlike presentations made by top district staff, she added.

The numbers were small, though. Of 51 teachers invited, Velardi said, 15 showed up.

“This is not how we get a snapshot of what is going on,” she said, reiterating the need to have a survey.

She also called for additional focus groups, if that’s the district’s preference, so the knowledge base everyone has is more than anecdotal. Mascareñas said more are planned.

School Board chairwoman Carol Cook said she agreed with the overarching approach of working to bring help to teachers who struggle leading face-to-face and remote learners at the same time. She wasn’t a fan of the way it was put to teachers in the letter, though.

“There’s a wide chasm between, ‘I’m having difficulty and I don’t feel comfortable with this' and ‘I am completely incapable,’” Cook said.

She said she has received calls from teachers who have adapted to the model, and from others who are overwhelmed.

“We do need to get to the bottom of things and make it better for those who need it,” she said.

The district adopted the simultaneous teaching approach as a way to maintain social distancing in classrooms.