Gibson, the Hillsborough school district's consultant, picks apart classroom practices in final report

Greg Gibson is an efficiency consultant to the Hillsborough County School District. He will address the School Board Tuesday about his latest report on educational services. MARLENE SOKOL | Times
Greg Gibson is an efficiency consultant to the Hillsborough County School District. He will address the School Board Tuesday about his latest report on educational services. MARLENE SOKOL | Times
Published April 20, 2017

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District shows promise in budgeting and teacher training, but has gaps in technology and its education of disabled students.

These are among hundreds of observations in the third and final report from the Gibson Consulting Group , hired last year for an audit as the district struggled to reverse four years of steep financial losses.

Since then, Gibson has delivered two reports that recommended money-saving cuts — including the current plan to phase out busing within two miles of schools and a bell schedule change that is likely to begin in 2018. The district took its own steps as well to protect the reserve fund.

The third report, unlike the others, looks at what goes on in the classroom.

"This is more about all of our different programs and the way we're serving our students and could we do it better," said Superintendent Jeff Eakins, who released the draft report Wednesday in response to a public records request. "Are we thinking about best practices? There might be cost savings by reworking a department. But now we're getting more into the service delivery of an organization."

Eakins said the report might still be revised for accuracy, and it's too soon to say how many recommendations he will follow.

It's a long list, with topics as specific as how thorough teachers' lesson plans are and how much time they spend hunting online for curriculum guides.

The team picked apart everything from how Hillsborough evaluates teachers — a process that was supposed to reach near-perfection under a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — to the way it outfits classrooms with computers.

As with other districts, Gibson wrote, too many teachers get good evaluations even as large numbers of their students fail state competency tests.

Gibson was especially harsh on the subject of technology, giving this description based on school visits:

"In one middle school computer lab, it took three minutes for a computer to turn on and boot up, approximately 6 percent of the class period time. In another elementary school, kindergarten students struggled using a computer mouse and wondered why they could not touch the screen to execute commands."

Gibson took issue with practices that are laid out in the district's contract with the Hillsborough Classroom Teacher Association. The team couldn't understand why teachers do not have to submit lesson plans until the end of the week — or why they are not required to spend more time in group planning sessions.

They recommend that the district renegotiate some of these contract rules with the union.

There was close analysis of the district's record of serving students with disabilities, who make up 14 percent of the population, and English language learners, who are 22 percent.

Consultants found too much of an achievement gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities, compared with the rest of the state.

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In the English for Speakers of Other Languages classes, consultants were impressed with what they saw in the elementary schools, but less so in the middle and high schools.

The team commended Hillsborough for an innovative program it uses to get more low-income and foreign language students enrolled in gifted classes.

They praised Hillsborough for its early screening of children with speech delays and other learning difficulties, and its partnerships with community organizations.

They were less pleased with its use of standardized tests, saying teachers were not making enough use of the results from "formative" tests given early in the year.

There was also a chapter on the Career and Technical Education department, which found too many of the classes were more about a "hobby" than serious preparation for college and careers.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss this report at a workshop on April 25 at 9 a.m.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 810-5068 or Follow @marlenesokol