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Lacoochee jobs posted, but finding the right applicants could be tough

LACOOCHEE — Ads to restaff Lacoochee Elementary School went up Friday afternoon.

The district is looking for 26 regular elementary teachers, a guidance counselor, two special education teachers, a speech/language pathologist, two physical education instructors, an art teacher, music teacher, graduation enhancement teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Only Pasco school district employees are invited to apply. And they'd better do it quickly, as the deadline comes Tuesday.

Florida Department of Education requirements for schools adopting a turnaround plan state that districts must conduct a "comprehensive search" to recruit a new principal "with a clear record of turning around a similar school."

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the administration posted the job for internal candidates first, to see who might be interested.

"If we don't get candidates who meet the qualifications, we will readvertise the position," Cobbe said.

Among Pasco County principals, just two appear to fit that description — Yvonne Reins, who took over Cox Elementary in 2009 and helped steer it from D's and C's to its 2012 B grade, and Kara Smucker, who brought Gulf Highlands Elementary from F to C in a year.

Reins said she will not seek the job. Smucker becomes a full-time principal coach next week. She has been advising outgoing Lacoochee principal Shirley Ray, who said she will reapply for the position.

The state requirements call for the principal and new leadership team to choose new faculty, who must demonstrate three years of learning gains among their students, with hiring to be completed by Aug. 1. United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said the district has plenty of qualified teachers who fit the bill, adding that it's only fair to make the spots open to locals first, given the district's plan to cut spending by scaling back jobs.

Whether anyone wants to transfer to the isolated, rural school is the big question.

Attracting applicants to Lacoochee has proven difficult over the past few years. The school has readvertised its guidance counselor job 10 times, for instance, getting just six resumes and still hiring no one. Its three other most recent teaching jobs have attracted, on average, 13 applicants.

Not too long ago, Lacoochee Elementary would get as many as 80 applications for its vacancies.

Meanwhile, the staff has turned over by almost half in the past three years.

To draw a wider pool of candidates, the district is offering a signing bonus of $2,500 for the first year, with another $2,500 bonus for those who stay a second year and $10,000 for remaining a third year. Performance pay bonuses also will be on the table.

The added pay is subject to negotiations.

Sam Foerster, Florida deputy chancellor of school improvement and student achievement, said the state is pretty firm about its expectations for reviving low performing schools. Lacoochee, which faces its third consecutive D grade, must implement a turnaround plan that adheres to the requirements, he said.

"We are saying, with the right tone, the school is struggling and that should not be allowed to persist," Foerster said.

There has to be some understanding, though, that the goal is not simply to follow written rules but rather to create circumstances for schools and students to succeed. He said the state might be flexible with the district, because the district is ultimately responsible for the school's outcome.

"It isn't a state school," he said.

Interpreted strictly, first-year teachers could not get hired at the reconstituted Lacoochee, where 11 current teachers are in their first year, he said. More broadly, though, he said, "we want them to deliberate in their decision making" on each individual hire. "We have to remain reasonable and focus on the point, which is to put the best teachers into that school."

The district would have to make strong justifications to retain Ray as principal as well, he said, noting that the state calls for the removal of any principal who has been at a 3-D school for more than a year. But if a principal has strengths that can be leveraged while demonstrating some improvement in academic results and a capacity for further growth, it might make sense to work with the situation, Foerster continued.

"We have to look at what we're dealing with," he said, "not just point at a piece of paper and say, 'You have to do this because you have to do this.' Go back to the purpose, which is, you have to fix this school."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at