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Survey shows Hillsborough teachers feel empowered, but there are trouble spots

Published May 13, 2016

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County feel empowered to make decisions about testing and other classroom matters, a comprehensive survey shows.

The survey shows that 95 percent agreed that "teachers are encouraged to reflect on their own practice." More than 90 percent agreed teachers support each other, are encouraged to try new things and can take leadership roles.

In a question specifically about autonomy, there was a nearly nine point jump in positive responses, to 75.9 percent. And these answers came months before Superintendent Jeff Eakins announced a reduction in mandatory student tests.

"Teachers are feeling that they have greater autonomy," Eakins said. "We saw that in the numbers."

But the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey, the fourth for Hillsborough, also pointed up trouble spots, particularly at high schools in the northern end of the county.

Less than half the teachers at Freedom, Chamberlain and Wharton high schools — only about a third at Freedom — agreed, "there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in this school." Less than a fifth believed "students at this school follow rules of conduct."

The response rate was 74 percent.

One reason for perceived disorder could be the district's efforts this year to keep unruly students in school instead of issuing long out-of-school suspensions.

"The teachers' perception is the reality," Eakins said. But from the numbers it's not clear how effective principals have been in rolling out restorative methods to get students on a positive track after they have been in trouble.

"It takes time," he said. "We've got to now go and find out and have that on-the-ground conversation with the schools."

The survey gives administrators a wealth of information. Teachers are asked nearly 100 questions on everything from safety in the halls to internet reliability in the classrooms. New this year are the separate set of results for seven high-needs schools.

In years past, Eakins acknowledged, principals might brace for a transfer if their results were too negative. In the color-coded spreadsheets, that would mean a lot of red and orange boxes.

Now wrapping up his first year as superintendent, Eakins said he wants to use the results more as a blueprint for improvement: "For me, it really is about information for growth."

Area superintendents, who now have greater leadership roles, will set up meetings where principals with better results can counsel those with lesser results.

"I think that becomes our way of really networking and training," Eakins said. At schools where year-to-year improvement was dramatic, area superintendents will ask how that happened, and look for ways to replicate the results.

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Some patterns of previous year's studies stayed true this year. Schools in wealthy communities — Bevis Elementary in FishHawk Ranch, Bryant Elementary in Westchase, Grady Elementary in south Tampa and Steinbrenner High School in Lutz — showed some of the best composite scores.

Teachers also answered favorably at magnet schools including Dunbar, a successful school tucked in a low-income section of West Tampa; Ferrell Girls Preparatory School in east Tampa; and Hillsborough High School in Seminole Heights, whose numbers improved with the arrival of a new principal.

Miles and Potter Elementary schools, both on the high-needs list, showed some of the lowest scores.

District officials said the teacher survey is just one set of numbers they look at in the course of a year. "The data is a point-in-time measure," said Patti Simmons, supervisor of data analysis. "If we were to do that survey again today, we would not replicate the same results."

Separately, there will be a student climate survey. As with last year, that survey will reflect just a sampling of students. But, Simmons said, the sample will be larger than it was in 2015.

The district will also be able to analyze Florida Standards Assessment scores, now that they can be compared with 2015 results.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol