Job postings for Lacoochee Elementary draw few fresh faces

Published May 2, 2013

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School District's effort to restaff struggling Lacoochee Elementary School fell short in its first attempt, despite offering cash incentives.

A five-day job posting to fill the school's 35 teaching slots attracted 42 applications, more than half of whom were existing Lacoochee faculty members. Only Pasco school district employees were invited to apply. Ads for principal and assistant principal drew the current office holders.

"We are going to reopen the application period for the teachers … to get a larger pool," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said Wednesday. "We haven't made up our minds as to whether or not we're going to readvertise the administrative positions."

The district could face some intense scrutiny if it decides to stick with the existing leaders, who joined Lacoochee in 2010.

State rules for schools that earn three straight D grades, as is expected of Lacoochee, require replacement of the principal and assistant principal if they've been at the school more than a year.

The rules also call for a "comprehensive search" for a new principal "with a clear record of turning around a similar school."

"Posting something publicly for only a few days, nobody is going to interpret that as a thorough search for a replacement," said Joe Follick, Florida Department of Education spokesman.

The State Board of Education ultimately will judge the district's turnaround plan, he said, adding that it's premature to say whether the process meets expectations. In analyzing the proposal, though, Follick said: "if a school has struggled to the point it needs a turnaround plan, one of the first places a district should be looking is to replace leadership at the school."

In its plan, submitted to the state on Tuesday, the school district notes that it advertised each instructional and administrative position with the goal of recruiting "the most talented staff." It has offered signing bonuses of $2,500 for the first year, with the potential of getting $10,000 for staying through a third year.

At the same time, the plan keeps open the option of keeping principal Shirley Ray and assigning her a principal coach, Kara Smucker, who brought Gulf Highlands Elementary from an F to a C in one year

"Justification would include positive feedback from the staff and an improvement in reading" at Lacoochee, the plan states. "The principal also has been instrumental in assisting with a community partnership grant. With coaching, there has already been an improvement in …instructional feedback that the current principal provides teachers."

The language is similar to the district's February draft plan. In the state's response to that proposal, officials noted that because Ray had been at Lacoochee more than one year, "you will need to provide significant justification for not replacing her."

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Other districts have an eye on how the process unfolds.