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Turnaround schools would need state approval to change principals under new proposal

State Board leaders have in the past demanded leadership changes at struggling schools.
Hillsborough County schools superintendent Jeff Eakins explains the district's stance on its turnaround plan implementation to the Florida Board of Education on Jan. 17, 2018. [The Florida Channel]
Hillsborough County schools superintendent Jeff Eakins explains the district's stance on its turnaround plan implementation to the Florida Board of Education on Jan. 17, 2018. [The Florida Channel]
Published Sep. 3, 2019

For several years now, Florida Board of Education members have expected — demanded, in fact — principal changes at the state’s most struggling schools.

The board has insisted on leadership shifts as a condition of approving improvement plans, and has held superintendents’ feet to the fire if those moves haven’t come swiftly enough.

Just ask Hillsborough County’s Jeff Eakins, who received a roasting in early 2018 over his effort to keep principals at four low-scoring schools.

RELATED: Four Hillsborough County schools must lose their principals, Florida Board of Education says

This month, the board is poised to take its control over staffing decisions at turnaround schools to a new level. As part of a rule initially intended to rename the state’s Differentiated Accountability system as “School Improvement,” the board also would take three dramatic steps in line with other recent efforts to bolster its authority.

If approved at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting in Jacksonville, the rule would:

• Require a district gain state permission before changing a principal at a school with an approved turnaround plan. This would include submitting a principal change certification form, and receiving a response before making any transfers.

How this would affect a school in turmoil, such as Pinellas County’s John Hopkins Middle in late 2018, would remain to be seen.

• Mandate that district contracts with outside providers running daily operations tie payment to outcomes, and authorize districts to cancel the contracts if the providers fail to meet expectations.

This change comes after the state expressed disappointment with the performance of outside operators in Marion, Hillsborough and Duval counties, among others. The board demanded the districts secure new consultants as part of their turnaround plans, with commissioner Richard Corcoran making clear his desire that all future contracts include out clauses for poor results.

• Allow the State Board to revoke a district’s school turnaround plan, if the district is deemed to have failed to follow the terms of the plan or met the requirements for such plans, and it appears unlikely that the school is on track to earn a state grade of C or higher in the remaining time of the plan. The state would have to notify a district in writing no less than seven days before the board would take up a revocation, and would be given at least 20 days after formal revocation to present a revised plan.

This recommendation arises shortly after the State Board suggested it should have added takeover authority of schools and districts that fail to follow state rules for improvement. The board already has the ability to withhold certain funding for school districts found not to be in compliance with state law and department rule.

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, president of the state superintendent’s association, questioned the need for further tightening the state’s grip on the school improvement process, which in the past two years has seen a reduction in turnaround options and a shortening of the time allowed to show gains.

Browning suggested that requiring permission to switch a principal could hurt a school that needs immediate change. The idea of revoking a turnaround plan midway through it further hinders a school’s ability to make corrections and improve in the short time it has, he added.

“The rule is written from a perspective of not assuming goodwill” on the part of school districts, he said. “It looks like another notch in the belt trying to take control away from local school districts."

RELATED: Getting tough: Florida’s education chief Richard Corcoran tells school districts to fall in line

We contacted the Department of Education about this rule before Hurricane Dorian threatened the state, and have not yet received a response.

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