As complaints poured in from teachers and parents about the principal of a struggling St. Petersburg middle school, district leaders let the problems fester for months. Yet when Dallas Jackson finally was removed from John Hopkins Middle School, Pinellas schools superintendent Mike Grego provided him a soft landing with a prominent job recruiting teachers for the district. A former principal with Jackson's baggage has no business being a recruiter, and the entire episode sends the wrong message about accountability and about concern for struggling schools.
Problems surfaced shortly after Jackson became principal at Hopkins in 2017. The Tampa Bay Times' Megan Reeves detailed numerous clashes with school staff in just his first few months at the helm: moving a program without telling the program coordinator; refusing to meet with one of his own administrators; shouting at staff in public and reprimanding anyone who complained about him, according to a letter from two of Jackson's assistant principals to area superintendent Robert Poth. In addition, Hopkins teachers met with Poth in December 2017 and shared 170 "areas of concern" about Jackson and his leadership. Among the teachers' concerns: lack of support from Jackson, a lawless school environment where teachers didn't feel safe, and a nonexistent discipline plan that meant students pushed the limits of behavior knowing there would be no consequences. "If I had a student that I sent down to the office ... Dr. Jackson basically just said they could go back to class," one teacher told the Times.
That is unacceptable conduct for any school leader. It's especially concerning at John Hopkins, an overcrowded school that draws from some of St. Petersburg's poorest neighborhoods. Its state grade has fluctuated between C, D and F, making it subject to the district's "turnaround" requirements. As teachers come and go, some fleeing the stressful conditions while others are forced out, a strong, competent leader who sets clear standards and follows them is essential.
But instead of removing Jackson, Poth convened a restructuring committee of teachers to craft a "reboot" plan for Jackson's second semester. It was supposed to be confidential — until Jackson was put in charge of the committee. It's no surprise that morale and working conditions did not improve. Even worse, student performance slipped further under Jackson. Last year, just 3.5 percent of Hopkins eighth-graders passed the state math test. Yet Poth and Grego left Jackson in the job for 17 months before moving him.
Where did he land? At district headquarters in charge of teacher recruitment. A failed principal who was accused of yelling at teachers in front of students, who ran a school where teachers felt physically threatened by unruly students and who was criticized by parents for lacking leadership skills now leads Pinellas' efforts to attract high-quality teachers. That defies reason, and it's poor management.
Pinellas school district leaders did the right thing by removing a principal who was, by many accounts, a toxic presence at John Hopkins Middle School. But they took far too long to do it and sent a terrible message by providing Jackson a very nice parachute with a $104,000 salary. There should be no reward in public education for failing teachers and students, but it's hard to see Jackson's soft landing as anything else.