Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014
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Plan for Hernando's low performing schools takes shape

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BROOKSVILLE - A turnaround plan for Hernando County's lowest performing schools is taking shape.

Under threat of more intensive state oversight, financial penalties and even a state takeover of low-performing schools, the district will spend an additional $714,000 to improve Eastside Elementary, which received an F last year, and Fox Chapel Middle, which has received a D for the past three years.

"We don't have a choice," School Improvement Director Eric Williams said during a school board workshop this week to focus the proposal. "We are bound by statute to implement a turnaround plan."

The money will help pay for additional salaries for teachers at Eastside Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle whose work day will be extended by one hour for after school learning programs, according to the district.

That learning program, called the extended day program, is required and funded through federal Title I grants, Williams said.

An online survey given to administrators and instructors at both schools in December provided five turnaround plans school employees could choose from: a district-managed plan, closure, charter, private external operator, or some hybrid of the above.

School employees overwhelmingly choose a district-managed turnaround plan, Williams said.

The plan, due March 31, requires a district-based leadership team, which will consist of School Superintendent Lori Romano's staff, as well as a community assessment team, which will be comprised of principals, instructional coaches, teachers, parents, business partners, volunteers, and alumni, according to Williams.

A summary of the proposal shows the plan will also detail direct support systems, highly-effective staff, new or revised instructional programs and progress monitoring, among others.

Williams said between the two schools there will be three full-time, Title I instructional practices coaches for reading, math, and science.

The district is also considering suspending fees for recreational groups to use facilities at Eastside Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle.

"It would attract more of a community to the schools," Williams said.

However, Williams said he does not know how much funding the schools would lose if the fees are removed.

The district's proposed plan to ensure teacher effectiveness at the schools could leave instructors in "limbo" as they wait for evaluations and state test scores to roll in, district officials said.

That data will factor into whether instructors at the schools are considered effective or ineffective. Ineffective teachers could be transferred to another school, according to the proposal.

"We will start the process as late as possible so we have all that data before we decide on those reappointments," said Heather Martin, executive director of business services for the district.

Martin said it's not the district's intention to leave teachers in limbo, but it needs to collect as much data as possible to inform teacher effectiveness ratings at the schools.

To qualify for reassignment, a teacher must have assigned students who are consistently among the lowest performing on FCAT or other assessments, and consistently score in the lowest category for a specific grade, and in a specific subject at that school, Williams said.

The district is also offering an incentive to recruit and retain high quality teachers to Eastside Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle. New and existing teachers can receive a $1,000 bonus each year if they have no more than two absences, successfully participate in a professional development program, and score no less than "effective" on their evaluations, among other program requirements, according to the proposal.

Federal funding will pay for the bonus and the district may also be eligible for a competitive Title I school improvement grant.

That grant could provide $2 million over three years, Williams said.

"Eight to 12 schools in the state will qualify," he said.

Williams also said consistent, sustained leadership over a number of years leads to high performing schools. Eastside Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle have struggled with turnover, he said.

The turnaround plan will also focus on retaining current principals, assistant principals, and instruction coaches at the schools, Williams said.

"That's going to be our stance going forward," he said.

The school board will revisit the draft proposal at a later date.

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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