District seeks to replace Lacoochee Elementary teachers
LACOOCHEE - The effort to potentially replace the principal, assistant principal and entire teaching staff at Lacoochee Elementary has begun. The Pasco County school district posted 37 job openings Friday for Lacoochee as part of a school turnaround plan that is required because the school is facing its third year in a row with a D grade from the state Department of Education. Staff members can re-apply for their jobs, and many have said they plan to do so, including Principal Shirley Ray and Assistant Principal Sherri Dunham.Many of those teachers, though, are newer educators and the state indicated it wants a “more seasoned” faculty for the rural school that serves a low-income population, said Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco, the union that represents teachers. Any staff members who are displaced are expected to be transferred to other Pasco schools. “I think it’s important the public know the teachers at Lacoochee are not damaged goods,” Webb said. “They are excellent teachers. They are just working in a difficult environment.” In addition to the principal and assistant principal positions, the jobs posted are 26 elementary teaching positions, one guidance counselor, two varying exceptionalities teachers, one speech/language pathologist, two physical education teachers, one art teacher, one music teacher and one graduation-enhancement teacher. Initially, at least, the district will consider applications only from principals, assistant principals and teachers already working for Pasco County schools. The deadline to apply is 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. That’s the same day as the district’s deadline for submitting its turnaround plan to the state for approval. The job-application deadline might seem too quick to give potential applicants time to contemplate a move, but the district already sent information directly to the schools so teachers are well aware of the openings and situation at Lacoochee, Webb said. Plans for Lacoochee also have generated extensive media coverage. “You’d have to have your head under a rock to not know about this at this point,” Webb said. The district can always re-advertise the jobs if it doesn’t find the candidates it needs on the first go-round, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. If necessary, Pasco would open the jobs to applicants from outside the district, she said. As part of the effort to attract high-performing veteran educators to the struggling school, the district plans to offer a pay supplement the first year estimated at $2,500. That would continue the second year. In the third year, that supplement would increase to $10,000. The job postings mention the supplements, although technically they still must be negotiated with the union. Webb said some language needs to be worked out, but the union and the district already reached a conceptual agreement so that the supplements could be included in the job advertisements. She said she views the first-year supplement “almost as a gas allowance.” Lacoochee Elementary is in northeast Pasco in a remote area, far from most of the county’s population centers and a good commute for many district employees. The distance is one reason Lacoochee has faced difficulties recruiting teachers, Webb said. She noted, for example, that the school is more than 30 miles from her office in central Pasco. Lacoochee Elementary is a Title I school, which means it is eligible for extra federal funding because most of the students come from low-income families. Nearly 95 percent of the 409 students qualify for the free or reduced-price meal program, and 73 percent of the students are minorities. The school was an A school in 2009 but has struggled recently. Tammy Rabon, a supervisor in the district’s Office for Teaching and Learning, said last week that there are many possible reasons for the school’s academic troubles, including a 50 percent staff turnover and a high percentage of teachers who are new to the profession. The school serves a large migrant population as well, so students and their families often move in and out of the area. In addition, the state’s accountability measures have become more demanding since 2009, which could be a factor, Rabon said. Florida Department of Education representatives met with district officials more than a week ago to discuss options for the turnaround plan for Lacoochee, which was a D school in 2011 and 2012. The district anticipates it will be a D school again when the 2013 grades are released in the summer. The district decided on the staff makeover rather than the other school-improvement options, which included transforming the school into a charter school or closing it altogether. The district notified the school staff and parents Tuesday. Webb said she isn’t happy with the situation, but the state left the district little choice. “I’m concerned because I think the state was premature in almost forcing the district’s hand at this point because the school was showing growth,” Webb said. The change does not affect non-instructional employees, such as custodians, cafeteria workers and secretaries. Cobbe said the district is considering a pay supplement for those jobs as well, though.