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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Florida officials keep eye on Pasco’s Lacoochee Elementary

LACOOCHEE — Academically struggling Lacoochee Elementary faced more scrutiny than most schools in 2013 after its perennial D-school status landed it in the state’s turnaround program.

That meant the Florida Department of Education would be keeping a watchful eye on the school as the Pasco County school district worked to improve the students’ low test scores.

Superintendent Kurt Browning vowed the school would get the resources and district help it needed.

“Nothing is off the table when it comes to Lacoochee Elementary,” Browning told the school board over the summer.

The school’s situation was clear in the spring, even before the state issued school grades, giving Lacoochee its third D in a row.

That third D was anticipated, so the school district submitted an improvement plan to the Department of Education. Part of that plan included advertising all the teaching jobs as open, as well as the principal and assistant principal positions.

Staff members could apply for their jobs, and many did, but there also was an effort to bring in new faces. Latoya Jordan, an assistant principal at Cox Elementary, was named Lacoochee’s principal.

Jordan, who attended Lacoochee as a child, had served on an administrative team that conducted the job interviews for teachers in May, quizzing applicants on topics such as how they handle discipline, their knowledge of the new Common Core State Standards and why they would be a good fit for Lacoochee.

In an effort to draw more and better job candidates, the district offered pay supplements to the educators who signed on to help the school.

The school district retained responsibility for the school under the improvement plan it chose. Other possibilities included transforming the school into a charter school or hiring a private management company to run it.

Another option was to close the school completely and send the students elsewhere. The district didn’t give that idea much consideration.

“This school is pretty much the hub of the community,” Jordan said. “Community members and the children would have been devastated.”

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 roughly 400 students qualify for the free or reduced-price meal program, and about three-fourths of the students are minorities.

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