Pasco teachers hopeful after chat with leaders
LAND O' LAKES - Elementary school teachers who complained that paperwork and an overemphasis on student assessments was eating into planning and teaching time may be getting a more sympathetic ear from the Pasco County school district's new administrative team. About a dozen of those teachers met last week with Superintendent Kurt Browning and Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson to see whether the two sides can resolve the issue without the need for a United School Employees of Pasco appeal to the school board. "We left the meeting hopeful we could wrap this up," Larson said Friday. The union filed two grievances in October on behalf of more than 1,300 Pasco County elementary teachers. The teachers said they have had enough of the testing, paperwork and meetings they say dominate their lives and steal time they could use for planning lessons and teaching.The teachers also argued that the extra work encroaches on their family time and, in some cases, affects their health. Former Superintendent Heather Fiorentino heard testimony about those grievances Nov. 1 and ruled against the union about two weeks later. She said much of the testing is necessary because of state laws or rules on student assessment. Lynne Webb, president of the union, said at the time that taking the case to the school board could be the next step, but first the union would try to discuss the concerns with Browning, who was sworn in as the new superintendent Nov. 20. Larson described last week's meeting with the teachers as productive. As part of the meeting, she said, they also discussed how the new Common Core State Standards that Florida is implementing come into play. In preparation for the meeting, Larson created a table that listed the tests used to assess students, breaking out which ones the state mandates, which ones the school district requires and which are optional. Larson said the administration's view is that improving student achievement is not negotiable, but the teachers should have input into the decisions about which assessments to use. "I think they need some flexibility," she said. Although no resolution is set yet, the teachers who participated in the meeting came away optimistic, based on emails some of them sent to Larson. "This was a highly productive think tank and I know my fellow teachers will be glad to hear that 'the district' is listening, and more importantly responding and reacting," wrote Chris Church, a teacher at Lake Myrtle Elementary in Land O' Lakes. "It will be reassuring for all to know that we are progressing as a district with clear vision and guidance." Lisa Mazza, a West Zephyrhills Elementary teacher, wrote that she had been feeling discouraged, but the meeting left her hopeful that a solution is possible. "Our conversation was productive and addressed the assessment issues with genuine concern for the students in our classrooms and the teachers that work with them," Mazza wrote.
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