TAMPA, Fla. – Seven Hillsborough County schools are at risk of being shut down, converted into charter schools or managed by outside consultants if they do not improve their “F” and “D” state rankings to at least a “C” by the end of this school year.
Superintendent Jeff Eakins received a memo from state education officials on October 16 stating that the district has until Friday to choose one of the aforementioned “turnaround” options in case the schools do not improve.
Two of the four options include closure. Under one circumstance, students would be reassigned to higher performing schools. Under the other, a charter school would serve as a replacement.
Eakins says the district has no plans to close any schools, adding that hiring a consultant or creating a district-managed charter school ran by a board of community members would be considered.
Foster, Mort, Oak Park, Potter, Sheehy and Booker T. Washington elementary, along with Memorial Middle, are the schools in jeopardy. Potter is consistently one of the lowest performing schools in the district. It has received “Fs” five years in a row.
“That community, that school, deserves to be successful, and we want to make sure that we ensure it for them this year,” said Eakins, who added that state monitoring teams have been impressed with the progress they’ve seen during visits to Potter. “Obviously an accountability system is needed to make sure that schools are performing at their highest level, and the state has to measure that.”
Community leaders agree, but believe the district has not always done everything to improve its lowest performing schools, particularly in poor communities of color.
“It’s frustrating,” said community activist Joe Robinson. “But I would say it’s a work in progress.”
Some of the district’s “D” and “F” schools have a disproportionate number of teachers with temporary certifications, as highlighted in a recent 10News report.
Most of the seven schools facing action were included in that report.
All seven schools have student populations that are overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic. Most of those students also come from economically disadvantaged households.
Community leaders say these are all factors in the cycle of failing schools, but caution against placing total blame on the district.
“When you’re dealing with a complex problem like this, there is no one entity or one thing that’s the problem. It’s a multitude of complex issues,” said Robinson, who named institutional racism, poverty, teacher quality and inequity in funding as other obstacles standing in the way of student achievement.
Robinson also praised the district for keeping the community informed and not shying away from its problems.
“They’re actually doing what they’re supposed to do – getting the community stakeholders involved,” he said. “They need to listen to what we’re saying.”
Eakins promises the community has his ear.
“The community needs to be reassured that we are doing everything that we can from the early childhood years all the way through the entry into kindergarten -- Great instruction, having programs that attract great teachers into those schools, so that there’s better instruction and therefore better success for kids,” he said.
Eakins says district officials will be working diligently to choose which turnaround option is best for the schools. However, his goal is to have all seven improve to at least a C so the district can maintain full control.
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