Hillsborough parents fight for failing schools in their communities

The district superintendent says there have been improvements made to failing schools countywide in recent years, but there is more work to be done that he can't tackle alone.

TAMPA, Fla. -- There are seven schools in Hillsborough County that need C grades by the end of the year to avoid getting taken over by a company outside the state.

Foster, Mort, Oak Park, Potter, Sheehy and Booker T. Washington elementary, along with Memorial Middle, are on the list.

Currently, they have F and D grades.

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Saturday morning, the community came together at Allen Temple AME Church along with school leaders like Superintendent Jeff Eakins to ask the question --- "Are We There Yet?"

The answer from the community and the superintendent was no.

Eakins says there have been improvements made to failing schools countywide in recent years, but there is more work to be done that he can’t tackle alone.

“We had 20 F schools when I came in as a superintendent," Eakins said. "We now have three, and that's still unacceptable for our community. When we knew our children were not receiving culturally responsive types of teaching, we sped up going after exemplary statues for the teaching of African-American students with the Florida Department of Education, and we achieved that.”

Many parents in the community voiced their concerns about the changes they would like to see in their child’s school.

Some of the topics discussed:

  • Parent/student vs school accountability
  • Diversity in the hiring of teachers, principals and district leaders
  • Overrepresentation of minority students in special education programs
  • Discipline practices regarding students of color
  • Practices that promote parental involvement
  • Pathways for school/community partnerships

Jacqueline Kennedy Haynes, an executive principal coach with the Hillsborough County Public School System, talked about the district working to remove teachers who aren’t highly effective in those seven schools.

“You can a take a highly effective teacher from an area such as Fish Hawk and bring them into one of our high needs schools and they may not connect with our students. So, we really have to be careful with saying we want all highly effective teachers in our high needs schools,” says Haynes

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Some parents were concerned that teachers in the district aren’t properly trained on cultural sensitivity. Haynes says there are programs to help teachers on this subject, but they are not mandatory.

However, not all blamed the district or the teachers on these schools receiving F and D grades but turned the finger to parents not being involved with their child’s life.

The community also wants people to step up and be mentors to these students.

But time is ticking. With less than three months before the end of this school year and still much work to be done, parents worry that the grade of their child’s school won’t improve in time.

Eakins says he’s all in and is confident they will turn these schools around but didn’t make it clear if that would be by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

“We’re going to get this done and one day we’re going to say, ‘We’re there,’” said Eakins.