Too many children are failing
By B.C. Manion
As Pasco County Schools grapples with budget shortfalls, it also must change the way it delivers education, Superintendent Kurt Browning said.
“We cannot get our students where they need to be academically if we don’t change the model,” Browning said at the May 7 school board meeting.
“My focus is K-3 (kindergarten through third grade). If we do not begin breaking this cycle of lack of literacy, proficiency in literacy, then all we’re doing is compounding the problem,” Browning said.
“As these students move through third grade, they get retained. If they get retained a second time, I think research will tell you there’s a high likelihood that these people will not graduate from high school,” Browning said.
His remarks came during the board’s discussion about needed cuts to balance next year’s budget.
Browning pointed to current district data to make the case for change.
“If our current system is working so well, then why are scores where they are?
Reading scores are not, by any stretch of the imagination, where they should be. We are leaving back the equivalent of an overcrowded elementary school each and every year in Pasco County.
“That is unconscionable, as far as I’m concerned,” said Browning, during a discussion about his recommendation to eliminate school media specialists, technology specialists and literacy coaches and replace them with 80 information and communication technology coaches and eight technicians.
The new ICT coaches will help teachers learn how to integrate the use of technology in their daily practices, said Amelia Van Name Larson, assistant superintendent for student achievement. The eight technicians will provide support across the district, working within regional teams.
Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong supported the change, but asked how the district can alleviate fears that teachers have about losing the technology help they received in the past.
The district recognizes that the transition will be difficult, Van Name Larson said. “It is going to be painful next year. It is. At the same time, next year is going to be a year of capacity building – across the board.”
The district will also be seeking grant money to establish a technology help desk, said Ray Gadd, assistant superintendent for administration and operations.
Board member Alison Crumbley said she sees the change as a shift toward teachers taking on the role of integrating technology in their subject matter.
That’s something teachers need to be able to do to adequately prepare students, Armstrong said.
Board member Steve Luikart wondered why the district couldn’t gradually transition the changes.
“We don’t have any data on this plan. There’s none out there. Why not concentrate at the K-3 level and ease the program in?” Luikart said.
Crumbley said she’d feel more comfortable with a slower transition, but the district doesn’t have the money to make that happen.
Browning said the district can’t afford to wait, academically.
“Every year, we get more and more kids left behind. Until we fully implement this plan, I don’t think we’re going to see the student gains we need to see.
“Our data on our current plan is in the tank. With all due respect to all of the hard-working folks out there, trying to move this district forward, I have data that shows that our current plan is not getting us academically where we need to be,” Browning said. “This board has got to take some bold steps.”
School board member Allen Altman agreed: “The current data implores us to do something different. We can do better, and we must do better.”
School board member Joanne Hurley said the only reason she was supporting Browning’s recommendation is because she doesn’t have a better solution to offer that would balance the district’s budget.
Despite her reluctance, Hurley joined the other board members to unanimously approve Browning’s plan.
On another issue, Browning told the board that Lacoochee Elementary in Dade City has been placed on the state’s turnaround list, and the district will be taking drastic steps to improve its performance.
“I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to get that school turned around. If it means the superintendent knocking on doors of parents telling them they need to get their kids to school in their seats, that is what this superintendent is going to do. You can’t learn if you aren’t in school,” Browning said.