The Pasco County school district is looking to convert Centennial Elementary School in Dade City and Marlowe Elementary School in New Port Richey, from traditional elementary schools into STEAM magnet schools.
The acronym STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Students now assigned to Centennial and Marlowe would be reassigned to nearby schools, and a lottery system would be used to assign students to the new magnet schools.
If the district proceeds with this plan, the change would not occur until the 2022-2023 school year, and boundary hearings would not occur until this coming fall, according to Steve Hegarty, district spokesman.
The issue came up at the Pasco County School Board’s March 2 meeting, when Don Peace, president of United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), complained about the district’s handling of future staffing for the two schools.
Peace objected to the new job description for STEAM magnet teachers.
“Normally, for contract waivers, major changes in curriculum — such as Wendell Krinn (Technical High School), Pine View (Middle) and Gulf Middle — or school closings, as in Hudson Elementary, Ridgewood, and the Lacoochee proposal, USEP is invited to go to the school, along with district staff, to explain the contractual protocol for what is about to transpire.
“That did not happen with these two schools.
“In fact, when I first heard the details of what was transpiring, I had a district employee make a phone call to put a stop to what was going on. But that did not happen.
“Interviews took place, in an unacceptable manner, for jobs that do not yet exist, at schools that have not yet been voted to be closed, and for a job description that is yet to be approved.
“It appears the cart is in front of the horse,” Peace said.
Peace then told board members that approving the proposed job description would, in essence, create an elite position.
“Why would you want to create divisiveness among teachers?” the union president asked district officials.
“I would contend that with training, professional development and proper guidance, there are numerous teachers across this district that would be able to work in a STEM/STEAM school and be highly successful, if given that opportunity,” he said.
Peace suggested the board delay voting on the new job description, and instead hold a workshop to discuss the issue in greater detail.
Superintendent Kurt Browning responded to the assertions.
“I agree with Mr. Peace when it comes to the fact that any of our teachers, given the opportunity and the professional learning, could probably make it work in a STEM or STEAM environment.
“What Mr. Peace didn’t mention is what I call the ‘want to’ (factor). Do you want to put the effort into working at a STEM or STEAM school?
“We learned lessons when we converted Bayonet Point Middle and Centennial Middle. We did not have a separate job description for that. Honestly, it was more difficult to set the expectations for our staff.
“I will tell you that this job description, in no way, shape or form, is — as Mr. Peace has indicated — divisive. It is not intended to do that. It is merely to set expectations, for teachers that want to move to a STEM or STEAM environment.
“It is different, a lot more technology-driven, project-based learning.
“It is a choice school,” Browning said.
When the schools held faculty meetings to discuss the change, a number of teachers approached the principals and said, “I get it. I just don’t want to do it,” Browning said.
The new magnet schools will choose teachers based on the new job description.
While current teachers may be assigned to different schools, they will not lose their jobs, Browning said.
Before approving the new description, school board members asked for more information.
Board member Cynthia Armstrong asked for more details about how the job description was developed. Board member Alison Crumbley echoed that request.
Samantha Del Valle, assistant director of leading and learning, said “we knew we needed a job description to really be transparent with the staff that we’re going to hire and to share with them what would be expected, as they take those positions.”
So, the job description is based on the practices that happen in a STEAM classroom.
Hiring will mirror the process used in hiring teachers for Sanders Elementary STEAM Magnet School in Land O’ Lakes, Del Valle said.
The questions district officials asked, when drafting the new job description, included: “What is a STEAM teacher? What practices are happening in the classroom? What does STEAM look like and how do we make sure that that occurs in our two new schools?” Del Valle said.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin emphasized that she wanted it to be clear to district teachers that the new job description does not create an elite class of teachers.
“We’re not saying that these teachers are any better than any other teachers. These are just a specific skill set needed for these types of schools. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re saying that teachers at one school are any better than teachers at another school,” Beaudoin said.
Besides looking for teachers who have the attributes described in the job description, they also must be willing to undergo additional training, Del Valle said.
Plus, there is a preferred qualification related to computer science.
Browning reiterated Beaudoin’s point, noting the teachers are not better teachers.
“They’re different teachers.
“This job description was not designed to divide teachers,” the superintendent insisted.
He also said the shift to the STEAM magnet schools is intended to give parents additional options.
“Parents are wanting something different,” Browning said.
Published March 17, 2021