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Schools

Survey shows school concerns

By NICOLE HUTCHESON
Published April 28, 2007


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PALM HARBOR - When the new principal arrived at Palm Harbor University High School this year, with him came three new administrators and a bunch of changes.

Out went the old way of assigning students to guidance counselors.

In came some new mandatory meetings for faculty and administrators.

And when school employees were surveyed recently about what they thought of the current school administration, many said, in essence, not much.

The number of school employees who agreed that teachers and administrators work well together dropped by half. There was nearly as big a drop in the number who said lines of communication are open.

Principal Herman "Doc" Allen, who is in his first year at the school, said this week that he isn't pleased with the survey findings but isn't alarmed either.

Allen said he considers the findings the result of growing pains. The presidents of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association and Student Advisory Council agree.

"We're putting the mechanisms in place to address the changing face of the school, " Allen said. "And it just takes time for people to get on board with things."

* * *

None of the Palm Harbor University High teachers contacted by the Times this week responded to a request to comment, but the survey shows a clear drop in employee satisfaction at the school.

The yearly "climate" study was conducted in March by the school system. About 8, 600 employees systemwide were surveyed. The survey asked faculty members their opinions in 26 categories, including the quality of leadership, safety and student behavior.

About 134 employees at Palm Harbor University High took the survey.

Overall, Pinellas County schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox and the School Board received better marks this year.

But the results at Palm Harbor University High dropped dramatically.

For years, the school had ranked high in key areas such as communication between administrators and teachers. Last year, for example, 98 percent of those surveyed said teachers and administrators work well together. This year, the number dropped to just more than 50 percent.

When it came to communication between parents and guardians and faculty members, this year's results showed that only 62 percent agreed the lines of communication are open, down from 93 percent the year before.

And only 61 percent of employees felt the principal listens to their concerns, compared with 97 percent the year before.

Areas that continued to get high marks included the appearance of the campus and curriculum instruction.

Denise Beers, president of the PTSA at Palm Harbor University High, said she was caught off guard by the low survey numbers and plans to call a board meeting to discuss the survey.

"I was pretty sure everyone communicated very well at that school, " said Beers, whose son attends the school.

Beers said she hopes the survey can be used to resolve any problems that may exist at the school.

"A new administrator coming on board, it takes time for adjustment, " said Beers. "But hopefully the teachers and faculty can use this to work on having a better communication relationship."

* * *

Allen was previously principal at Gibbs High School. He was named the new principal at Palm Harbor University High School in June after Harry T. Brown left to become associate superintendent for curriculum services.

With Allen's appointment came at least three new administrators and a revamp of how the school was structured. There is an administrator, a clerk and a guidance counselor for each grade level now. Before, counselors were assigned to students by the alphabet.

The new system is aimed at creating a more personal atmosphere at the school, Allen said.

"It's a good concept. This way, a guidance counselor can focus on that grade level and the needs of that grade level, " said Denise Torro, co-chair of the School Advisory Council at Palm Harbor University High and a student teacher at Sutherland Elementary. "Some new ideas take a little bit of time."

Teachers are also required to meet with the principal once a month to discuss instruction and attend a comprehensive faculty meeting each time the school district has an abbreviated school day during the year.

Allen said the changes were necessitated by the changing demographics at Palm Harbor University High, an A-graded school and one of the county's top-performing high schools. There is a growing number of students who speak English as a second language or who need more help academically, he said.

"We're not the same Palm Harbor we used to be, " Allen said. "We're different, and if we're going to reach all the children, we've got to do something different."

Allen pointed to his success at Gibbs High School, where the school's overall state grade went from a D to a C during his tenure.

Michelle Dennard, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said the yearly surveys are a chance for teachers to be candid about their concerns, but added that the results can be subjective.

"I still think it's a year of transition, " Dennard said, "and I really do feel that the whole staff has to acclimate with the vision of the administrator."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727 445-4162.

[Last modified April 27, 2007, 23:04:50]


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