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Schools shakeup on the way
From technology to accountability, changes will come this spring, the superintendent says.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 6, 2008
Wayne Alexander wants to take advantage of all resources.
BROOKSVILLE - On the day he interviewed for the job of superintendent last spring, Wayne Alexander warned the Hernando County School Board that they were talking to a straight talker.
Portable classrooms were an "inappropriate place to educate children," he told them. If they hired him, he'd have to take a hard look at the district's "haves and have-nots," the perception that some schools got more resources than others.
Six months after starting work, Alexander is making good on his promise to shake things up. In recent interviews with the St. Petersburg Times, he described a full slate of reforms coming this spring, from special education to technology and accountability.
Central office officials have been told to expect a major administrative restructuringon April 1, and some principals may also find their jobs are on the line, he said.
"I have high expectations," Alexander said, adding that he's told staff members they need to "turn it up a notch."
The goals of that shakeup include improving customer service, making sure individuals' skills are matched with their jobs, standardizing procedures and taking full advantage of the district's considerable resources, Alexander said.
"It's a lot more support than I've ever seen in my life," he added, describing the contrast between Hernando and his previous, low-income district in Connecticut.
Alexander said he was appalled at the state of computer technology in some Hernando schools. Some schools have plenty of new gear, and others are limping along, he said. And there's no brand consistency, with some following the IBM or PC-based model and others swearing by Apple.
This month the district will consider leasing rather than buying - a route that begins to make financial sense with thousands of computers in the district, rather than hundreds, he said. Leasing programs come with plenty of technical assistance and the promise of regular upgrades, rather than a constant race to keep up with breakdowns.
He was "disgusted" to see other counties pulling in state and federal grants for which Hernando hadn't even applied. Expect to see a new grant writing position in the new central office lineup.
"No one attends to that; no one has that responsibility," he said.
On special education, Alexander has told principals he plans to largely eliminate the "center school" model next fall. While students with profound disabilities will continue to be centralized at West Hernando Middle School and Moton or Deltona elementary schools, many others will be sent back to their neighborhood schools.
That squares with both his personal philosophy, as a former special education teacher, and a long-standing federal law that requires students to be educated in the "least restrictive environment."
"I think we're going to be moving kids next fall," Alexander said. "It's a large percentage of special needs kids in general who have been moved to cluster schools, and need to go back."
He aims to standardize the district's curriculum, so children transferring from one school to another won't find themselves grappling with entirely different philosophies and textbooks for core subjects like math and reading.
Alexander also wants to bring some common sense to Hernando's system for the professional development of teachers, which he termed "all over the place, with no rhyme or reason or sense of focus." He plans to establish a more consistent training system for rookies, and more choices to help veterans develop leadership skills.
By next fall, every high school will have at least one career academy - part of a state-mandated effort to increase vocational options and reduce the dropout rate. Eventually all students will be able to choose high school programs based on their career goals, he said.
"And a 70-something percent graduation rate, that's nothing to be proud of," Alexander said.
He plans to hear from the public this month in a series of four town meetings, to be held in different parts of the county rather than in central office.
"One north, one south, one east, one west," he said. "Tell me what you think of the school district."
It's not all bad news, Alexander added. There are great teachers and administrators in Hernando County, and they're doing great work.
But kids aren't always coming first, he said, and that has to change - quickly.
"We have a lot to do," Alexander said. "But we're also doing a lot of things."