Eakins: Potter Elementary leader and staff have my full support
Our March 12 story about the past school year's difficulties at Potter Elementary in East Tampa drew strong reactions from inside and outside the Hillsborough district administration.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. Superintendent Jeff Eakins wrote a two-page letter that was sent to all parents whose email addresses were registered with the district of more than 214,000 students. The letter also was posted on the website and sent out on Twitter.
In it, Eakins sought to praise and reassure the principal and staff at Potter, saying they have his full support.
"As we work toward our goals, I applaud you, the staff at Potter Elementary for the support you provide daily to your students and families," he wrote. "You meet the students right where they are, and provide them with the very best guidance, supports and instruction they deserve to ensure their success."
The Times story about Potter -- based on personnel records, state test data and interviews with teachers, students, parents, School Board members and district officials -- documented the departure of 16 teachers in the first half of the school year. It contrasted the staffing and structure of the school to numerous public statements Eakins made during his first two years on the job. Eakins wrote that the story "took isolated incidents and created an illusion of school-wide chaos" that is not accurate, as evidenced by visits to the school by senior district staff. The article states that the school was calm and orderly during the Times' visit on Feb. 22.
2. Other readers, in story comments and emails, noted the role parents play in their children's lack of success at school. "A teacher/school can only do 'so much' and as a community we should all be responsible for success and failures of students, one parent wrote.
3. Not everyone was impressed with Eakins' letter. Christopher Barrett, a father of three Hillsborough students, former teacher and current community leader in Westchase, said he found it to be "among the silliest" pieces of communication he ever received from a school office. "Potter doesn't need a cheerleader. It needs the district's best, most experienced and most successful teachers," Barrett wrote.
4. The former chairman of the Greater Tampa American Civil Liberties Union, Mike Pheneger, had advice for Eakins. Drawing on his experience as an officer in the U.S. Army, Pheneger suggested an action plan that would include higher staffing levels, both in the classroom and in the principal's office; restorative discipline when kids get in trouble; and a parent support group.
The Times will continue to keep a close watch on the Elevate schools and will follow the progression of "Pathways," a district program designed to direct top teachers and administrators to its highest-needs schools.