LAND O' LAKES - The effort to improve student performance at academically struggling Lacoochee Elementary is about to begin in earnest now that a new principal and much of a reconfigured teaching staff are in place.
"We are confident we have the staff at Lacoochee to generate the results we need," Superintendent Kurt Browning told the Pasco County School Board last week.
Based on Browning's recommendation, the board approved Latoya Jordan as principal of the perennial D school that serves mostly low-income students in northeast Pasco County. Jordan previously was assistant principal at Cox Elementary in Dade City, also a Title I school with a high percentage of students who qualify for the free and reduced-price meal program.
Browning told the board that Jordan is a good fit for Lacoochee.
"She gets it," he said. "She understands the mission."
Lacoochee was an A school as recently as 2009, but has been on a downward slide since and was a D school the past two years.
Because the school is facing its third D in a row this year, the state required the Pasco County school district to submit an improvement plan. Part of that plan included advertising as open all the teaching jobs, as well as the principal and assistant principal positions.
That happened and a team of administrators interviewed teaching job candidates, a process that resulted in at least some of the current teachers being rehired. Some slots still need to be filled.
In an effort to draw more and better job candidates, the district offered pay supplements to the educators who signed on to help the school.
Principal Shirley Ray reapplied for her job, but was transferred to the principal position at Seven Oaks Elementary, where B.J. Smith had retired.
Browning had praise for Ray, even as he recommended the school board replace her at Lacoochee.
"She will do an excellent job at Seven Oaks as their principal," he said.
The Florida Department of Education hasn't released this year's school grades, but Pasco is anticipating another D for Lacoochee based on analysis of the school's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 results, Browning said.
The school grades should be out in late July, he told the board.
He also vowed that "we are going to turn Lacoochee around."
Browning pledged that the district would "knock on doors" and urge parents to have their kids in school. The district might consider an extended school year or other creative ways to making sure more learning happens at the school.
"Nothing is off the table when it comes to Lacoochee Elementary," Browning said.