TOP STORIES OF 2017: One Word For 2017: Change
First, there were changes to the Hillsborough School District’s buses.
Then, it was boundary changes.
Then, bell schedule changes.
Add to that a hurricane that closed schools for eight days and teachers who are unhappy with the school district not giving them the pay raises they were expecting, and it’s easy to see: In recent memory, there hasn’t been a year that was more tumultuous for New Tampa’s public schools than 2017.
While all these changes were announced in 2017, most families will feel the pinch this coming August, when the 2018-19 school year begins.
That’s when boundary changes that were approved by the Hillsborough County School Board on May 16 will be implemented. The plan makes room at Pride Elementary for growth in neighboring K-Bar Ranch, shifting hundreds of students who currently attend Pride, Heritage, Hunter’s Green and Clark elementary schools to other schools.
More than 550 students who live in Arbor Greene and Cory Lake Isles who currently are assigned to Pride will be re-assigned Hunter’s Green.
The district is making room at Hunter’s Green by moving some students (residents of Morgan Creek apartments) to Clark, and moving many students who are currently bused to both Clark and Hunter’s Green from the area surrounding the University of South Florida to schools in their own neighborhoods.
However, because Pride will have some capacity available, many parents who want their children to stay at Pride will be able to do so, for at least a year or two.
Kristin Tonelli is a principal’s coach for Hillsborough County Public Schools who works with all of the New Tampa schools, plus a couple of dozen others. She’s also a New Tampa resident and a former teacher and principal at Hunter’s Green.
“This may be the first shift in boundaries for this generation of parents,” she says, “But, we’ve moved through boundary changes in the past, and we’ve found that students are very resilient and adjust well to new teachers and new schools. And, they take a lot of cues from their parents.”
While many students will change schools — and local traffic patterns will change along with them — more students will find themselves getting to and from school without a bus.
Middle and high school students who used to have “courtesy busing” — if they lived less than two miles from their school — had to find new ways to get to school this year, whether it’s walking, biking, or carpooling.
The School Board is expected to eliminate courtesy busing for elementary students this fall, adding to the challenges some parents already are facing.
And all students who attend public school in New Tampa will be on a new schedule next year, as bell times change at every school. The major change is that high schoolers get to sleep in a bit more — which experts say is good for them — while elementary school students will start and end their school days earlier.
While it does feel like things have calmed down from the craziness of all the announcements — and bell times that changed and changed again before they were finally adopted by the School Board (and then adjusted slightly one more time), parents can now plan for these changes for next school year.
“To move boundaries and line up bell schedules are large shifts that impact numerous families,” says Tonelli. “Those are things that required a high level of communication and community involvement, and we’ve given a lot of leeway and time for families to think through those impacts.”
She says she knows what it’s like, having had three children in New Tampa schools, with many years of one in high school, one in middle, and one in elementary.
“Just remember you’re not in this alone,” Tonelli says. “Across the board, we have nearly all two-income families with both parents out of the home, so we have more options than ever before for care for both before and after school.”
While all of these issues impact students and parents, they also certainly impact teachers. And, as the year 2017 came to an end, teachers expressed their disappointment in not receiving the raises they were promised.
They showed up in force at a School Board meeting held Nov. 14, then went to local malls, including the nearby Tampa Premium Outlets, to show the community how much work they do above and beyond their contracts. While the teachers’ union is not allowed (by State law) to go on strike, they did hold a week of what they called “work the contract” to demonstrate what it would be like if teachers only did the work for which they are contractually obligated.
Lisa Mayhugh, a Clark Elementary kindergarten teacher with more than a decade of teaching experience, supported these efforts. “We work so hard and sacrifice our time, our money and even our families to do what’s best for our students,” Mayhugh says. “We need to keep the pressure on to get what we feel we’ve been promised.”
At our press time, contract negotiations were still ongoing for the 2017-18 school year. According to Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association assistant director Paula Haggerty, the CTA has filed for impasse, which would bring in a third party to resolve the issues, but the CTA is hopeful to continue negotiations in the meantime.