Editor:

I am a retired health teacher from Pinellas County having taught for 24 years. Ten years of my career was spent in dropout prevention and 14 years in an upper middle class middle school. The teachers in the “trenches” need to be consulted in both charter schools and in the public schools. An anonymous climate survey can be so effective as it empowers teachers to share without retaliation from power-driven principals and assistant principals. This may sound extremely negative but 24 years of observation has made me aware of how little value the Education Leadership degree is and the reality of the work history of most administrators, which is classroom teaching.

My proposal may seem so “unorthodox” but I strongly encourage a move to return all assistant principals to the classroom and replace them with resource officers. The assistant principal’s duty is primarily dealing with discipline issues on a daily basis. Their intervention skills and oftentimes communication skills or lack of them does not help repeat offenders or assist in empowering teachers to make professional calls on what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. I say this because in most schools in Pinellas County a teacher must go through four steps (hoops): first, you must give a warning; second, call parents; third, issue a detention supervised by the teacher on their own time; and fourth, write a referral. It is ludicrous to think that all infractions merit this type of response. This procedure has eliminated assistant principal intervention of discipline, reducing their daily workload and allowing a student to keep the teacher from teaching and the other students from learning. This has created a low morale status among teachers and empowers the students, who ultimately do not receive the proper intervention that they need.

This situation has made me aware of how placing resource officers in the school system would be a real solution to a real problem because they have been trained in mediation and communication skills and offer a positive voice of authority. I have worked with many of these officers and can only say positive things about their approach with children. They also provide students the opportunity of meeting a police officer in person and getting to know them, often times as a friend and not as the enemy as is so often portrayed in the media and on the internet. Their presence can be highly effective if the health teachers utilize them as guest speakers in the classroom. I would ask my students to write down questions for the officer before he was scheduled to speak in my class. The officer would review the questions and come prepared with answers in addition to his presentation. This type of “bonding” is rarely offered to the student but ultimately can be a positive experience for everyone.

I am totally against anyone in the school system possessing a gun except the resource officers. I would like to see their presence to equal the same number of assistant principals assigned to a school. Another positive reason for hiring them is that their salary is half of the salary that a beginning assistant principal makes. The savings to the school system would be tremendous when you do the actual research and see that the resource officer is making $35,000 to $40,000 a year compared to many assistant principals earning $70,000 and upward based on number of years experience. Also, the resource officers are paid annually while the assistant principals work around 200 days a year.

It would be very cost effective to have one of your staff research this as sometimes the sheriff’s office pays half the salary of the resource officer and the school board picks up the other half. Unfortunately the salary schedule of the school system has created this move for teachers to leave the teaching field and get hired as an assistant principal, which increases their salary tremendously. Once in this position they are then highly motivated financially to become a principal. This motivation and their desire to climb the “professional ladder” is so reflective in doing whatever it takes at all costs and creating very low morale among teachers. Believe me, a climate survey will support my conclusions.

The unwritten rules of some schools also include that teachers are not to issue “F”s and students enrolled in ESOL should receive a “C” grade or above. This definitely undermines the decision making and professionalism for the teachers. Unfortunately, if the current trend persists there will probably be an exodus of many good teachers and a teacher shortage in Florida.

Mary Kousathanas, Clearwater Beach