When superintendents become defensive

The contrast in tone between Pinellas Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and Hillsborough Superintendent Maria Ellen Elia is notable in their columns in today’s St. Petersburg Times. Several weeks ago, the paper ran a series on a poll of teachers showing very low morale in Pinellas County when compared with Hillsborough, though morale in Hillsborough isn’t exactly great. Elia (from Hillsborough) wrote the following in the third and fifth paragraphs of her column:

Though Hillsborough County teachers differed from Pinellas County teachers in significant ways, the overall message was unmistakable: We must do everything in our power to support teachers or risk losing them when we need them most…. After reading the stories in the Times, I decided to use the education survey data as a guide and a reminder.

Contrasted with this “we can do better” response is Wilcox’s muffled language in the first paragraph:

Employee morale in our public schools is a very complicated and difficult issue to understand and much more difficult to influence.

The first nine paragraphs of Wilcox’s column was a litany of pressures on teachers and reasons why he’s not solely responsible for low morale. And that is true… but he is responsible for keeping the nutty pacing calendar and other schemes that are justified primarily by the consequences of FCAT, not by instructional need. If I were a teacher or parent in Pinellas, I would be unsatisfied with Wilcox’s response, which has more in common with Mikhail Gorbachev’s obscurantist ramblings than with the clear response that the poll of teachers in the county should have provoked.
(For those who don’t know Florida’s geography, Pinellas County is a peninsula on the gulf side of Tampa Bay, and it includes St. Petersburg and many other smaller towns. Hillsborough County is a sprawling mix of Tampa, a few other small towns, unincorporated suburbia, and farmland to the east of the bay.)

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