Last year, lawmakers created the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative. It allows school districts to offer select principals a charter-like exchange. They get more flexibility, as well as exemptions from certain state and local rules. In return, they would have to meet academic performance goals.
Before signing off on the plans, Michael Olenick, a member of the state board, wanted to know how giving principals greater operational freedom would affect students.
“As a former principal, I had an opportunity to make decisions without receiving permission from the district office,” said Hershel Lyons, chancellor for the state’s K-12 public schools. “It is an opportunity for the principal to make a decision that impacts that individual student immediately and take into account other things that prepare all students along with that.”
In their applications, the districts each picked three schools that would participate, and set targets to raise student achievement. In general, the schools serve large proportions of low-income students of color, and have histories of academic struggles.
Rebecca Lipsey, another member of the state board, said that as the program grows, the state board should figure out specific outcomes it will measure to make sure students are performing well.
“Everything I have read about the principal autonomy program is very promising,” she said.
Pinellas’ application includes Maximo Elementary, one of five persistently struggling schools highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times, which recently raised its school grade from an F to a C.
The law allowed four other districts — Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole — to participate. State Board Chairwoman Marva Johnson said she hopes more school districts would submit proposals in the future.
“Hopefully we use this result to encourage participation among other schools,” she said.