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New Superintendent on plans for first year

Mark Parker

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New Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said he hopes to create a culture of success and fun in his first year. Photos provided.

Pinellas County Schools (PCS) new leader is ready to instill a climate and culture of high expectations for students and teachers following over two years of Covid disruptions.

A former principal who has served in various administrative capacities, including as chief academic officer, Kevin Hendrick is familiar with the district’s challenges and successes. In May, the school board chose the known commodity, who spent most of his life and career in Pinellas County, as its next superintendent.

As the district began to emerge from the pandemic, Hendrick said school officials were happy just to have students and teachers back in classrooms. Now he believes it is time to push for academic excellence and increase the level of fun.

“We expect great behavior – we expect great academics,” said Hendricks. “We expect well-rounded enrichment programs before school and after school.”

In preparation for his first year leading over 100,000 students at 120 schools, the new superintendent is hosting a series of “Listen and Learn” sessions. He said community members are “thrilled” at the chance to peer behind the curtain and get to know their school district’s leader.

Even those unable to attend, said Hendricks, appreciate the openness, transparency and desire to improve.

Through the first couple of meetings, Hendricks said he has learned about parents’ communication preferences and how people want to make learning more fun. He has also discussed a new employee recognition program that PCS is launching.

“We’ve been asking for other ways in which we can recognize employees – beyond the obvious salary and things like that,” he said. “Just ways to make sure people know they’re appreciated.”

Hendrick looks forward to a new partnership with the Innovation Foundation, which will implement a STEM education pilot program this fall.

Many area employers face staffing shortages, and a recent report stated that the Hillsborough County School District lost 1,800 teachers last year. Hendrick said PCS is facing some of the same issues, but “not to that extent.”

He explained that the school district, like most businesses, expects an annual turnover rate of around 10%. He said PCS has experienced the normal attrition due to retirements and relocations, but “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Hendrick said the district currently has about 100 vacancies out of 7,000 positions.

“So, that’s not a high number when you figure we have 120 schools,” he added. “And we’re able to manage that.”

PCS, said Hendrick, utilizes people who typically work outside the classroom to fill vacancies. These include tutors, instructional coaches and long-term substitutes.

While he said the district has no concerns over ensuring every position is filled by the first day of school, using some of those people as daily teachers affects the “unique and innovative” programs PCS is striving to offer.

Hendrick noted the district received a significant amount of federal funding for Covid relief over the last two years. He said much of that money has gone to hiring teachers in small group or one-on-one tutoring roles to aid students who fell behind during the pandemic.

Some of those educators will now fill vacancies in typical classrooms.

One new program Hendrick is particularly looking forward to is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education pilot the Innovation Foundation is launching this fall. Founded by Cathie Wood of ARK Invest and with a curriculum powered by ARK’s research, the St. Petersburg-based nonprofit’s mission is the provide education through the lens of technologically-enabled innovation.

Hendrick said he was involved with the pilot since its onset, which will begin in six middle schools representing Pinellas County’s varying demographics.

“You want to be disruptive and follow your theme – improve middle schools,” he said. “That’s sort of a place where no one has ever been wildly successful.

“Let’s reinvent the science curriculum in our middle schools so that kids are so excited and so engaged they forget they’re even in school.”

Hendrick noted the Innovation Foundation could have invested in early learning or “easy wins” and was impressed with its willingness to tackle a difficult age group.

The Pinellas School Board race is heating up, with early voting beginning Aug. 13 and primaries taking place on Aug. 23. While he could not offer his thoughts on the election, he said, “democracy is great, and we’ll work with whoever the voters choose.”

“I think the thing I can say is I’m just thrilled that people are interested in public education,” he added. “It takes a lot for someone to run for public office … people put themselves out there, and I’m just grateful for people that want to do that.”

Hendrick said that through his first year as superintendent, he hopes to instill a sense of fun and excitement in students, teachers and parents. Next summer, he hopes to look back on a district recruiting and retaining more educators than ever, with decreased behavioral issues and providing more field trips.

He believes that if PCS can accomplish those goals – academic achievement will follow.

“And we’ll be in a place where we’re excited about the following school year and how we can refine those things,” added Hendrick. “And really focus on being one of the top performing academic districts in the state.”

 

 

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