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Educator who knows Gifford Middle returning to the school as principal


Gifford Middle, the troubled mainland school where many island 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade children are educated, has a new leader.

Indian River County School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Rendell said he “personally went and asked” Tosha Jones to be the next principal of Gifford Middle School because she fit his “ideal requirements.”

Teachers are the most important factor in a child’s learning environment, Rendell said, but the principal is the second most important factor.

Rendell introduced Jones and five other new-principal hires to the School Board at a special meeting last week.

He said he wanted someone with experience as a principal who knew the school, including its staff, as well as the Gifford community.

Jones said she started her teaching career at Gifford, teaching for five years and serving as assistant principal for 10 years.  For the past two years she was principal of Storm Grove Middle School, which she said “has been a true, hit-the-ground-running learning experience, which will be invaluable when I return to Gifford.”

Last month Rendell fired five-year Principal Roxanne Decker without giving reasons to the public. He also pushed out Assistant Principal James Monds.

Gifford teachers were harshly critical of Decker last year, complaining about her leadership style and discipline problems at the school. The school lost more than 30 percent its teachers during the 2016-17 school year, a shocking percentage compared to the average teacher turnover rate at other schools, which the district pegs at eight percent.

Because of the exodus, Jones will need to fill 17 teaching positions before school starts in the fall.

Jones got mixed but predominantly favorable reviews from teachers at Storm Grove Middle School, according to the teachers’ union survey, which is administered in May each year.

At the end of her first year as principal in 2016, 23 of about 50 teachers at Storm Grove responded to the survey. Of those 23, six said Jones “always” supported teachers in their efforts to discipline students who were out of order. Nine others said Jones was “often” supportive, while five said “sometimes” and one said “rarely.”

Of the five written comments, two were favorable, reporting that Jones was “approachable” and “receptive and offers fair and immediate disciplinary action.”

But three comments were negative. “Discipline is horrible,” said one. “Seems to be strongly influenced by parents and sometimes teachers feel they need to defend themselves,” said another. “When she is available, she’s positive, but there is little follow-through,” said the last.

Jones was most criticized for lack of communication.

There were eight written responses to the prompt, “This administrator uses appropriate verbal and written communication skills when presented with various situations,” and only one was positive, if vague:  “In my experience with Tosha, she has been very professional,” one teacher said.

Other responses included these: “Lack of communication is the biggest issue. Emails go unanswered, concerns are ignored. I feel like I don’t know what is going on. This has been brought to Ms. Jones attention and her response was: If everyone would read her emails, their questions would be answered.”

“Email is often full, so gets returned. Very often, responses to emails aren’t made. There is a lapse or lack in communication and it is significant.”

During Jones’ first year at Storm Grove the school dropped from an A to a B school, according to the district’s “School Report Card.”

Parent participation in the school’s “satisfaction” survey was 8 percent – too low to record results – which requires 20-percent participation.

Attendance by the school’s 905 students dropped from nearly 97-percent daily attendance the prior year to 93.5 percent.

However, the Florida Standards Assessment results under Jones were above the state average and rose during her two-year tenure at Storm Grove.

The English Language Arts score for the whole school was a 57 percent pass rate compared to the state’s 52 percent in 2016.

In math the school did even better, with 64 percent passing compared to the state’s 56 percent.

Eighth-grade English Language Arts scores are deemed critical for future academic success. In 2016,  62 percent of 8th-graders passed the ELA compared to 61 percent the year before. Improvement continued this year with 65 percent of Storm Grove’s 8th-graders passing the ELA compared to the state’s 55-percent pass rate.

Jones did not respond to a request for an interview.