Pinellas County Schools' new superintendent credits student-focused culture for teacher retention

Teacher shortages have worried school systems across the country and in the Tampa Bay area, but it’s not a dire situation in Pinellas County

A lot is happening in the state's seventh-largest school district, where the new superintendent credits a good culture focused on students for their teacher retention.

Kevin Hendrick points to the $57 million renovation currently underway at Clearwater High School as an example.

"This is what every student in our district deserves and, slowly but surely, we’re getting every facility this way. Clearwater has been around for over a hundred years. The most recent campus over 70 years old so it was just due for an upgrade," the new superintendent told FOX 13's Allie Corey.

Hendrick worked in the district for 23 years and graduated from Largo High School. Most recently, he was principal and Northeast High School in St. Pete. 

Hendrick said one of his biggest challenges will be raising the standards back to pre-pandemic levels. He’s confident the district can do it because they’re not worried about staffing shortages. 

However, they still need more than 100 teachers. 

"We have one vacancy per school, so we can figure that out," Hendrick pointed out. 

MORE: First day of school for Pinellas County's new superintendent of schools

Hendrick believes there’s a reason Pinellas County isn’t dealing with the extreme teacher shortages seen in other districts.

"I think this district in particular we’ve done a really good job from our school board all the way down in keeping our focus on what students need. We know how kids learn, and we know the techniques and our teachers are the backbone of that," he explained.

Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick

Starting salaries for teachers in Pinellas County is $48,675, which is slightly higher than Hillsborough's $47,500. 

Hendrick said, "Keeping our teachers is critical. Between the property tax referendum a good culture and climate and great principals who try to retain our teachers that’s kind of been the success."

"This is probably the most excited I've been coming back from a break," said world history teacher Keith Ray.

He said the culture at Clearwater High School makes him proud to be a teacher.

"We’ve got great kids. We keep coming back for the kids. We’ve got great staff… even the rough days, if you can go talk to someone, that’s huge," said Ray.

With all the shiny new classrooms and state-of-the-art buildings, Clearwater High School Principal Eric Krause is looking forward to welcoming back students and staff. 

"It’s a lot of moving pieces, but the teachers have done an amazing job the kids are extremely resilient. Any given day they’re walking from druid up to gulf to bay and back, but we know with the end in mind it’s going to be a beautiful place to learn," said Krause.

While construction will continue for about another year at CHS, leaders are focused on the finish line.

Krause said, "I think it shows a commitment by Pinellas County Schools to our community and our kids that we want to provide you the best learning space and the most innovative learning experience that you can possibly have."

Superintendent Hendrick says that means letting teachers do their jobs.

"I get to close the door and I get to do my show every day for 180 days, and so we have to value that and make sure teachers get that. We don’t need to script curriculum for them every single day, we don’t need to overemphasize testing. It really comes down to that connection in the classroom that’s what makes teaching magical," smiled Hendrick.