Tampa Bay superintendents express concerns over USF College of Education cuts

District superintendents from across Tampa Bay urged the University of South Florida to reconsider its plan to phase out its college of education during a virtual meeting Friday.

Six superintendents, along with other district leaders and teachers, voiced a number of concerns, including a worsening teacher shortage, should USF follow through with its current plan.

"What it comes down to for us is certainly a teacher shortage issue," said Kurt Browning, Pasco County Schools superintendent. "Not having the undergraduate program at USF is going to be -- I want to stop short of the word devastating -- but it is going to have a horrible, a tremendously negative impact on us."

USF recently announced the plan to scale back its college of education due, in part, to a challenging budget situation. University leaders instead want to focus on graduate programs for prospective teachers.

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District leaders, however, pointed out the undergraduate college of education program has been pivotal in their hiring process. School systems often have to hire hundreds of teachers annually and several superintendents said upward of 30 percent of their new educators come from USF's teaching program.

"The phasing out of the college of education's undergraduate program will essentially send our area's most talented future teachers to other communities away from our local school districts and ultimately it will impact our children," said Hillsborough County Schools superintendent Addison Davis.

"Our whole goal is to allow them to stay within these communities. They leave us, they go to college at USF, they come back and they're employed by us," added Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County Schools' superintendent. "Eliminating a college of education program undergrad is one [idea] that is very disheartening to us, is one that is very detrimental."

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USF College of Education Interim Dean Dr. Judith Ponticell joined the call and asked for patience while the university determines how to best work with districts to maintain a pipeline for new teachers.

"We have challenges. But have no intention of abandoning teacher preparation," Ponticell said, adding USF plans to put a lot effort into improving its graduate program.