For 16 years, Lee Valenti spent her time teaching at a private school in South Tampa.
Her love for children has always been the driving force that kept her in the classroom, but she was searching for something different.
“I was looking to help make a difference in my community,” said Valenti. “You don’t have to look far to make a change in your community because there are kids that can benefit just from your presence, right down the street.”
Valenti decided to make a teaching transition, and she got a job at Foster Elementary School, one of our county’s highest needs schools.
This is her first year at Foster—not only is she challenged every day, but she feels a close connection with her students.
However, the move from a private school to an Achievement School has been eye opening, to say the least.
“A big difference in being in a high needs school like Foster is feeling the small successes,” said Valenti. “Even without teaching any content, you feel like you’re teaching them how to feel safe and loved, which opens the door to help these kids learn. I feel that difference from teaching at other schools, you feel that immediately.”
Our district launched the “Achievement Schools” program in the fall of 2018 to focus on schools with the greatest needs. But attracting and keeping highly effective teachers like Valenti remains challenging.
That is where the new Spark initiative comes into play.
Spark was designed to spark the interest of teachers, who in return will spark the minds of their students. Bonus pay and free or discounted childcare are part of the incentives.
Valenti says money isn't what drives her to teach at Foster, but she feels these incentives will bring top talent to Achievement Schools and keep it there—giving students the value of consistency many have been missing.
“To try and get teachers in these schools, that really care, is critical for these kids,” said Valenti. “Teachers here are dealing with higher stress levels, constantly dealing with not just academics but behavior and emotional issues. The incentive of more pay and free or reduced childcare is wonderful to get teachers to into our Achievement Schools.”
Teacher Jennifer Dellanini has been teaching at Foster Elementary since October of 2018. She lives near the school and wanted to make a positive contribution to her community. Parents in her area often chose other school options instead of Foster. Once she learned it was a high needs school, she knew that is where she needed to be.
She feels the Spark initiative will help bring a neighborhood feel back to Seminole Heights.
“I think by bringing these highly effective teachers back to these schools, it will help send a message to parents that these schools are turning around and we now have the best of the best teachers,” Dellanini said.