I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brownsville Property Sale Price Agreed Upon at Special Meeting

After twisting and turning and spinning back and forth like an astronaut trainee in a centrifuge--it looks like the deal to sell the Brownsville property to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is back on again. 

After much discussion and fanfare this morning at a special meeting of the Escambia County School Board--all of the parties involved  finally settled on a sale price of $1,002,000.00.

The meeting began with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas asking Pastor LuTimothy May and the Church Chairman of the Board if they were prepared to move forward on the deal at the $1,002,000.00  price point.  When the representatives of the church answered Mr. Thomas' query in the affirmative, the agenda item was taken up by the board for action.

Several speakers addressed the board, with the sentiment that the board should consider reducing the price or giving the church the property at a low lease rate.

Mrs. Moultrie spoke passionately in support of the sale, and just when all of the members of the board were about to vote to approve the sale, Rev. May approached the podium and explained that the church had only committed to $800,000.00 and closing costs.  This immediately put the room into a state of panic.

Where would the remaining $200,000.00 come from?

Knowing that the board has the power to amend contracts it has for action (because I asked our attorney for a written opinion on this subject), and sensing that the deal was about to flatline and potentially slip away, I put forward a suggestion that the board take a substantial down payment and allow the church to pay the difference over time with terms.

I did not want to come off like know- it -all Hart Bochner's character (Harry Ellis) from 1988's blockbuster
"Die Hard"  (and I don't think I did because we all know what Hans Gruber did to Harry Ellis when he tried to negotiate.....)but I wanted to insert some common sense and rationality into the discussion--as we were so close to making this thing happen and I did not want to see any more gyrations or histrionics on this negotiation.

Board Chairman Mr. Gerald Boone called for a 15 minute recess to the meeting, and the church officials discussed the unfolding events. When the meeting re-adjourned, an anonymous church donor had apparently stepped up and pledged to cover the remaining $200,000.00 balance to make the deal happen.

After some additional comments from the board, superintendent, and others--the meeting went full circle back to the original agenda item, terms, and price.

The board eventually, in very anti-climactic fashion, voted unanimously to sell the property at Superintendent Thomas' agreed price of $1,002,000.00---all cash at closing.

Now I just hope nothing else changes because I'm ready to move on from this transaction.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

63 of 67 Florida Counties to Support President Obama's $700 Million "Race to the Top"

At last Tuesday's regular meeting of the Escambia County School Board, an important decision was made by our district leadership team. The important item was overshadowed somewhat by a huge turnout in support of the sale of Brownsville Middle School. But after all of the hoopla and speakers--the important decision the School Board made, unanimously, was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stipulating that Escambia County is expressing a willingness to collaborate with state and federal education leaders to embrace badly needed education reforms. These reforms include better, more meaningful teacher evaluations, merit pay, uniform curriculum standards, intensive remediation for chronically low performing schools, and many more important items.

The Miami Herald reports that of 67 Florida Districts, 63 have chosen to move forward in President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top." Florida stands to get up to $700 Million in federal monies to accomplish reforms--if Florida is chosen by the federal government to participate. (which we will be able to do if we can weather the union's push-back against this reform)

It appears, at least initially, that despite loud objections from the Florida State Teachers Union, The FEA, that most County School Boards in this state want to participate. I'm very happy about that. This translates into better opportunities for students locally, statewide, and-- ultimately-- nationwide.

Of course, I am extremely pleased that Escambia has moved forward--and I will do my part to make sure the momentum does not get stifled locally by those who would like to perpetuate the status quo. As I stated in last week's workshop when discussing this MOU--I know it will be vehemently opposed by the union, because they hate merit pay in any form that is not, in their opinion, "perfect"- and the union equally despises any teacher appraisal that requires a significant portion to be based on student achievement data. But what the union members like and dislike should not be the be all, end all---it ought to be about what is best for students and taxpayers long term. Organized teacher's unions worked very dilligently to elect Barack Obama, and Barack Obama is driving this educational reform train. I believe the union should get behind their guy on this one---because Obama's education plan is right on!

But, irregardless of what the union wants, I believe that what Barack Obama and Arne Duncan are proposing through Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith is the right course of action for the students in our state--and I'm wholeheartedly in support. And I'm excited for what we can accomplish.

But I know we are in for a rocky ride trying to get our friends in the union onboard.

I'm energized and ready for the discussions/negotiations.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brownsville Purchase Offer Formally Withdrawn by Lutimothy May

This letter was sent to Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and members of the Escambia County School Board late yesterday evening, withdrawing the purchase offer for Brownsville Middle School by Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

As of right now, 6:00 AM Friday Morning, it is my understanding that a special meeting has been advertised by the district and that this meeting will be held this Monday morning at 10:00 AM. This could be a short meeting based upon what I'm reading in the letter from Pastor May...

A few thoughts:

I believe today's editorial in the PNJ captures the essence of this whole episode correctly--what a complete mess this has been.

Others who try to assign blame to the district and superintendent for the sale not going through are simply ignorant and have a perception of this deal that is badly wrong. How can we be "strong-arming" the buyer here when we've agreed to give them what they asked? It would be appropriate for these publications to get the facts straight before they print inaccurate portrayals--odds are this won't occur. But back to what is relevant, I still hope an agreement can be reached with Friendship Missionary Church; I do not like to deal in Absolutes. If a deal cannot happen because they were never financially able to handle this deal form the get go, then my hope is that Pastor May and his congregation can move forward from this episode and continue to do great work in Brownsville.

No hard feelings.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Board Will Have Sale of Brownsville Middle Property for Action Monday

After all of the recent up and down, back and forth, off and on positioning among the participants in the sale of the Brownsville Middle School property, it is my understanding that this sale will be in the hands of the School Board at a special meeting at 10:00 AM Monday morning.

Members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church pleaded with the Board on Tuesday to accept a new lower price for the property, Which Superintendent Malcolm Thomas ultimately did in writing Wednesday.

A special meeting will be advertised for this Monday-at which time the Board will have the contract for consideration (to include amendment/revision of final sale price)

I want to bring this transaction in for a landing and move on to other important issues; This item has been on the agenda numerous times in the last three months and now is the time to close this deal or step back from it and press the "re-set" button.

I met with Lumon and LuTimothy May at the Brownsville property two weeks ago--and I do feel they are the right buyers for this property.

This said, The Board has acted in good faith every step of the way in this transaction--to the point of accepting an 11th hour offer that is essentially "half-off" what this property is worth.

Even though Lumon May said, at Tuesday's public meeting, some things about our district that are simply flat out wrong-- ("Escambia Schools are the worst in the state of Florida" and this whopper "Washington H.S. has the highest rate of AIDS infection in Florida")--I'm willing to forgive and forget and chalk it up to his just getting caught up in the heat of the moment. I'm willing to forgive and forget and vote to accept their offer of $1Million for the property to get this thing done.

They asked for this deal--now the ball is in their court and it is up to them to step up to the plate and buy this property Monday----if they really DO want to follow through with what they said this past Tuesday.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Progressive Cell Phone Policy

From Fox News technology section:

At Wiregrass High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla., students are told to bring their cell phones to class. It's the only school in the state that does that. The principal says most of the 2,000 students have cell phones, and it makes no sense to ban the technology from campus, when it could be used as a teaching tool.

Interesting article about finding a way to embrace the technological advances brought on by Cell Phones. This school is probably giving us a glimpse of what the future will be with respect to cell phones use in schools.

Full article here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

PNJ Story On Escambia Schools' Cell Phone Confiscation Policy Picked up Nationally

This story from Last Sunday's PNJ on the Escambia County School district's new policy on Cell Phones was also picked up, albeit in an abbreviated form, and put into yesterday's print editions of the USA Today.

The story was picked up by the Associated Press and also ran in the Miami Herald and is in the online edition of Education Week. The story was referenced on Yahoo's tech Blog as well.

These other publications are citing the PNJ as the source, but are unfortunately not crediting Rebekah Allen by name for her work developing and writing the original story.

Still, it is pretty cool for Ms. Allen's story to get nationwide coverage. Now let's hope the policy itself proves to be effective.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Truancy a Growing Problem in Escambia County

Cases filed in Escambia County Truancy Court:

2006-2007 65 Cases
2007-2008 81 Cases
2008-2009 96 Cases

Circuit Judge Ross Goodman sent a letter to the Escambia County School District on November 9, and a copy of the letter and attachment was sent to Board Offices on November 24th.

Judge Goodman suggests in his letter and attachments that The Escambia County School District implement the School Truancy Operation Program (STOP). He believes this program will deter the rising trend of truancy cases in Escambia County.

I would like to know more about this program (mainly costs associated with participation), but I would support implementation if it keeps more kids in school.

But I would like to see this program amped up to include legal consequences for the parents of students who are chronically truant. In Memphis, 19 parents were recently brought to court for failing to ensure their children attend school.

Also in Memphis, some lawmakers are advocating financial penalties and/or cessation of government assistance benefits for parents of chronically truant students.

Is the Memphis approach too mercenary? I don’t know, we’ll have to see how effective it becomes.

I’m all for holding truants accountable, but I also feel parents need to be engaged in this process as well. As is the case in so many aspects of education—parental participation is essential. If parents buy-in, we see schools flourish with volunteers, robust PTAs, great fundraising drives, community involvement, and this environment incubates schools that perform at high levels.

Schools that do not have vibrant parental involvement tend not to be as successful.

There is a strong correlation between parental participation and success.

So, back to tackling the truancy problem, if we punish students—but do not make it inconvenient or uncomfortable for the parents—will we get cooperation and results?

I’m an optimist and I’m willing to try, but I’d like to see parents held accountable in this whole program as well.

Employee Raises 2010?

The News Journal has a story today on the Union Proposal for employee salary increases for this school year.

Last year, there was no money for increases and the budget picture is not getting any better as far as I can tell. I would like to be able to vote for a salary increase, but where is the money going to come from?

I have pushed to get merit pay back for our district teachers, but I have been told over and over that the district simply "cannot afford" to spend the $134,000 necessary to get $2.1 Million in state awards. In fact, I have been told that to spend $134,000 to get merit pay---this would cost someone in the district their job, because we do not have any spare money at all--not even $134,000 (out of a budget of $612Million).

I sincerely hope that the financial picture is getting better and that we as a district will be able to give employees some sort of increase------but given that we "cannot afford" $134,000 to get $2.1 million---how in the world will we be able to afford the $4.5 million proposal put forth by the union in the PNJ article?

Ideally, it would be good if we could give a small increase or bonus to all employees, while at the same time reserving $134,000 (of this raise money) to spend on the administrative costs associated with acquiring $2.1 in additional state money for performance bonuses.

I will support a salary increase for employees if the money is available and we will also re-initiate the MAP awards as well.

I would be delighted to support raises, but I won't vote for blanket increases which will cost the district $Millions in general fund dollars while at the same time being told we "can't afford" the $134,000 necessary to award $2.1 million in performance pay to outstanding teachers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Minutes of School Board Meetings 11/17/2009

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Two meetings were held-the first was the School Board’s organizational meeting. This meeting began at 5:30.

Gerald Boone voted Chairman for 2009-2010 via unanimous 5-0 vote (nominated by Patty Hightower, seconded by Jeff Bergosh)

Jeff Bergosh was voted Vice-Chairman for 2009-2010 via unanimous 5-0 vote (Nominated by Gerald Boone, seconded by Jeff Bergosh)

Regular meeting times were set and regular workshop times were set, no changes to current schedule.

Installation meeting adjourned at 5:45.

5:50 regular meeting begins

All Board Members present.

Public Forum:

1 Speaker spoke in favor of addressing and fixing inequities on the teacher salary scale with respect to counting the time/service of District Teachers versus out of state teachers.

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar District Employee Recognition goes to 16 year District Finance and Budget office Employee Wanda Mathis.

Governor’s Green School Award goes to Suter Elementary School, 5th grade class taught by Debbie Pate and Judy Toy.

Two district students recognized for achievement in the Mathematics Program “Dimension M Tabula Digita.” Jared Dyett and Darryl Wade ranked #7 and #23 nationwide, respectively.

American Cancer Society gave a presentation, thanking the district for the support in the relay for life fundraiser. Overall as a district, the 34 school teams and district office team raised more than $100,000.00 to fight cancer.

Board adopted the resolution recognizing American Education Week/National Education Staff Professional Day.

Administrative appointment moved forward:

Cathy F. Ray, promotion to Assistant Principal at Ferry Pass Elementary School, Approved 5-0.

Rule adoptions:

Revisions to School District Rule 6Gx17-2. Discussion took place; two successful motions were made and passed to modify language concerning substitute teachers in Escambia County. Final version, with two language modifications, contained no substantive changes and was adopted via 4-1 vote, with Mrs. Moultrie voting “no”.

Permission to advertise rules for adoption: None

1 set of minutes from September and three sets from October Board meetings approved 5-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

(Entire Consent Agenda was thoroughly covered and discussed at length during two meticulous board workshops held during the afternoon of 11/12 and the morning 11/13)

Items from the board: Appointments for Legislative Liaison and Legislative liaison alternate to the Florida School Boards Association, November 2009 to November 2010:

Jeff Bergosh, nominated by Linda Moultrie, seconded by Jeff Bergosh, approved 5-0 by the full board to serve as the Legislative Liaison to the Florida School Boards Association, November 2009 to November 2010

Bill Slayton, nominated by Linda Moultrie, seconded by Jeff Bergosh, approved 5-0 by the full board to serve as the Legislative Liaison to the Florida School Boards Association, November 2009 to November 2010

Items from the Superintendent:

1 Employee suspended without pay pending successful completion of a return to work agreement. Approved 5-0
1 Employee suspended without pay for one day. Approved 3-2, with Jeff Bergosh and Linda Moultrie voting “no”. (Note: I pulled this item for discussion prior to the vote to explain that I was voting “no” to the recommendation because I felt the punishment was too light given my knowledge of the infraction at issue)

21 Student recommendations submitted by the Superintendent and accepted by board via 5-0 vote.

21 Expulsions

Infractions included the following:

2 off-campus charges--battery
1 off-campus charge—armed robbery
1 bomb threat
1 Harassment/violation of technology policy
1 threatening the use of a replica of a weapon
2 weapon possession
3 sexual misconduct
4 possessions of drugs
1 threatening staff
3 battery on school official
2 disruptive behavior

Meeting adjourned at 7:43.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Education Reform Pressure +Economic Pressure = Upheaval of Status Quo in Public Education Nationwide

I could not agree more with this assessment of Barack Obama's Education Reform Agenda. The piece from CNN really captures my feeling on this subject. What an amazing time in America, a time for the people to finally wake up and take back our education system from the special interests and return to doing the right things for our kids! The financial crisis is the unintended ally in this revolution, so things are going to be tough; but as the saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention"

The unprecedented financial upheaval that every state in our union is experiencing is testing the status quo in the public education industry.
States like Wisconsin are changing their laws to qualify for huge federal "race to the top" grants. States like Louisiana are creating new and exciting data models to trace teacher effectiveness back to schools that trained them and student achievement back to individual teachers. States like California are pushing ahead reform plans despite tremendous resistance from entrenched special interests and organized teacher's unions.

Some States, like Maryland, appear to be quite content to allow the special interests to keep them from putting in place the necessary reforms to compete for federal race to the top money. From the Baltimore Sun:

"The idea of using student data as a tool in evaluating teachers and principals is a sensitive subject for the union, said Dan Kaufman, the spokesman for the state's largest teachers union, the Maryland State Education Association. "There are still deep concerns from the union standpoint," he said."
I can't help but wonder what the parents of students in Baltimore's struggling schools must think about the inaction of their state's education department. What a tradgedy for them.

In Massachusetts, the reform movement is running head-on into the very powerful state teacher's union. The outcome of this collision is being watched very closely in that state. From Friday's Boston Globe:

"WE’RE ABOUT to see a crucial test on education reform. We’ll learn what’s truly important to the Massachusetts Legislature: offering families more choices, catalyzing educational innovation, and tackling underperforming schools - or placating the teachers unions..But the unions, whose principal mission is to protect their members rather than to improve education, are already taking aim at the legislation, mobilizing their troops with urgent e-mail alerts, replete with talking points for lobbying legislators. They are particularly concerned with protecting the jobs and bumping rights of teachers at poorly performing schools"

I do not know exactly what Florida is doing, but I'm certain Tallahassee will be competing for some of this Federal Money.

Many of the provisions of the race to the top guidelines are being met locally in Escambia County--we have charter schools that compete for students, we have merit pay being utilized to reward high performers, (MAP Plan-- currently being used in our charter schools, potentially to be re-implemented in all Escambia Schools for 2010-2011 if we have the will, wisdom, and spine to make it happen again), we utilize student achievement as one measure of our teacher evaluations (item #8 in ETAS), and we are in the midst of an historic turnaround of one of our lowest performing schools, Warrington Middle School.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Florida Continues to Make Great Progress in Education Compared to other States

The American Enterprise Institute has released an updated report card on the state of American Schools on their website. From the AEI report:

“Two years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute came together to grade the states on school performance. In that first Leaders and Laggards report, we found much to applaud but even more that requires urgent improvement”.. Put bluntly, we believe our education system needs to be reinvented. After decades of political inaction and ineffective reforms, our schools consistently produce students unready for the rigors of the modern workplace.”

Everyone affiliated with education in America (and Florida) should read this November 10, 2009 report.

A very interesting interactive graphic representation of the report is available on the Center for American Progress website.

The highlight for Florida in 2009 is that out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Florida is ranked #13. (In the 2007 report Florida was ranked 33rd) Florida is moving up the list and making great progress in education compared to other states.

Florida’s report card for 2009 looks like this:

School Management C
Finance B
Staffing: Hiring & Evaluation B
Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers F
Data A
Pipeline to Postsecondary D
Technology B

From the report:

"Finance. Overall, Florida earns an above-average grade in this category. The state gets a solid mark for the online accessibility of its financial data, and it has a performance pay program for teachers.

Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers. Florida receives a very poor score on the ability to remove poor-performing teachers from the classroom. Seventy-one percent of principals say that teacher unions or associations are a barrier to the removal of ineffective teachers, 10 percentage points above the national average of 61%. In addition, 77% of principals report that tenure is a barrier to removing poor-performing teachers."

In January of this year, Florida earned the distinction of being rated a top ten school system in the nation in the 13th annual Quality Counts survey compiled by Education Week. Very little attention was paid the January report, due to the timing of the release of the report right as state lawmakers were discussing slashing the Florida education budget in the midst of a horrible economic climate. Now this new report spotlights some significant progress that Florida is making, and I hope the local press will give this achievement some coverage.

Florida is making great progress, the reforms enacted over the last decade are paying dividends, and we need to heed the guidance suggested in reports like this one to continue to improve. We should take notice of the voices coming from organizations like The New Teacher Project, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other concerned entities. I believe strongly that we should listen to President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan as they push for education reform---I agree with them that districts need to press ahead with ideas like merit pay, charter schools, virtual education and improved teacher evaluation systems—we owe it to our students to continue to be leaders on a national level by advocating for and supporting effective education reforms at the state and local level. As secretary Duncan said, "The Status Quo needs to be challenged" I agree!

I intend to do my part to support effective reforms and challenge the status qup for as long as I am on the Board, just as I have for the past three years.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Students Win with UWF and ECSD Lab School Collaboration

There are about four dozen Laboratory Schools throughout the United States, five of which are in Florida. Beginning next school year, a new Lab School can be added to this list—and the location will be right here in Pensacola.

What is a Lab School?

A Lab School is a learning institution affiliated with a University for the purpose of improving teaching pedagogy by utilizing cutting edge teaching techniques refined onsite. Theoretically, this results in improved educational outcomes for all students who will eventually be taught by teachers trained in this setting. Most Lab Schools in the United States, like the University of Memphis’ Campus School, focus on the primary grades. Some, like UCSD’s Preuss School, focus on grades 6-12. For our Escambia County lab school, the grades served will be PreK-5.

Background--Why a University School in Pensacola?

The question was not “Why?” but rather “Why not?” With a University in town that turns out a substantial number of our district’s teachers, and with a pressing need to develop modalities to reach the rising number of local school children of poverty and non-traditional family structures-- why would we not consider a lab school here?

Pressing the Idea Forward

Shortly after my election to the Escambia County School Board, I began to discuss the idea of a University/District partnership with family, friends, and the previous school board member for District 1, Circuit Court Judge Gary Bergosh. In the fall of 2007, I approached then Superintendent Jim Paul with the idea. He was receptive, so I initiated meetings with the leadership of UWF in November of that year. After meeting with the UWF Dean of the Education Department, Dr. Don Chu, and several of his top faculty and staff members in December of 2007, I realized there was broad support for a Lab School in Pensacola.

I brought the idea of the University Campus School to the full School Board at the regular workshop meetings in January and February of 2008, and the consensus from the board at that time was that the idea was solid and should be pursued. In the spring of 2008, I met and spoke with the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Mr. Paul Fetsko, on numerous occasions to pitch the idea. He was receptive and interested.

Mr. Fetsko, Superintendent Thomas, and the leadership at UWF have been refining the idea and pressing the plan forward ever since this time.

Astonishingly, even in the midst of one of the worst economic climates since the Great Depression, the concept of the UWF/ECSD university school partnership has thrived. The best news is that this school will be a reality beginning in the 2010-2011 school year.

The Lab School in Pensacola, Florida

The Lab School locally will be a hybrid lab school—one that is not actually on the University campus and one that is not completely controlled by the college. Initially, this facility will be a professional development center, with a vision of UWF taking the reins in three to five years from inception. Our local version will be located at Lincoln Park Elementary School, and the focus of the school will be the development of ways to improve academic achievement among students of poverty and other difficult social/family circumstances. Having the site of the campus at Lincoln Park enables the school district to keep that facility open, even in the face of a rapidly decreasing student population at that location. UWF benefits from this location in many ways as well, and several grants have been submitted by UWF to pursue this partnership.

All of the dedicated, hard working staffs of both UWF and the ECSD that have focused on this project for over two years are worthy of thanks and congratulations; Their efforts have made this project a reality. This school will be a boost for our district, our teachers, our student teachers, our community, and our University---but most importantly this facility will benefit our most valuable and precious community members, our students.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PNJ Merit Pay Story--What Details did not Make the Cut

Rebekah Allen from the PNJ wrote a very articulate story in today's Pensacola News Journal regarding the issue of Merit Pay.

For the most part, I thought the piece was very well written and balanced.

But several Key issues were missing from the piece that could have made it even better, in my opinion.

Most importantly among these "left out" issues is the fact that Merit Pay for teachers is being advocated by the leaders of both parties. Republicans and conservatives have long been advocates for Merit Based pay for teachers. The nation's most powerful Democrat, President Barack Obama, and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are both strongly advocating merit pay for teachers based in part on student achievement. This very important fact has never once made it into any of the numerous pieces the PNJ has done on the subject of Merit Pay, and I do not understand why this is...


Why mention that 500 teachers opted out in the first year without a mention of the fact that many fewer (only 340) opted out the second year? Fewer teachers opting out the second year equals more teachers interested in participating in MAP.

--Why not link our Union approved plan in the electronic version of the PNJ, so the readers can look it over? I'll link it here from the Teacher's Union website.

--Why not ask the union representative why she is not sure of "what official position to take"--when our current MAP plan was developed in cooperation with her union? Did they help develop a plan that suddenly they do not like anymore?? What??

--why not go back to some of the teachers who spoke in favor of the MAP plan, like the former Escambia Teacher of the Year who earned her merit bonus in 2008 and spoke very favorably of the MAP plan in an earlier PNJ article.

--why not mention the fact that Escambia's charter schools like Byrneville and Pensacola Beach Elementary School are utilizing Merit Pay, as are the charter schools in 30 Florida school districts?

--Why not mention the fact that Superintendent Thomas has said publicly on numerous occasions and during his campaign that he supports Merit Pay, if money is available to administer it and the measurements are fair?

Overall, having the pro and con discussion about Merit Pay is a healthy conversation to have, but all of the details and facts should be given, this way the reader can formulate an opinion with the benefit of all of the information at hand. Even given limited space, the above issues are crucial to the debate locally and should have made it into the final version of this story in my opinion.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Minutes of School Board Meeting 10-20-2009

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Meeting convened at 5:32 PM

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Seven Speakers addressed the board during Public Forum

1 Speaker advocated for the value of Physical Education

1 Speaker spoke about district issues regarding the etiquette of flying the flag

Carissa Bergosh, NAS Pensacola School Liaison Officer, spoke about upcoming events in our schools

3 Speakers addressed the board on issues of employee compensation, and their perception of the district’s fund balance figures being incorrect

1 Speaker addressed the board and complained that her son’s Individualized Education Plan is not being met satisfactorily.

Pledge of Allegiance led by PHS IB Junior Amanda Patton

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee Recognition—Valerie Hassell, an 18 year employee of the district, currently serving as Administrative assistant for the Physical Education, Health, Wellness, and Driver’s Education Department.


Safe Schools Week—Approved 5-0

Emerald Coast Honor Flight Month—Approved 5-0

Ashley Bodmer gave the half cent sales tax update

Rule adoptions:

Revisions and Amendments to the District School Board Student Progression Plan, 6Gx17-7.09 Approved 5-0

Permission to Advertise:

Notice of Intent to Advertise to Amend School District Rule 6Gx17-2—Human Resource Services Approved 5-0 (Note: this item was amended at the table to re-strike out page 6, item (f).

5 sets of September Board Meeting Minutes Approved, 5-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Human Resources items Approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during two thorough school board workshops held during the afternoon and early evening of 10-15-2009 and the morning of 10-16-2009)

Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

Student recommendations:
20 Students disciplined as follows:

16 students expelled
4 Students Suspended pending outcome of criminal case

Infractions included:

10 Drug possession
2 battery
3 robbery w/ a firearm (off-campus)
2 possession of a weapon
3 fighting

Note: The parent of one of the students expelled spoke to the board and requested that the board not vote to expel her daughter. This student went before a hearing officer and the hearing officer’s recommendation was for expulsion. The board voted 5-0 to accept the recommended order

3 Employee Recommendations by Superintendent approved unanimously by board, to include:

1 Employee terminated
1 Employee suspended without pay for 1 day
1 Employee suspended without pay pending conclusion of criminal case

Meeting adjourned at 6:37PM.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Merit Award Plan (MAP) Deadline for 2010-2011 School Year is 31 January

With the turbulence the State of Florida's budget has experienced over the last few years, and with the precarious (so-called) economic recovery stalling over Florida, it seems highly unlikely that employee raises will be a reality this coming year for ECSD teachers and support staff. I'm not giving up entirely on the idea of finding a way to give our employees a raise, however our budget realities do not bode well for any salary increases.

With this gloomy scenario as a backdrop, Escambia County has now officially left $4.2 million dollars on the table that could have been used to pay bonuses to some of our employees who meet the program guidelines outlined in Escambia County's approved Merit Award Plan (MAP). Our county is one of the few in Florida who were able to negotiate a plan with our union and achieve state approval. Our EEA Union approved plan is here.

School reformers, Conservatives, and even some moderate Democrats are on board with the idea of merit pay for teachers based in part on student test scores. President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan have both openly advocated for merit pay based in part on student test scores. Our union and the district worked collaboratively on our plan, and while not perfect--the plan is good. (If we keep looking for that elusive unicorn in the forest [AKA "perfection"] before we act, we will never get anything done.) For those who are absolutely, 100%, completely ideologically opposed--we have a voluntary opt-out mechanism wherby these individuals can choose not to participate. But for everyone else--how about a $2,000.00 check for being a great teacher and leader in your school during the 2010-2011 school year? It's not a raise but at least it is something. For the 08-09 School Year, more than $32 Million was allocated statewide, (including some to Escambia County's charter schools Byrneville and Pensacola Beach Elementary) But traditional Schools in Escambia County and their teachers got $Zero.

According to Kathy Hebda, of the State Department of Education, Our district has already missed the deadline for this year 2009-2010, and we only have until January 31st to notify the state if we intend to participate in MAP for 2010-2011. We need to act quickly for our employees.

If we do not decide to participate in MAP for 2010-2011, Or if we decide by proxy to not participate by blowing off the deadline, the $4.2 Million we have already left on the table by not rewarding employees for the 08-09 and 09-10 school years will become $6.3 million.

Over the next three months, I intend to lobby heavily for Escambia County's participation in this program--because it is the right thing to do for our best employees.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Florida School Boards Association Draft 2010 Legislative Platform

The Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) lists the following on their website under "About FSBA":

"The Florida School Boards Association, Inc. (FSBA) is a nonprofit corporation representing all school board members in Florida. FSBA has been the collective voice for Florida school districts since 1930 and is closely allied with other educational and community agencies to work toward improvement of education in Florida.


Each year the FSBA takes input from the roughly 360 School Board members throughout the state, and a legislative platform is developed.

The 2010 draft platform can be seen here

Selected representatives from each district compromise the platform committee, which distills information and input from the various individual board members who submit suggested edits. Eventually, a platform is finalized.

While not 100% perfect, getting the 360 or so elected board members from around the state to totally agree on every aspect of a legislative agenda is impossible. I am in agreement with a lion's share of the draft platform, and I strongly agree with many of the items on the platform. My chief areas of disagreement come when on the platform the FSBA wants to advocate for the elimination of certain tax exemptions (which equates to a tax increase for many businesses). I also do not agree with the FSBA platform element that seeks the change to the Merit Award Plan (MAP) to a "group award". The MAP is an individual award and School Recognition Funds are the group award. (Ironically, the School Recognition Funds, paid out of lottery proceeds, serve as a de facto "group award" for schools and their staffs--however this draft 2010 FSBA legilative platform advocates for holding the school recognition program in abeyance?? I neither understand nor do I agree with this apparent contradiction in the platform)

In my opinion, some other areas of the platform also miss the mark; For this reason I am submitting some of my recommendations/suggestions on a form provided for such input and the School Board will be discussing these platform issues at our monthly board discussion workshop this Thurday, October 15, at 3:00 at the Downtown Garden Street office.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend this meeting on Thursday to voice their opinions on this or any other subject.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Select Escambia Schools to Receive $2.1 Million in Bonus Money

The Florida School Recognition Awards were a product of Governor Jeb Bush and his package of school reforms introduced in Florida the late 90s. The program is funded by lottery proceeds, and the rewards have become controversial and are opposed by some large Education Organizations and many Media Outlets. Compete details on this program can be found here.

For 2009, $122 Million will be distributed to select schools from Florida's 67 school districts. In Escambia County, 39 schools will receive proceeds from the school recognition program, totalling $2.1 million locally. A complete list of the recipient schools from Escambia County and the amount of each schools' reward can be found here.

Although many around the state have disdain for the recognition awards--I strongly support this program. I like the fact that individual schools are recognized for maintaining excellent school grades, and I believe these awards are an incentive for schools to maintain their "A" school letter grades; I also like the fact that this program rewards schools that make significant letter grade improvement on a year over year basis. In addition to these reasons, it is appealing that with this program, Individual schools get to decide how best to use the reward proceeds, within the guidelines mandated by the state.

Incentives work in the private sector, and they also work in the government sector.
And I guarantee this--even though teacher's unions may oppose bonus programs that do not reward "all members equally based exclusively upon length of service and educational attainment"--I guarantee the Escambia Teachers that will be receiving this bonus come the end of October (Between $800.00-$1,000.00 each, depending on how individual schools and their SACs decide to split up the awards)--- these teachers are glad to receive this team award cash and wholeheartedlty support this program!

Congratulations are in order for the local schools who have received this award for 2009!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insurance Benefits Special Meeting, 9-21-2009

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Meeting convened at 5:30 PM

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

No Pledge of Allegiance, No opening prayer

Purpose of this special meeting was to resolve disputed insurance issues pursuant to Master Contract Provisions. Escambia Education Association
(EEA) Article XIV.1.I Union of Escambia Education Staff Professionals-Article VI.1.I.

Background: The issue of benefits has been bargainable in our district, separately from salary negotiations. Last year, the negotiations for benefits became protracted, and the union did not come to the table in a timely fashion to resolve premium, plan changes, and other serious issues resulting in huge losses on a monthly basis ($175,000.00 monthly) to the district’s health care reserve account. In an effort to alleviate this condition and to ensure that it would not happen again going forward, the district negotiated language with the union that would ensure that negotiations on health plan changes would be handled in a fair, timely fashion. The article of the master contract with this new language is here. This year, pursuant to this new contract language, we utilized an insurance benefits committee to hammer out necessary plan changes and other refinements to the district’s health insurance plan to offset rising costs. The superintendent forwarded the benefit committee’s recommendation to the union for a ratification vote which failed. According to the new language negotiated to alleviate this sort of stalemate, the board was given the opportunity to consider the recommendation of the benefits committee.

I. Call to Order/Adoption of Agenda -approved 5-0
II. Presentations and Discussion
A. Presentation of Proposals
1. Superintendent’s plan, presented via PowerPoint by Kevin Windham, dir. Of Risk Management with assistance from Chuck Tobin, from Arthur Gallagher Insurance
2. Association and Union presentation, presented by Bill Vincent, Service Unit Director

B. Rebuttal
1. Superintendent-by Kevin Windham and Malcolm Thomas
2. Association and Union -by Bill Vincent

C. Board Questions and Comments

1. Bill Slayton wondered aloud why so few employees participated in the ratification vote.
2. I asked if the lowering of the office co-pay portion of the choice plan by $5.00 would actually cost only $155,000.00. Answer provided by Chuck Tobin was “yes”
3. I asked if the Health Screenings would result in an initial spike in plan costs and the answer was yes for the first year, with years two and three resulting in lowered costs

D. Public Forum

17 Speakers addressed the board, unanimously opposing the plan changes that would result in higher costs to those who utilize the benefits.

E. Closing Remarks
1. Superintendent Thomas spoke in favor of approving the plan as presented by the benefits committee
2. Mr. Vincent spoke in favor of making no further plan changes, and taking a wait and see approach to ascertain whether or not costs would go up as projected.

III. Board Action

The Board discussed the options, weighed the choices put forth, and considered the speakers’ positions. I made a motion that the benefit committee’s recommendation be accepted, with the caveat that doctor’s office co-pays be lowered for employees on the choice plan from $30 down to $20 (at an estimated additional cost to the benefits reserve fund of approximately $310,000.00). Motion was seconded by Patty Hightower, discussion ensued for clarification on precisely what the motion I made was. When everyone was comfortable, the motion carried unanimously 5-0.

Meeting adjourned at 8:01

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Minutes of Board Meeting 9-15-09

Minutes of Regular Board Meeting


I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Meeting convened at 6:42 PM (Meeting was preceded by the annual school district budget meeting, which went from 5:30 to 6:40)

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Three Speakers addressed the board during Public Forum

1. Speaker wanted a special exemption from property taxes for elderly
2. Speaker had numerous issues with the district as a whole
3. Speaker wants: TEMS gradebook fixed, FAIR testing to be scheduled better, and overall level of student testing to be decreased (“we’re testing these kids to death!”

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee Recognition—David Wilkeson, a 12 year employee of the district, currently serving as an Energy Management Technician for the maintenance department.

1. Rule adoptions: Adoption of Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx17-1 Approved 5-0

Permission to Advertise:
1. Notice of intent to advertise Revisions and Amendments to the District School Board Student Progression Plan, 6Gx17-7.09 Approved 5-0

3 sets of August Board Meeting Minutes Approved, 5-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Human Resources items Approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

The following items were pulled for discussion, but ultimately approved by the board by 5-0 vote after discussion:

1. Curriculum Item 4-agreement between The Escambia County School Board and NAPA Auto Parts of Pensacola.

2. Curriculum Item 17-User agreement between the Escambia County School District and the Pensacola Civic center for graduations. (I voiced my concerns about the continued substantial expenditure ($26,000.00) to The County for use of their facility for school graduations in light of the fact that the county uses many of our facilities free of charge and have recently raised the athletic fees for schools to use their park facilities—I felt that a better rate should have been sought)

3. Human Resources Item g 8, addition of Confidential legal assistant/paralegal

4. Strategic Plan End of Year Report—following discussion with several members of the EEA, some areas that had been indicated as “goal met” were amended to indicate “goal partially met”

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during two thorough school board workshops held during the early afternoon and evening of 9-10-2009 and 9-11- 2009)

Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

3 Employees suspended without pay
1 Employee returned to work after being suspended without pay since July—charges against this individual were dropped and this employee will be receiving back pay

List of nominees for the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Excellence, approved by Board 5-0

Student recommendations: None

Items from the board:

Certification of Compliance, Agency Rules Report Pursuant to 120.74, Fla. Stat. (2009) approved 5-0.

Meeting adjourned at 7:58PM.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Board Discussion Workshop 9-10-2009

The Board held the monthly discussion workshop on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 at the Board Room of the McDaniel building downtown. Meeting began at 3:01PM

All Board members except Patty Hightower were present, along with Superintendet Thomas.

Open Board discussion items:

--I discussed with my fellow Board Members Why I would not be voting for the millage rate increase, and I gave back-up documentation to my fellow Board Members regarding the historic millage levies in Escambia County.

--I turned over a request to the Superintendent from Pine Forest High School's Principal and School Advisory Committee to rename the gymnasium at PFHS in honor of Coach Ann C. Suarez.

--I initiated a discussion with my fellow board members about our salaries and how the board should interpret recent state legislation which sought to reduce Board Member compensation statewide. Board members agreed to take the same salary as a first year teacher in Escambia, $32K. This represents a cut of 12%.

Mr. Slayton discussed the following

--closure of the zoo, how it would affect student field trips

--concerns over school lunch-room "self-serve" lines--in light of seine flu

Mr. Thomas discussed the following issues with the Board

--Custodial Supervision-and a plan for more localized supervision

--RFP Processes and priorities. The district is currently writing an RFP for custodial services, which should be complete by October. Next the district will be writing RFPs for Transportation and Foodservice--however Mr. Thomas said the district would be meticulous and thorough with the drafting of these RFPs

--The district staff briefly discussed a board policy revision process, which would help to streamline the way policy is written in the district.

--ten day enrollment figure presented--currently we are just slightly over 40,000 students--which represents less of a drop in enrollment than had been projected.

--updated timeline and initial drawings of New District Administrative Offices was presented to the board. Tentative schedule as follows:
March 2010-completion of IT infrastructure
November 2010--completion of renovation of floors 4, 3, and 2. Moves of most functions from Garden street would occur between November 2010 and February 2011.

--Cox digital channel 98--The Escambia County School District will be sharing time with the County Commission and other government entities for this channel. The School District will have allotted time seven days per week to broadcast content on this channel, which will reach approximately 30,000 viewers in a three county area. the district is very early in the planning stages on this project.

Meeting adjourned at 4:35

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Anger/Frustration/Angst Over Speech not Being Carried Live

Here's a fiery email sent to me about the Obama Speech, my response below.

>>> XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX 09/08/09 1:18 PM >>>
Shame on you for letting politics and the "crazy righties" dictate the quality of education in this county. My family and I have lived here for about 2yrs and I can tell you after this, we are going to run as far away from this county and this school district as soon as we can! No wonder Florida has the highest drop out rate in the country! Not my daughter! Not is this school district! We will take her to a real school district that will do what is right for the students, not the Republican party. Keep 'em ignorant seems to be the mission plan. If not then who would vote for them?


I remember talking to you on the phone as this whole episode played out recently. I do not know if the email below is directly aimed at me, but I'll assume it is even though as one board member I have ZERO power to do anything in this district on my own (BTW if I did, we would not be raising your property tax rates this coming Tuesday!).

I recognized from the beginning, last Wednesday, that the Obama speech would be an historic event. As the situation progressed, I realized that the sloppy manner in which President Obama and his team at the DOE were rolling the event out only played into the fears and concerns of many about what the speech would contain. (BTW--The Obama team changed the original lesson plans and altered their original position by releasing the speech before it was given.)

Now that the text of the speech has been released and the speech has actually occurred, everyone knows that it was a fantastic, inspirational address. Mr. Obama is an extremely intelligent, articulate, and charismatic leader. I actually AGREE with Obama on some education issues, including Merit Pay for teachers and better, more rational and meaningful evaluation of tenured employees. I like the person, even though many of his domestic policies run counter to my personal fiscal conservatism. But many in the district, including myself, respect this President and his leadership. As a matter of fact, we (at the district) have the speech linked up at our website so parents can watch it, and the Superintendent is encouraging schools to show the speech in the next few days.

So, think what you will of me, but as one board member I tried to get the district to come out with clear guidance on how the speech would be handled----- this way everyone would be happy. I just wanted to keep all parents in the loop and let the parents decide if they wanted their children to watch. If you want to run me into the ground for that then you may have much bigger personal issues to contend with--much more important than any misguided ideas about what you percieve about this district's (alleged) shortcomings.

Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Barack Obama's Prepared Remarks for an Address to The Nation's School Children Sept. 8, 2009

Nothing but good stuff in this speech. Full transcript from the White House Website here and below.

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

We Can Keep The Millage Rate Steady--If We Have the Will

My position on raising the tax rate on Escambia County property owners remains the same—we should not do it at this time.

With historic levels of unemployment, business failures, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, and general overall economic malaise in the local area, I just feel strongly that we should do everything in our power to keep the tax rate steady for our struggling local taxpayers. If the value of the tax roll shrinks, then the taxpayers ought to be able to see a corresponding reduction in the tax bill. There should not be a kneejerk disdain at the local level for LOWERING tax burdens on people’s property. Why should we (as a local governmental taxing body) be able to take the same amount of money from local taxpayers as we did last year when many of our taxpayers and businesses have seen their expenses rise and their incomes fall? Why? I don’t think we should.

We ought to lower our portion of the millage calculation (just as we did last year at this time) and hold the rate steady at 7.72 Mills. Constantly blaming Tallahassee for any and everything is becoming a tired refrain, almost to the point of being a red herring. Sure the legislators are making us raise more locally, sure they have cut our capital budgets, sure things are tight with the overall state budget, but—Tallahassee has nothing to do with our historic habit of levying the MAXIMUM local discretionary capital outlay millage. Last year was the first time in nearly 20 years that Escambia County levied less than the full maximum capital outlay millage—and I’m proud that the board led the effort to see that happen. I’m trying to do it again this year, because I feel in my heart it can be done and that as a local taxing body we need to be more accountable to our boss, the taxpayers. (Remember, the local taxpayers who also made us one of only 16 districts statewide out of 67 to have a voter approved ½ cent sales tax levy for school capital projects—remember them??) So let’s see, we’ve levied the maximum amount of local discretionary (READ: OPTIONAL) millage for capital outlay for nearly 20 years, and we’ve been one of only a handful of districts (less than 23% statewide) who have benefitted from a ½ cent sales tax for school capital projects for the last 12 years—but now, when we are in historic recession—we’re told we CANNOT give any back on the capital side by reducing our portion of the funding formula to ease back the discretionary millage by .14 mills?? To quote John Stossel “Give Me a Break!” We can and should do it—but I guess it is just easier to blame Tallahassee and bump up the total millage rate. None of our neighboring counties, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, or Walton, has levied the maximum capital outlay millage in any of the last five years. See this comparison of the levies for a five year period from all school districts.

Here’s what else gets to me—I’m told over and over by some people that “Look, most people are going to be paying no more than they paid last year, so that’s not a tax increase!”

Or this one “It’s only a few bucks more per $100,000 in property value—it’s no big deal and people can afford it!”

I believe statements like these are arrogant and insensitive, and anyone who would say these sorts of things must be totally removed from the reality of the severe recession we are experiencing. Anyone who thinks this way should drive around town and see the large number of businesses that have been shuttered, as well as the many empty commercial buildings and vacant homes for sale. The Economy locally is in terrible shape, unemployment nears 11%, a second wave of foreclosures is coming, credit is still locked up, and many businesses are barely hanging on--- so now is not the time for raising taxes on businesses, individuals, or anyone!—no matter the good intentions. You cannot tax your way out of a sour economy.

I respond to those who believe that taxpayers can shoulder additional tax rate increases by giving this analogy:

Imagine for a moment that we’re all paying $2.50 a gallon for gas, knowing that for every $2.50 per gallon there is about $.30 cents in taxes built -in. Now, let’s say the price for crude oil drops, production and refining costs go down, and in many other areas the price per gallon at the pump drops to $2.30 per gallon. Now imagine that you pull up to your favorite local filling station (thinking that you’re going to be seeing a $2.30 price per gallon sign at the station—meaning you are going to pay LESS) and find that the price has dropped to only $2.49 per gallon. Imagine if you saw a sign on the pump that said.. “Due to local governmental revenue shortfalls, our local tax rate per gallon has risen--but our total price per gallon is now only $2.49 per gallon, so be happy knowing that you are still paying less than before, and have a nice day”
Would you feel okay with this? I don’t think so.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pro-Obama Speech Email and Response

Today I received the following email about President Obama's planned speech on Tuesday to the nation's students:

>>> 9/4/2009 3:29 PM >>>

Dear Superintendent Thomas and Mr. Bergosh:

I am very disheartened to learn that President Obama's address will not be shown in our public schools. Whether one agrees politically with President Obama or not he is still the democratically elected President of the United States of America. Both Presidents Bush addressed school children and I am sure that their addresses were watched by our school children. I am embarrassed by the districts partisan views and lack of respect for the office of the Presidency. I voted for you, Mr. Thomas, I will not make that mistake again.



My Response to this individual was the following:


Thanks for taking the time to email your concerns regarding the speech. I have fielded numerous calls and emails on this subject and I must say the entire issue has taken on a life of it's own--even on the national level.

I understand your concerns and I share them as a parent of an elementary, middle, and high schooler in this district. I believe that part of the problem with this whole thing is that the Department of Education rolled this idea out in very choppy fashion--and did not put local districts into the loop with adequate lead time to prepare and coordinate this event properly with parents.

I respect our President, Barack Obama, and I feel he is an extremely articulate and intelligent leader--however in this endeavor his advisors left him out to dry.

His advisors put together lesson plans with odd objectives including "writing letters to yourself to describe how you can help Barack Obama" among other unusual activities. At the time this "event" was scheduled, the Department of Education indicated that the text of Mr. Obama's 15-20 minute speech would not be circulated. (Since that time, the White House has changed their position on this and has stated that a copy of the remarks will be posted on the White House website on Monday--they have also altered the study guides)

And the Director of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan, did accurately describe the event on the DOE website as historic and unprecedented--because it is. George H.W. Bush in 1991 did speak to Junior and Senior High School Students from a Texas High School--but I'd be willing to bet that more than a few days notice was given to schools in that instance, the text of the speech was released in advance, and the event was not beemed into every classroom computer along with "study guides."

Reagan's address to N.C. high School Students at the White House in 1986 was not accompanied by "study guides" either, was not hyped up like this event, and was a two-way dialogue, question and answer session.

No, this Tuesday's event will be a little bit different.

So numerous bad decisions by others at the national have led to the perception that our district is somehow disrespecting the President; When in actuality we are respecting the Parents of children in this district by moving ahead cautiously.

Bottom line--this is an exciting, historic event, and I think every student should have the opportunity to watch, but we need to respect the wishes of those parents who do not want their children to participate--I think that is a fair way ahead.

By the way-I hope you were able to attend the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX----The turnout was fantastic and the energy and enthusiasm level XXXXXXXXXXX was electric!


Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

One Board Member's Email Response about the Obama Speech


I do not speak for the superintendent, but since you sent this email to me I'll respond as the constitutionally elected Board Member that I am.

I did not know about this event until Late Tuesday, and since then events have unfolded quickly. After I researched the plan for the speech Wednesday, I put an entry on my Blog aout the event--as it is unprecedented, unique, and historic.

As I began to read the associated study materials on the Dept. of Education Website, I began to feel uneasy with it. Not only as a school board member--but as a parent of an elementary, middle, and high schooler in this district. What is the point of asking my 4th grade son to "write a letter to himself explaining how he can support Barack Obama"?? Seemed a little bit odd. I respect Barack Obama, I respect his office, and he is exceptionally articulate and intelligent. That said, I do not agree with many of his policies. His office is not releasing the speech in advance, and as a parent I ought to have the option of filtering what is fed to my fourth grader by a politician.

So yesterday I called Paul Fetsko, Superintendent of Curriculum, at 8AM, to express my concern and suggest that district Parents be able to, without penalty, "opt out" of the event if they so chose. Mr. Fetsko said to me that only certain classes would be watching the speech, and only if the particular course was directly alligned (curriculum wise) with what the President was going to be talking about. I subsequently attempted to arrange a special board meeting to address the issue, but as one board member and not the chairman I was advised by the board attorney that I could not call for a special meeting on my own.

I spoke to the Superintendent about this issue and he repeated what Mr. Fetsko had stated--that viewing would be very limited and that teachers that do show this to their classes will have to justify this to their site principals.

When I suggested to the superintendent that we send home permission slips and/or allow parents to send notes in with their children requesting that their children not watch the speech--that idea was met with resistance. When I suggested that we announce that no schools in the district would be showing the event live--rather the district would tape it and review for later use (with parent permission), that idea also met with resistance by the superintendent. So instead, we are giving nebulous guidance to our community about precisely the policy is--and frankly I'm disappointed by that.

The bottom line as I see it is that for the most part the district will not be showing this speech live, but that some teachers will have the lattitude to show the video. I'm certain that this video will be airing live in some schools, probably in more schools than district administrators realize, because it is an historic event.

But, on this particular issue, I believe that as a district we have done a poor job of clearly communicating exactly what the policy will be. I have fielded numerous calls and emails from parents, and I am trying to convey to them that the video would not be shown to a vast majority of students, but I cannot say that with 100 percent certainty based upon what I've heard the last 24 hours.

For this event, in my opinion, we should have put the parents more "in the loop" and let them decide--- but we're not doing that.

Thanks for the email.


Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Obama Speech Emails

CC: ""
Subject: Obama T.V. Speech
Attachments: Mime.822 (3495 bytes) [View] [Save As]

Dear Malcolm;
I am a parent of 3 children in the Escambia County school system. I am on
the board of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and a Vice President for the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. It is my opinion that I should have sole discretion
as to whether my children hear this closed circuit speech from President Obama.
I did not vote for him and am leary of anything he may say. If the School Board
has a released copy of what his speech will cover, I would be willing to review
and sign that my child may view or my child may not view. If parents are NOT
given the choice, I feel this is an infringement upon my rights and my
children's rights. My children will not attend school until after the speech has
aired. I would like to be provided with the times the speech will be given.
Having said that, I would sincerely hope that you, as our Superintendent, would
understand that this is a politically charged time and we should shield our
children from any negative under currents. I am firmly and steadfastly against
this. Please respond. Thank you. XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX

Or this One:

Dear Mr. Bergosh,

Are the Escambia County Schools airing the President's speech in the classroom? If so, are the children going to be required to view it and participate in his suggested study guide and acitivities? We are concerned that his speech is going to be geared more toward his political agenda rather than a "Pep Talk" to encourage our children. We are very involved in our children's education and do not feel that it is his place to dictate what our children listen to or study when it is mainly for his benefit. Please let us know what the plan is for XXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX High School and XXXXXXXXXXX High School as we have children attending these schools. We appreciate your dedication to our district and know that your priority is the well being of our children. Thank you so much for all you do. We are looking forward to hearing from you soon.



or this one, apparently in support of the speech:

Mr. Thomas,

I expected better of you than this.

“We do not let teachers just watch television. It’s going to have to fit with what they’re teaching the children,” said Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “We’re in a district where our students struggle. We have bell-to-bell instruction, and we don’t want to waste a single minute.”

Although this type of arrogance may play well with the majority of the escambia County voters, it shows a real lack of understanding as to what can constitute education.

I am a registered Republican, and as such, certainly don't agree with most of what passes as leadership from the current administration, but we should respect the office of the Presidency. The example that you are setting for the children is short sighted.

I'm beginning to think we are in a district where students struggle because the leadership is less than adequate. To think that a 20 minute speech would take away from my children's education is absurd. You are a little too full of yourself!


It is your school. The disrespect that the supperintendent is showing you is terrible. Do you have the title, but not the power? If a 20 minute speech is going to derail the school year, we need to pull the plug on public education in Escambia County.


I have also had several calls on the subject but the overriding theme seems to be that Parents want the option on whether or not to participate. If, as a district, we do not come out with clear guidance on this Sept. 8 event, I think we will experience a lot of absent students on that day.

Concerns Grow as Obama Speech Date Approaches

I have received several phone calls and emails on the issue of the President's upcoming speech to Students on Sept. 8th. Many are frustrated about not knowing what will be said, and several have said they do not think it is appropriate. For my part, I think parents should be able to choose whether or not their children participate in the "event". Upon inquiry to the Superintendent of Curriculum, Paul Fetsko, I have been told that most schools will not air the event live. Here is Mr. Fetsko's email guidance:

>>> Paul Fetsko 9/3/2009 9:23 AM >>>

Principals, we have had a number of telephone calls regarding the forthcoming television address scheduled for September 8th by President Obama. Specifically asking if we are going to cancel instructional activities to require viewing by our students. The answer is no.
The districts' recommendation to you is to permit the viewing by students who are in classes that have a direct academic connection to this event such as Civics, American Government, possibly SGA. Please remember that teachers must submit the media form to you prior the airing of this event. That form is available from media services and it documents the link between the program and the class objective(s). If teachers are unable to do this in advance the IT department will record the program so teachers may preview the content to determine if there are instructional ties to classroom objectives. Then teachers can play the program in it's entirety or segments which correlate to the topic for that class.
Again, you should not interrupt the instructional momentum at your site to view the speech if it is not directly aligned with the instructional calendars currently in place at your school.
If you should have questions please contact this office or your level director for clarification.
Paul Fetsko

Paul H. Fetsko, Asst. Supt. for Curriculum
Escambia County School District
Phone: 850/429-2918
FAX 850/469-6371
215 W. Garden Street Room 116
Pensacola, FL 32502

I think for many parents I've communicated with over the last day and a half, the larger concern is what will be said in the speech. Within the last 12 hours, the national press is reporting that the text of Tuesday's speech will be released in advance by the White House on Monday, Sept. 7. I'm looking forward to reading the speech. My seventh grade son, who attends Brown Barge Middle, has stated that his class will be doing the White House lesson, that they have already looked at the questions.

I think that the timing of the speech, which coincides with lunch period for many district students, might result in the speech being broadcast to many students in many schools.

My major concern is that if this is going to happen---Parents should be kept in the loop and given the option about whether or not their child may participate.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

President Obama to Give Historic Speech to All U.S. Students Tuesday

From The U.S. Dept. of Education Website:

"In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 — the first day of school for many children across America — he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens..This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation's school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. It will be broadcast live on the White House website 12:00 noon eastern standard time."

read more here

I think this is a good idea and I'm astonished that previous presidents have not done this. My only concern would come if somehow this speech becomes politicized by the president. Already some are wary of this event and are calling for people to keep their children at home on this day.
classroom materials associated with this speech/lesson by the president can be viewed here

This will be interesting--hopefully it will only be on the importance of staying in and finishing school.

We'll all know for sure this coming Tuesday.