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.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The "Jelly Doughnut" Discipline Model part II

The Santa Rosa Press-Gazette wrote an editorial about the proposed policy in Escambia County to require all students who participate in sports to purchase additional insurance, regardless of whether or not these student athletes already have good insurance. I am obviously not thrilled with this concept, and from the below editorial it seems as though the writers of this piece do not favor the proposed idea either...

From the Santa Rosa Press-Gazette:

"At issue: a concept in which every student taking part in sports would be required to have insurance. Now that, by itself, is not a bad idea. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for contact sports to result in the occasional injury though, historically, few of them are serious.Where we raise our eyebrows is at the point when the school system there says it has “negotiated” coverage and not only must every participant be insured, but they must be insured with the policy the school board negotiated. We’re all for the school board negotiating to reach the least expensive policy possible for the students it serves, but in the end, that policy must be an “option” and not a “mandate.”"..In the end, the parent that followed the rules, the parent that did everything the system asked of them ends up being penalized by being forced to carry two insurance policies. The other parent, the one that did not secure insurance, that thumbed their nose at the request, suddenly has an entire board out there negotiating on their part. And, of course, the “forced participation” on the part of those parents that followed the rules and now must carry two policies, ends up subsidizing the parents that did not."

read the full article here

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Memo to Joel E. Chandler....Motion for Summary Judgement Denied (Reee-Jected!)

Joel E. Cahndler of Lakeland has been attempting to get the personal information on emplyees (and their minor dependent children) in school districts around the state for more than a year now. Some districts immediately complied. Escambia did not, instead we requested a deposit upfront from Chandler with an explanation that after the deposit was received the Escambia district legal staff would look into the issue to see if the information could be legally released.

No deposit check ever came. No information on minor dependents was released by Escambia County.

During the last legislative session, more protections were put into law to shield and maintain the privacy of minor dependent children.

Manatee county took an even more proactive approach than Escambia County and filed for an opinion in circuit court on the matter. The Judge ruled against Chandler's motion for summary judgement. Motion denied. Have a Nice Day!

Interestingly--this judge did not make his ruling based upon the records law being at odds with HIPAA. A previous AGO would not delve into that question either. sooner or later that question needs to be answered.

In the mean time, Mr. Chandler has lost this round.

Like a weak guard running up the key for a lay-up, only to be met by a thunderous stuff by Lebron James, Like that trombone player in the famous footage from the Stanford/Cal Football game ("the play") who comes on the field too early after a kickoff and gets slammed by the player with the ball, Like Clyde Drexler and Walt Frazier say in the cheesy "just for men" haircolor commercial (describing a guy's advances on a woman at a bar being rebuked) ....Ree-Jected!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Minutes of Board Meeting 6-16-2009

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 (except Bill Slayton) and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Pledge of Allegiance led by 4th Grade N.B. Cook Elementary School Student Rebecca Neal

4 Speakers addressed the board during Public Forum

1 Speaker complimented the district on its virtual learning program
1 Speaker is against mandatory accident insurance for athletes
1 Speaker concerned that the district is going into next year with a projected level of reserves at 7%
1 Speaker honored the accomplishments of EEA president Gail Husbands

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee of the year Recognition—Jane Finn, long-term, retiring supervisor of the district’s revenue department, honored with a plaque and certificate of appreciation as well as a check for $500. From Members First Credit Union.

Rule adoptions: None

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. The School Board will by Resolution on July 21, 2009, at its regularly scheduled Board Meeting name Booker T. Washington High School’s auditorium the “Theodore B.D. Bennett Auditorium” as approved by the Booker T. Washington High School Advisory Council Selection Committee at
Its May 7, 2009 meeting.----- Approved 4-0
2. Notice of Intent to Adopt Amendments to Chapter 5, Business Services, Rules and Procedures of the District School Board Approved----- 4-0 (vigorous discussion about this issue took place, with me expressing my significant concerns about this item as it essentially forces parents to buy extra insurance from the district if their children want to play in sports. I expressed that I felt this was punitive to those who already have coverage.)
3. Notice of Intent to Adopt Amendments to Chapter 3, School Operating Procedures, Rules and Procedures of the District School Board Passed 4-0
4. Notice of Intent to Adopt Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx177.02,
Code of Conduct: Elementary Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook Revisions 20092010 -----Approved 4-0
5. Notice of Intent to Adopt Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx177.02,
Code of Conduct: Secondary Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook Revisions 20092010----Approved 4-0
6. Notice of Intent to Adopt Revisions and Amendments to the District School Board Student Progression Plan, 6Gx177.09---- Approved 4-0

Administrative Appointments:

1. Cassandra Andrews, from reading coach at Montclair to assistant principal at Warrington Middle, effective July 1
2. Cherie Arnette, from social studies teacher at Tate to subject area specialist-social studies, effective July 30
3. Brent Brummet, from assistant principal at Escambia HS to principal at Ransom Middle, effective July 1
4. Dr. Karen Owen, from principal at Cook Elem. to Director of Staff Development, effective July 1
5. Wilson Taylor, from Dean at Ransom Middle to assistant principal at Warrington Middle, effective July 1

4 sets of April Board Meeting Minutes Approved, 4-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved (Items 12 and 23 pulled by Mrs. Moultrie, and she recused herself from the vote on these items)

All Finance items approved

All Human Resources items Approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved
(Purchasing item #37, Custodial Zone Sub-Contracting-Zone three agreement pulled for discussion debate. Contract approved by a 3-1 vote, with Linda Moultrie voting “no”(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during a thorough, six hour school board workshop held during the early afternoon and evening of 6-15-2009)

Items from the board:

Patty Hightower voted by the board, unanimously 4-0, to remain the School Board member for The Florida School boars Association board of Directors for 2009.Board voted unanimously, 4-0, to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

Reappointment of Professional Personnel for 2009-2010 school year, approved 4-0
Reappointment of Administrative Personnel for 2009-2010 school year, approved 4-0
Student recommendations: approved 4-0

21 Students Expelled
1 Students suspended pending conclusion of criminal charges.

Student infractions included:
1 for criminal incident outside of school
7 for possession of weapons
10 for repeated incidents of disruptive behavior/fighting
4 for possession of drugs on school property

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

1 employee suspended without pay
1 employee terminated

Items from the General Counsel

Board voted 4-0 to approve 4 contracts with local attorneys/law firms, to provide legal services to the board.
Meeting adjourned at 7:02 PM.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The “Jelly Doughnut” Discipline Model

The 1987 Film, “Full Metal Jacket” was full of memorable scenes and interesting dialogue. One of the more memorable scenes was when Sgt. Hartmann (a drill Sergeant) disciplines an entire company of Marines because one of the Marines, Pvt. Pyle, (a rotund, dimwitted slacker) brings a Jelly Doughnut into the barracks from the mess hall. Instead of punishing Pvt. Pyle, Sgt. Hartmann rewards Pyle, allowing him to eat the doughnut while all of the other Marines have to do push-ups.

While this method of discipline may work effectively for Marines and Soldiers, when put into practice in real life it ticks people off.—Not the “Pvt. Pyles”, but the other “Marines” who follow rules and regulations.

A new policy is being rolled out in the Escambia County School District, which essentially punishes the vast majority of parents who follow the rules because of some parents who violate the rules—“The Jelly Doughnut” Discipline model manifests itself in real life!

All students in our district who choose to participate in interscholastic athletics are required to have insurance, and to provide proof of insurance at the beginning of the season. For the vast majority of parents this is not an issue.

But some parents, in the past, have allowed their insurance policies to lapse without notifying the district or coaches. This has led to some students playing in sports without medical coverage.

When an injury occurs, these injured students are often treated in local hospitals and the costs are absorbed by those institutions.

The district’s new plan is to make accident insurance mandatory for ALL students, even parents who are currently abiding by the policy, military who have coverage, military retirees who have Tri-Care, state and federal retirees who have blue-cross blue-shield—it does not matter. All of these folks will now have to purchase additional insurance because some students’ parents did not follow policy.

I think the goal of wanting every athlete covered is noble, however a new blanket rule that requires everyone to purchase additional insurance is aggressive; once the idea hits some who already have “gold-plated” Cadillac insurance plans that they are going to have to buy more—I think these people will become vocally opposed. For some it will be a matter of cost, but for more it will be a matter of principle.

The Issues

Liability--- I have been told the district is at risk of shouldering liability if this policy is not put into place. I asked the director of Risk Management how many judgments we have lost as a result of an athlete being injured without insurance in the last five years; I have not received an answer, but my sense is it will be a small number (if any). I have faith that our current liability waiver is strong and that if a parent violates the district’s policy by allowing their child’s insurance policy to lapse, that PARENT owns the liability.

Student Protection/Medical Care—This is America. If a student is injured and his parents have violated policy by not maintaining insurance coverage as required, that student will still receive world class medical attention at the nearest emergency room.

I do not believe in disciplining the majority of parents who follow the rules because some do not. I believe mandatory insurance, unless it is extremely inexpensive, will discourage some from even trying out and will decrease participation. (The insurance has to be bought prior to try-out, and is non-refundable)

The correct solution is to do the paperwork correctly, follow the curent process, and parents who violate the policy should have their children pulled from athletics. Break, end of text.

As I stated in yesterday’s workshop meeting, while not thrilled with this policy, I’ll support it if a waiver can be crafted that exempts from the purchase of additional insurance the parents that have non-cancellable health insurance policies. (Retired military, civil service, federal and state employees, etc.)
Having the policy with the waiver is a fair compromise, because, after all, The “Jelly Doughnut” discipline model is not fair or just in real life when applied to those who are playing by the rules.
Let's get it right and make the "Pvt. Pyles" do the push-ups!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Parental Participation

Surveys are great, I participate in them when I get called, I fill out the comment cards at restaurants, I even filled one out at the baseball game I attended the other night. Comments received from surveys and comment cards are invaluable to people who run the organizations that solicit comments. If modifications can be made based upon comments to improve service, this is a good thing.

The other day I came upon a website, and on this website there was a "parental participation" survey. Going through this survey, I thought it was great. I wish that every parent in the district would take this or a similar survey to self-assess their level of participation in the education of their children. One thing some of our district's schools lack is parental participation. If we can find a way to increase parental participation--particularly at schools that struggle academically--we will increase student achievement guaranteed. The million dollar question is, what strategies do we need to employ to make this happen?

from the Project Appleseed Survey:

How Well Do You Support Your Child's Learning?Parenting

Have you identified a regular time and place in your home for your child to do homework.
Do you monitor your child's homework?
Do you monitor your child's television viewing habits?
Do you ensure that your child has excellent attendance at school?
Have you discussed with your child the importance of a good education?

take the entire survey here

We hear often that it's "seat time" or "great teachers" or "this new curriculum delivery system" or "or better facility" or "this great new software program"--this is what it takes. Yeah, these things are great, but if the parents are not on board, reading to their child, encouraging him/her to achieve higher grades, checking in with the teacher, checking on thier homework, etc. etc. etc.--then every other gadget/widget/concepts' importance is greatly diminished.

Having a student that wants to learn and engaged parents who participate are the BIGGEST part of a student's shot at success. Challenging parents, holding them accountable to do their part should not be the taboo, 900 pound gorilla in the room! (as it currently seems to be)

Every parent ought to be given this survey--I'd love to see a compiled database of these surveys accurately and honestly filled out--that would be a useful database.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teacher Evaluations Critiqued in Today's N.Y. Times Editorial

From today's N.Y. Times Editorial:

"Education reform will go nowhere until the states are forced to revamp corrupt teacher evaluation systems that rate a vast majority of teachers as “excellent,” even in schools where children learn nothing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was right to require the states that participate in the school stabilization fund, which is part of the federal education stimulus program, to show — finally — how student achievement is weighted in teacher evaluations. The states have long resisted such accountability, and Mr. Duncan will need to press them hard to ensure they live up to their commitment."

I have been talking about teacher evaluations and the need for improvement locally for awhile now--interesting article here

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Experience With Turn-Around Schools

I came across this recent N.Y. Times Article discussing the challenges of remaking struggling schools. Very interesting how Duncan turned schools around in Chicago.

From the article:

"The federal government lacks the authority to close schools, so Mr. Duncan’s first challenge is to persuade scores of local districts to begin school turnarounds that, judging from Chicago’s experience, will anger teachers, administrators, parents and local politicians. Another challenge will be recruiting the high-quality educators crucial to helping reconstituted schools succeed. Teachers union contracts could be another major hurdle."

"The Chicago contract gives tenured teachers in schools shut down for low performance 10 months to be rehired by their reconstituted school’s new leader or by another Chicago principal, after which they lose their job. (About 8 in 10 find jobs at other Chicago schools, Mr. Pickens said.) Contracts in many other cities give teachers who lose positions more extensive rights, which could make school makeovers harder, experts said."

Full article here

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What is the Recipe for Successfully Turning Around Low Performing Shools?

This coming school year, The Escambia County School District will be pouring a ton of resources and stimulus money into Warrington Middle School. We will be paying teachers sign-on bonuses, we will be giving them performance bonuses based on school letter grade improvement, and we will be allocating large ammounts of other resources into this facility to turn it around. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the district and the Union has been written, and will more than likely be approved by the Board at the June 16th regular meeting. This MOA delineates the bonuses and describes expectations about working conditions at Warrington Middle school over the next two school years. While I have some significant concerns about some aspects of the MOA-- I do intend to vote for approval because my concerns do not rise to the level that would warrant a vote for non-approval.

Here are some aspects that are troubling to me within the MOA.

1. I would have liked to see, in the midst of sign on bonuses, team performance bonuses, and potential school recognition bonuses,--some sort of an individual bonus for individual excellence by classroom teachers. I'm told that some sort of individual recognition bonuses will be developed for the 2010-2011 school year at WMS, so we will have to see how that develops. I outlined and presented to the superintendent for his review what, in my opinion, such an individual reward plan might look like within the context of the overall Warrington Middle School Bonus Program. We will see what happens at WMS to reward individual excellence, and I hope the idea does not get sidelined.

Group performance bonuses are great--but recognizing individuals within the group also makes sense and I believe this is an essential component to drive performance even further rather than by utilizing "group" bonuses alone.

2. The following phrase from the MOA is also problematic, in my opinion--

"Their (Warrington Middle School Instructional Employees) normal work hours will be 7.5 hours each day. However it is understood that instructional staff at Warrington Middle School may be required to participate in professional activities that extend beyond the normal work day. These additional professional activities that occur outside the teacher's normal workday shall not exceed a total of ten hours per month."

I like the language about the necessity of instructional staff to have to work more than normal at this school this school year--but why delineate the strict 10 hours monthly limit? This equates to what, an extra 20 minutes per day? If this school flourishes to it's maximum potential (as I do believe it has the ability to do) these instructors will earn up to an additional $10,000.00 EACH over and above their base salary. For this sort of financial reward I do not think it was productive to spell out the limit of extra work required. How does telling teachers at WMS "you cannot be forced to work more than an average of twenty minutes per day unpaid overtime" help to drive student achievement?? If I'm writing this MOA, I leave off the last sentence of the above phrase from the MOA. If a prospective teacher has an issue with that, they could choose not to accept the challenge of joining the WMS team this year and earning all of the big bonuses.
That's all.

Good teachers will put in the time required and setting a cap on the monthly additional time commitment does not help the overall effort. Professionals who accept challenging assignments will and should put in the time necessary to do the job--and I'm sorry but that might and probably will mean more than coming in ten minutes early and leaving ten minutes after the "7.5" hour work day.

3. As initially described to me, it was my understanding that the hiring for this WMS project wuld be open to the "best and brightest" however reading the MOA it looks as though union senority will trump hiring decisions based upon ability-- example, could an annual contract teacher stand a chance of being hired at one of these positions at WMS, or how about someone, some excellent candidate from outside our area?--or will all of the positions already be filled as a result of the priority transfer process described in the contract and MOA?

Putting too many restrictions,conditions, and limitations around this project does not enhance chances for success, in my opinion.

Other districts that have tried to replicate successful and innovative programs have run into difficulty if these programs get too hamstrung by union contract language. The Boston School System "Pilot Schools" are a good example. from the boston globe article:

"The Boston's 18 pilot schools also have teachers' unions, although the provisions are scaled back to allow for experimentation with longer school days and other changes that unions have traditionally resisted."....."The lackluster performance of Boston middle school pilots highlights what can happen when the pilot schools are imposed by district edict, rather than growing out of grass-roots proposals from the teachers and administrators."

Washington D.C. Schools are trying to raise pay in exchange for more and expanded management rights. This is an idea that I favor. Substantial concessions are being required in exchange for vastly better pay, including loss of "tenure" status.

In New York City, one innovative program will be paying teachers $125,000.00 yearly. But teachers will have to agree to be "at-will" employees to earn this large salary. And they will be expected to perform. And I doubt their unpaid overtime requirements will be delineated and/or limited by contract language.

We are at a tipping point; Public education is changing in America, and reforms are going to be necessary. Serious reforms. Absent this, a growing number of families (particularly those with above average economic means) will choose the homeschool or private school option. As this slow exodus happens, the challenges left for those of us who remain strongly supportive of public education will grow exponentially. Warrington Middle School is where we can begin to take a stand locally, to show skeptics what we are capable of given the right staff, authority, and resources. I think we will be successful, but we must be careful about how work agreements are structured, written, and bargained with the unions-- to allow the district administration greater management authority and flexibility--particulary when the stakes are as high as they are at Warrington Middle School.