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.

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.