Guidelines

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.








Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Random Drug Testing Promotes Student Safety

The Escambia County School Board is preparing to take a bold step forward in an effort to minimize the presence of drugs on our school campuses. In addition to the current daily drug dog searches at randomly chosen Middle and High Schools, the Board is preparing to initiate a student drug testing policy. A random drug testing policy was discussed by members of the School Board during a series of meetings held over the last several months. Recently, a draft testing plan was developed for the Board by a committee comprised of the School Board Attorney, members of school district staff, parents, community members, and local business leaders.

This initial draft policy, presented for the Board this past December 9th, calls for students to submit a consent form authorizing random drug screening if these students wish to drive their vehicles on school property, participate in athletics, or become involved in extra/co-curricular programs. Not every student will be required to submit a consent form--just those who wish to participate in the above named activities. This proposed testing policy is the latest addition to the district’s evolving comprehensive drug awareness plan, spawned following a contentious School Board workshop held on May 14, 2010.

While some look at the issue of drugs in schools through rose colored glasses and proclaim the problem is “in check” —the facts prove otherwise. The number of drug related expulsions In Escambia County Schools jumped from 71 in the 2008-2009 school year to 83 in the 2009-2010 school year -- an increase of nearly 17%. A recent analysis of the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Surveys from 2007-2010 indicates an increase in adolescent use of marijuana from 15% in 2007 to 19% in 2010.

Drug abusers are not indigenous to schools—everyone knows this. Drug abusers are a societal problem. But drugs seep over from communities and into schools, and that is why the School Board is taking action. This issue is about student safety; no matter what one’s viewpoint may be on the subject of decriminalizing certain drugs— even if it was legal--marijuana does not belong on campuses. Like alcohol and abused legal prescription medicines—none of these items belong at schools.

Our comprehensive drug awareness plan is helping our schools become safer. Testing will be a vital addition to this comprehensive approach. The School Board’s thoughtfully conceived testing plan delineates the process of how the students will be randomly selected and also how any positive test results will be handled. Data will be kept confidential and all applicable State and Federal Laws will be followed. Students will receive appropriate counseling and assistance if necessary, and avenues for redemption will be available to students who make poor choices.

The testing component will be the strongest tool available to deter district students from taking drugs. Signs and slogans are fine-but If students know they can be tested, and testing positive for drugs could preclude participation in sports or other extracurriculars, this will help students say NO. If students know a positive test could occur and jeopardize a college scholarship---these students will be empowered to say NO. Testing will provide students a buffer against strong pro-drug peer-pressure.

Obstreperous, discordant, civil-libertarian types may oppose this plan --this is sad yet predictable. But few will be able to deny the powerful impact a random drug screening regimen will have on student behavior and decision making; when enacted, this plan will reduce the amount of drugs brought to schools, making our campuses and students safer.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rick Scott and SuperLiberal Robert Reich--Agreement on Education Policy??

Reading a recent column by former Clinton Labor Secretary (and ultra-liberal) Robert Reich, I was struck by some of what Reich believes U.S. Education needs.  From the article:

"I’m not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what’s wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers...Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education"

Maybe Rick Scott and Robert Reich are both on to something........

Find Reich's Article here

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Florida Education Reform--"The Times, They are A Changing"


NorthEscambia.com has an excellent article this morning on the direction Florida Education will be going when Rick Scott Takes over as Governor.

From NorthEscambia.com

"Another major component of the Scott transition team’s proposal is a merit pay system for teachers that would base half of what teachers make on student performance. The issue was a major part of last spring’s legislative debate in which the Republican-led Legislature passed a merit pay bill only to have it vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.  Key lawmakers have already said that the bill will be reintroduced this coming spring with some changes from last year’s proposal. A draft is already being circulated by Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and foundation director Patricia Levesque briefed the Senate Prek-12 Education committee on details this past month."

Read the full article here.

\It's time for Students and taxpayers to be priority #1.  Electing Rick Scott will certainly help to re-focus priorities statewide, and this is exciting. Merit Pay, Charters, and Choice.  If done fairly--who (besides unions) would oppose such common sense measures that empower students and taxpayers??

As Bob Dylan would say

"The Times, They are A-Changing"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Escambia County Drug Testing Policy--An Email of Concern

I received the below email recently in reference to the district's proposed random drug testing policy.  My answer is below:



>>> XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX 12/17/10 2:49 PM >>>

Dear Mr. Bergosh,

I recently learned about the Escambia County School Board's new proposal for student drug testing, and it alarms me. According to an article on NorthEscambia.com (http://www.northescambia.com/?p=38038), the School Board wishes to impose random drug testing on all students who park on school grounds.
According to the aforementioned article, if a student were to fail the random drug test, they would be "required to take a District-approved drug assessment and rehabilitation program." In addition to this rehabilitation program, they would also "be subject to additional random drug tests, and they would remain on probation for the rest of their school years." This “probation” is described as including “additional random drug tests.”
I have located the Supreme Court ruling on the case of The Board of Education... of Pottawatomie County vs. Earls. In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas states that "The Policy clearly requires that test results be kept in confidential files separate from a student’s other records and released to school personnel only on a “need to know” basis. Moreover, the test results are not turned over to any law enforcement authority. Nor do the test results lead to the imposition of discipline or have any academic consequences. Rather, the only consequence of a failed drug test is to limit the student’s privilege of participating in extracurricular activities." (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/01-332.ZS.html).
The proposal that was made to the school board, based upon Justice Thomas's opinion, is unconstitutional. It would, in fact, have greater consequences than the limiting of extracurricular activities.
Justice Thomas’s opinion also states that "students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities voluntarily subject themselves to many of the same intrusions on their privacy as do athletes." It is this supposed lack of the expectation of privacy upon which the Court's decision is formed. The same lack of the expectation of privacy is not present in students who park on school grounds. Because of this, the proposed policy goes beyond far beyond the drug testing permissions granted by Board vs. Earls.
Though I do agree that students should make responsible choices when it comes to their futures, the doctrine of in loco parentis does not apply in cases where a student’s rights to privacy and reasonable search are infringed.
As revered statesman and author Thomas Paine once said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” It is my view that the only thing worse than not supporting liberty is actively undermining it. Since your students are, in fact, American citizens, this policy is a violation of their rights and an attack on their freedom.
Mutual respect, especially of natural rights, between faculty and students is the only way to improve our educational system. Our education system is, in turn, the only way to improve our country and our world.
Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXXXX

 
My Response:
 
XXXXXXXXXXXX,


Thanks for sending your letter of concern. I appreciate the fact that you have cited some sources to support your arguments in opposition to this proposed policy.
Unfortunately, I disagree with your opinion and I am strongly in support of this random testing policy as it is being contemplated.

A couple of thoughts for you to consider:

--Currently, many districts around Florida already test students athletes (Santa Rosa County among them), and these practices have withstood legal challenges.

--Currently, districts around the nation already test students who wish to participate in athletics and extra-curricular activities, and these policies have been tested in courts around the USA.

XXXXXXX, the Escambia County policy is a work in progress, and I believe the district is on the right track; at the recent board meeting where this was discussed in great detail, I heard support from all of my fellow members of the Board of Education on this policy.

This plan was developed by a broad committee of education stakeholders, including-- the district's attorney, district staff, parents, administrators, and members of the public.

This policy is not meant to be punitive, but rather this policy will ensure safety of all students and will help students who make poor choices get counseling and assistance--And all records relating to test results will be kept confidential-that is part of the plan.

A Watershed moment occurred in May of this year when I essentially "called out" district staff to do more on the growing drug problem in our schools--and I'm extremely pleased with how District staff is responding.

On a personal note-I have three kids in these schools, and I want them to go to schools that are drug-free.

All district parents deserve this, and this is currently my biggest priority.

With Best Regards,

Jeff Bergosh



Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

850-469-6147
850-469-6147
http://www.jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com/
jbergosh@escambia.k12.fl.us

Interesting Stories From Around the USA in Today's Education Reform Review

South Carolina-Finger Pointing Over State's Failure to Secure Federal RTTT Grant

Boston Turn-Around Schools Making Progress 

Illinois--We Want Reform-- but Don't Do It Like Florida Did

Teacher Tenure Reform Movement Gaining Pace Around the Nation

Maryland--Master's Degreed Teachers No More Effective than Non-Master's Degreed Teachers

California Democrats Fractured over Education Reform Policies

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Restorative Justice-A Case Study From an Oakland Inner-City Middle School

In the wake of the Board's decision to reject a restorative justice program grant for Escambia County Schools, I have done some research on what other districts are doing with Restorative Justice.

One interesting story comes from Oakland, California.

A recently closed Middle School there had moderate success with their own Restorative Justice program.

From The Contra Costa Times Education Blog:

"A social justice center at UC Berkeley’s law school published a case study today that highlights the successes, challenges and potential of restorative justice in schools, based on observations at the (now closed) Cole Middle School in West Oakland."



The report referenced in the blog post  has some interesting facts and figures to support their conclusion that the program was a modest success.  Page 20 of the report has a graph that indicates 83% of the students at Cole Middle School felt that the program was helping with behavior issues at the school.  91% of Students felt the program helped their relationships with their fellow students.

Another blog post about the restorative justice model at Cole Middle School mentioned that the school was closed following years of declining enrollment.  Due to the success of the program at Cole, however, the Oakland District's school board adopted the Restorative Justice program for use throughout its schools.

Locally, The Escambia County School District will not be participating in the Florida Bar Association's Restorative Justice Grant Program, but we will be utilizing the principles and techniques of Restorative Justice in our schools on our own terms; We're not giving up on the concept.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Escambia School Board Meeting Cancellation

Yesterday's regularly scheduled Escambia County School Board meeting was canceled due to medical emergencies affecting two Board Members' immediate families.

One Board Member was already out of town --and the emergencies affecting two additional members would have left only two Board Members to conduct the meeting.  A meeting requires a quorum, which in the case of the Escambia County School Board equals three members.  It is for this reason that the meeting was called off.

This meeting will be re-scheduled for the first week in January, at which time all matters scheduled to be addressed at this month's meeting will be handled.

Interesting Education Stories From Around The Nation

--25% Cut in Education Funding Coming to One State

--EEOC Looking into One District's Inner-City School Closings

--Low Educational Attainment in Women = Higer rate of Obesity?


These Stories and many more can be found in today's edition of EducationReformReview

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Six Interesting Education Stories From Around the USA

Education Reform Review has six interesting education stories from around the USA linked at their site today.

--Rick Scott and Vouchers

--Mass. Teachers to face a No Facebook policy?

--NYC Teacher and former prostitute fighting temination

plus three others...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

ECSD Draft Random Drug Testing Policy Unveiled

At today's discussion workshop of the Escambia County School Board, the district's proposed random drug testing policy was unveiled.  This policy was one of the components of the recent push to curb drug use among district students.

The plan as outlined is to have students submit a consent form to a random drug screening if these students wish to drive their vehicles on school property, participate in athletics, or become involved in extra/co-curricular programs.  Not every student will be required to submit a consent form--just those who wish to participate in the above named activites. 

The  detailed plan given to the board this afternoon goes through the process of how the students will be randomly selected and also how a positive test result will be handled. 

The plan was developed by a committe comprised of the school board attorney, multiple members of district staff, community members, parents, and other interested persons.  The recommended policies are in line with what was described in the district's newly implemented comprehensive drug awareness plan;   In many respects, this testing component will be the strongest tool we have to deter district students from taking drugs.  If students know they can be tested and testing positive for drugs could preclude their participation in sports or other extracurriculars--these students will have a powerful incentive to say no to drugs.

I'm very impressed with the thought that was put into this plan, and I'm appreciative of the fact that the board is being brought into discussions about this plan early in the planning stages. 

We've been asked to look the plan over carefully and to identify any major issues we as board members might have with the plan.  The Superintendent stated that his goal was to have all five board members firmly committed to this plan. From today's meeting, the sense I got was that the entire board does support this plan.  As Bill Slayton aptly put it, "We're good with it as long as the [ECSD] Legal department says we can do it"

This policy is going to get a lot of attention and I have a feeling the majority of parents in our district will embrace this.  As a parent with three students in this district--I know that this random testing component, along with the drug dog searches, will drastically curb the incidnces of illegal drugs being brought to school campuses districtwide-and this is great!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Six Charter School Applications Submitted, Only Two Recommended for Board Approval

The Escambia County School Board will be voting this month to accept or reject the recommendations of the ECSD Charter Schools Committee. 
This year, the district received a total of 6 applications for the establishment of charter schools in our district. 
--Two were self-withdrawn by the presenters prior to a final committee recommendation (School for Children with Autism and School for Performing Arts), 
--Two have been recommended for denial (Brownsville Charter School of Excellence and Tristan De Luna Charter School) and
--Two will be recommended for Approval (NewPoint Academy and NewPoint High School)
I looked briefly at several of the initial application packages that were provided to the school board office months ago.  Two looked weak, one was a copy of a previously approved submission, and two looked as though they could be approved by the committee.
In a nutshell, it appears as though the performing arts charter application needed quite a bit more work, and that is the reason it was withdrawn.  The same scenario appears to be the reason for the withdrawal of the Autism school.  The Tristan De Luna application had issues regarding what the application said it was going to provide and what in practice the operators intended with respect to foreign language instruction.   
The Brownsville application was a duplicate of last year’s successful A.A. Dixon Charter application.  It is for that reason that I thought it might be recommended for approval-- but it was denied by the committee via a unanimous 20-0 vote.  This is one that might be appealed to the state Charter School Commission, and depending on their ruling could set up a constitutional “home rule” standoff;  The Board should have the final say as to what charter schools are allowed to operate within its jurisdiction—not a Tallahassee committee.  That is my opinion.
The two NewPoint Schools were recommended for approval unanimously by the committee, and I anticipate they will be approved by the board.  The NewPoint concept is successfully operating in Bay County and the emphasis on providing level 1 and 2 students the opportunity for hands on learning and career academy training will complement Escambia County’s existing career/technical offerings.

Race To The Top Part I


The Escambia County School district has received complete approval of its plan for implementation of the Race to the Top grant. The Race to the Top award from the Federal Government equates to $700 Million for Florida Schools. Of the $700million, $350 Million will go to the state Department of Education, and $350 Million will be disbursed to Florida’s participating school districts.
Escambia County will be receiving just over $2 million yearly for four years as our share of this award.

The deadline for submission of the district’s plan to Tallahassee was November 9th, and the plan was sent in on time. The Florida DOE reviewed all district’s plans and listed the accepted plans on its website.

Knowing the deadline was looming, I asked several questions about the specifics of our district’s RTTT plan at the November school board workshop. I wanted to know if the school board would have a shot at reviewing the plan and/or the chance to vote up or down on the plan. I knew the deadline was early November. I was told at the workshop that I would receive an electronic copy of the district’s submission and also the financial spreadsheet on the plan.

I have received both the budget spreadsheet and the final scope of work. At the board workshop next week, I'm told that a presentation on our RTTT final scope of work will be given.

The board voted in May to submit an MOU stating that the district would participate in RTTT.  The board unanimously voted to approve that MOU.  Since that time, the board has not been afforded an opportunity to participate in the development of the district's submission.  In early October, an initial draft scope of work was required by the state for all participating districts.  In my opinion, this would have been an ideal time to present the working plan to the board to capture our input, but that did not occur.

I am STRONGLY in support of RTTT, and I'm glad our state and district are participating.  For the most part, I am in complete agreement with what I've seen and been told thus far about our plan.  And I have spoken to many individuals about this issue statewide.  The majority of Florida boards that I have researched thus far held meetings to vote on their submissions prior to the Nov. 9 deadline.  Escambia County should have done this as well but did not.  Ideally, either the short October Discussion workshop, which adjourned at 4:40PM, or the equally short October regular workshop, which adjourned at 10:44, would have been perfect meetings for discussion of Escambia's RTTT submission.  Did not happen.


My biggest issue in this matter is that the board was taken for granted and something was submitted on our behalf without our opportunity to give feedback.  I understand that the timeline was extremely compressed--I get that.  But the fact of the matter is that this grant is extremely high-profile, and  board members have expressed interest in being a part of the process to develop our district's plan.  That desire was set aside, and  something important was submitted prior to a full board vote;  Our opportunity as a governing body to comment and review the submission was forclosed upon by proxy when the final scope of work was submitted prior to presentation to the board. That is not the way we as a board should be treated if we are truly part of the district's leadership team.