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, February 18, 2012

Highlights--Board Open Discussion Meeting, 2-16-12

Budgets, Health Clinic Status, Tip Line, and the (non-social) promotion requirements to enter high school in our district

On Thursday, the board's open discussion workshop took place.  In that meeting, several interesting topics were discussed:

I brought up the idea of the establishment of a waste, fraud, and abuse tip line, to make the district more efficient and to help crack down on theft, misuse, and/or loss of district (TAXPAYER) resources.  The board members present as well as the superintendent seemed interested in pursuing this concept.  The internal auditing department had suggested such a tip-line be established in a management letter
 from June 2007 which I brought to the attention of the assembled group.

Next we discussed what I felt to be the value of a more formalized exit interview process than what we are currently doing, and this met with generally favorable responses from the board and staff present.  This was also something that the internal auditing department had previously suggested. 

My third item did not go over so well.  I suggested that we increase the rigor of the entrance requirements for 9th grade, as it seems at present the bar is set too low (look at pages 42-45 of this document).  Currently, a student can fail up to two core classes and still be advanced to the next grade in middle school, as long as that student "makes up" the failed class utilizing a district "course recovery" mechanisim, such as accelerated course work or virtual school, before the beginning of the 9th grade.  So, theoretically we can have 8th graders finishing middle school with low "D"s across the board, scoring level "1" (lowest out of 5 total possible) on the FCAT, and we are welcoming them into High School with open arms despite dismal showings in middle school. 

My concern is that we have the bar set so low, that many of these rising 9th graders are being set up for failure.  And we see the result of this as we continue to struggle with our "on time" high school graduation rate--a statistic which is now being used against us as a penalty on our overall district grade from the DOE.  I think we should do as many school districts across the nation are doing--we need to make sure kids are ready for high school before we promote these kids to high school.  I believe, at a minimum, FCAT scores should be factored into the middle school promotion decision (a current requirement under Florida law)

more prominently than they are currently, and level 2, at a minimum, should be the ticket forward  (particularly in Language Arts and Mathematics).  Additionally, I think a minimum of "C" averages in all English and Math middle school core classes should be the benchmark for promotion to High School.  I brought examples from Wake County, North Carolina and Alexandria,  Virginia public school districts.  In both of these example districts, better than simply passing grades were required and both of these districts require passing levels on their respective state's FCAT equivalent---to prove mastery of the content.  Why can't we do this, too?  Answer--we can and we should! 

While I was mentioning my ideas, what I heard from the assembled group, aside from gasps and loud sighs, was that some of these kids were already held back and they would be significantly over-age.  I also heard that this might compel some students to quit school.  I heard this would be damaging to the self esteem of these kids.  But I was quick to point out that these sorts of arguments sound pretty close to the rationalizations for  the FAILED practice of "social promotion"---  which I'm told "we do not do in this district!" 

I am going to pursue this as I feel it is important--we simply must ensure our students are ready for high school when we put them there, and the way to do that is to make the entrance requirements for High School more rigorous than they are now, period.

We also discussed Geometry end of course exams, we discussed the budget, and we also had a presentation on our district health clinic, which is now slated to open September 1st at the earliest instead of what had been earlier estimated as a 1st Qtr. 2012 Opening.

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