Listening to the financial and academic update today regarding AA Dixon was somewhat like witnessing the beginnings of a slow motion train wreck. When Mr. Fred Heid of the Florida DOE gave his less than stellar, less than optimistic assessment of Dixon’s progress, this was just the beginning of the agonizing presentation…
Mr. Heid voiced numerous concerns, but his chief issue stemmed from the lack of a mid-year assessment of the students. Because of numerous operational and administrative inefficiencies, Dixon failed to do the required mid-year benchmark assessments (or
provide the results in a format DOE could use). Because of this, Mr. Heid and his staff have no good data to compare to the beginning of this school year’s student test data to simulate projected FCAT achievement in order to address shortcomings and shore up identified deficiencies. And the clock is ticking down to the all important upcoming FCAT testing in April, the results of which will provide the foundation for Dixon's School letter grade for 2011-2012.
Additionally, the DOE report cited numerous instances where teachers at Dixon did not demonstrate that their lesson plans were in alignment with the next generation sunshine state standards (NGSSS)—meaning well intentioned lesson plans that are not imparting the essential skills that the NGSSS FCAT for 2012 will be testing for may have no beneficial effect on Dixon’s success this year. This stems from another area where Dixon has fallen short—staff development. One of the issues cited by DOE was that Dixon Administration failed to demonstrate that the teachers had received pertinent professional development to ensure classroom curriculum aligns with what will be tested. Concerns were raised in the presentation about a lack of technology resources for Dixon teachers as well.
Additionally, a lack of instructional Math and Reading coaches for the first half of the year has had a devastating negative impact. Dixon’s hiring of a reading coach in late December may be, in the words of Mr. Heid, “too little too late.” When I asked Dixon board Chairman LuTimothy May why the school did not have the coaches for the full year as was specified by DOE, his answer was “We should have, but we did not have the money”. He then alluded to the fact that he did not have title I money that the Escambia School district held from 2010-2011 school year. However, that money was repaid early in this current school year—so that as a defense falls woefully short…
The report from DOE presented to the School Board is sobering.(large file, 50 pages, takes a minute to download)
Their financial condition may be improving ever so slightly, but their financial statements and P&L statements remain sobering as well. They have a negative fund balance when payables are applied, and only $6,000.00 in the bank. (Mr. May alluded to the fact that currently, the $50,000 credit line has been repaid and the entire amount is available if necessary.) Additionally, it appears as though this charter school strung together several months of back to back, in the black operation. this is good. It also appears as though the school has reduced its long term debt from last year with the help of donations totaling nearly $24,000. When asked about the large amount of money owed to Durham transportation services, however,—the Dixon principal was evasive. “We are in the process of working with Durham to settle that account” She stated. when pressed by Mr. Boone to define what that meant, no further clarification was given.
Moving the discussion back to curriculum, I asked Mr. Heid to predict, based upon his experience and his intimate knowledge of Dixon’s progress this year, what their school grade might look like for this school year; he essentially said it would be difficult for him to see a scenario where the school would make any significant progress and he felt as though in some areas there may actually be regression in student achievement. This, coupled with higher DOE grading standards for this school year, points to the reality that AA Dixon may very well repeat as an “F” School again for this school year. Devastating to these kids. Mr. Heid was quick to point out that some of our district elementary schools have faced the identical social and demographic issues as Dixon, yet these district run schools (Montclair, Oakcrest, Weis) have been able to turn around from grades as low as an “F”--and in some instances sustain tremendous letter grade gains. These district run schools that have gone through the intervene process and emerged have typically followed all guidance from DOE--unlike AA Dixon which has in many instances failed to comply and has not done what DOE has specified.
I was optimistic at the beginning of the presentation because the financial data given the board this month was much better and much more complete than the “one-pager” brought to the meeting last month. And I thanked AA Dixon reps for the thorough report. But just as I started to ask questions about the report, Mrs. Colbert and Mr. May both said they did not feel qualified to answer any questions about the financial documents. And the bad news was, their accountant did not come to the meeting, so nobody was there who had the knowledge to answer my numerous questions about the financial documents. When Mr. Terry St. Cyr, our district’s Finance chief, was asked about the financials, he expressed significant frustration and said he could not decipher or make heads or tails of the document.
I asked Mrs. Colbert and Mr. May why the accountant was not present, and I expressed to them the fact that the board had requested, specifically and on multiple occasions including just last month, that essential AA Dixon personnel be present at all of these status meetings so that our questions could be answered. I got shoulder shrugs and no response as to why the accountant was not present, but I made it a point to specifically request that they bring their accountant to the next meeting.
The stonewalling continues from this charter and it is quite disappointing……Meanwhile, the students at this charter school are not receiving the instruction they need to be successful on the next round of testing--and this is nobody's fault except for those that run this school. This is not the kids' fault, not the parents' fault, not the district's fault, or even the teachers at Dixon that are trying to do their best. This is, unfortunately, ineptitude that is shortchanging kids and this is the worst part of this whole mess!