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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Commissioner Robinson Resigns

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson visits Pensacola, 2011

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson resigned today, effective August 31st.

Tampa Bay Times has a good story on the resignation, along with the letter submitted by Robinson to Governor Scott.

When Robinson came to Pensacola last fall to tour Warrington Middle School and meet with District Board Members and Staff, I was encouraged by his positive attitude and passion for education.  At that time, I still wondered why Eric Smith had been pushed out.

But we had a new Commissioner in town.

But then one problem after another happened with the FCAT scoring.

Scores were adjusted up and down like a yo-yo.  Goal posts were moved after the kick.

 Expectations were not clearly articulated to schools in advance of the changing test.

Problems multiplied, and many lost faith in the DOE;  Many see the DOE as extremely dysfunctional, more so now than ever before.

After fumbling to explain problems with testing and scoring,  Robinson next  unfairly and inaccurately blamed local districts for the plethora of tests foisted on students yearly--which simply was not true.  Shifting blame unfairly is weak;  When you run the DOE and mandate all the testing, own up to it!

Then Robinson attacked the Florida School Boards Association for sponsoring a petition expressing concerns over the number of high stakes tests students had to take yearly.

With all of the problems in the DOE over the last year, many were perplexed and surprised that this commissioner was still in place headed into the new school year.  My sense is that if it were anyone else, they would have been gone long before now.

It will be interesting to see who is next in this slot.....Given this latest round of problems, I almost feel sorry for the next person picked for this job.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is it Time to go “ALL IN” for the Nanny-State Model at Certain Schools?

Like the protagonist in the X-files, Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

 I want to believe that an extra hour of intensive reading at  selected, high poverty schools is what it takes to get these schools back on track academically.  I want to believe, so I voted for the expenditure of $2.4 Million dollars for a handful of Escambia County elementary schools to provide an extra hour of reading instruction each school day next year.

A part of me has grave reservations about whether or not this will work.  We’ve tried lots of different strategies at schools like these, and we’ve been unable to sustain consistently acceptable academic achievement long term.  We’re told it’s the high poverty—but that’s not really the root cause; everybody knows this but nobody says so.  It’s all about Parents.
More seat time, new facilities, computers, smart boards--still we have several very low scoring schools. 
Tutors, mentors, excellent leadership, great teachers, committed community partners—and still we’ve got low scoring schools.
What we need are committed families working with us!  But this isn’t occurring in many schools…
So if this latest $2.4 Million effort fails-we need to have the

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tentative Millage Rates for 2012-2013 for Escambia County School district are Going Down

This backup is being provided to School Board Members ahead of the Monday Morning Budget meeting.  The total proposed millage rate is less than last year's rate--which is a good thing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Budget and Millage Rate Picture Improving for 2013

After what can be best described as an austere outlook  (particularly on the maintenance side of the ledger) was presented to the School board last Tuesday-today's news was quite welcome.  The budget outlook, while still not great, is improving.  The below email was sent to board members yesterday afternoon:

"Based on certified tax roll and millage rates of the 2nd FEFP calculation:

The district is in position to levy the full 1.5 mills for capital outlay without advertising a "Notice of Tax Increase" as total mills will not exceed current year rolled-back rate.  In addition, total mills will be less than total mills of 2011-12 (including full 1.5 CO millage).

The amount of 1.5 mill capital outlay to be raised at 96% will exceed the amount proposed at the budget workshop by $2.8M.  Budget details will be revised for Monday to approve for advertisement."

Terry St. Cyr
Assistant Superintendent
Finance and Business Services
Escambia County School District
75 North Pace Boulevard
Pensacola, FL  32505

In addition to this email, a copy of the entire 2nd calculation was sent to board members today.  The document can be accessed here

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Excellent Ruling in an Arbitration Case

Members of the School Board received the below email this afternoon referencing a big victory in a costly battle against the teachers union.  Our attorney in this matter, Mr. Leonard Dietzen, of Rumberger, Kirk, and Caldwell in Tallahassee, did an outstanding job in representing the district and having the termination of a teacher upheld.

At issue was the termination of a teacher for inappropriately contacting a 14 year old student on multiple occasions via text message. Some of the text messages were extremely inappropriate, to put it mildly.

This employee was terminated 18 months ago.  I asked if I could release the ruling and our Board Attorney said it was a public record and was okay for release.

This ruling is thirty five pages, and I must caution that some of the information is difficult to hear and disturbing--particularly if you have children in our schools.  

I find it amazing that the local teacher's union would take this case and defend it so vigorously--it is an example of this union putting their own interests and their contract and collective bargaining agreement ahead of students and student safety--- It really is that simple.   And it upsets me greatly.  In addition to putting their association and members ahead of the student in this instance--because the union dragged this out it will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees.  Disturbing on multiple levels.  

I'm glad the union lost this case and will be eating the associated legal costs for the defense of this former employee.

They knew what this guy did, they read the text messages-- they should have passed on defending this one.....

From:Donna WatersTuesday - July 17, 2012 1:18 PM
To:Goshorn, Sharon; School Board Members; West, Linda;
CC:Dietzen, Leonard; Scott, Alan; Thomas, Malcolm
Subject:Excellent Ruling in an Arbitration Case
Attachments:aydelott.ruling.pdf (1906 KB)[Open] [Save As]

Good Afternoon:
We just received a ruling in the William Aydelott arbitration matter. Mr. Dietzen represented the District in this matter; he should be congratulated for getting an excellent result, upholding the teacher's termination. I have forwarded the ruling to the members of the FSBAA, and I anticipate that it will be quoted in similar cases statewide.
I am attaching the ruling for your information. 

Donna Sessions Waters
General Counsel
Escambia County School Board
75 North Pace Boulevard
Pensacola, Florida 32505

Hiring the Best, Most Qualified Candidates Regardless of Race is the Right Thing to Do, Part II

Recently the Escambia County School District has come under fire for not hiring enough administrative, professional, and instructional employees that are ethnic minorities.  Specifically, we’re being taken to task because the percentage of black employees does not mirror the percentage of blacks in our community and in our schools.
District administration wrings their hands and shrugs their shoulders at meetings-- and laments the fact that we don’t have more black employees.
I look at the situation differently, though.  If the goal is not to check boxes and meet quotas, but rather to hire the BEST candidates for students and taxpayers-then why does it matter if the percentage of certain employees does not match the percentage of certain students?  What difference does that make?
Pseudo-scientific anecdotes are being tossed around as facts in this district and are driving a push to hire more blacks to teach blacks—as this is somehow purported to improve performance of black students. 
But this whole idea seems quite backwards and I have multiple issues with this. 
Where are the studies that show that same-race students do better with same-race teachers?  The recent study I read from the University of Houston flatly contradicts this theory. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Constituent Email of Frustration, Concern....

Received the below email recently from a constituent--not specifically addressed to me, so it was probably a blast to many recipients.  I thought it merited inclusion.  I totally know and can sense the frustration through this email.  I've XXXXX'd out identifiers in the email........

To whom it may concern:

If the Florida Education leaders are telling parents not to rely on FCAT, then WHY are some schools being punished with an extra hour?  “Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said changes to the testing program resulted in some lower scores, but said the results shouldn't be interpreted as lower performances by students, teachers and schools. “  Rick Scott also has acknowledged FCAT is not doing what it is supposed to do any longer.  Then why waste the money on some schools going extra hours?
Do you really believe that extending school hours is going to help 5 schools make progress?    Have you read research studies?  Do you realize WHERE these schools are?  No amount of extra teaching is going to affect these children until their PARENTS get involved.  Faculty can’t make them care or get involved.  Those students come to school behind-they have no life experiences.  Most don’t care, they are simply trying to survive parents involved in drugs, murder, alcohol, abuse, jail,  etc.
Will these teachers get an extra break, no lunch duties, extra planning, and extra pay, earn extra time off?  I highly doubt you’ve thought of other

Friday, July 13, 2012

Huge loss In Teacher Bonuses is a Part of the Untold Story

At least $958,093.00 will not be coming to 22 Escambia County Schools for School Recognition Bonuses this year.   This is a continuing part of the fallout from the new, lowered FCAT grades our district received this year.   
The huge loss in performance bonus money is not being discussed at meetings of the board, and is also being overlooked by the media, for unknown reasons. 
But a $Million dollars is a lot of money that would have been distributed later this year, around Christmas time.  Most likely a good portion of this bonus money would have been re-spent in the community--meaning the benefits would have branched out beyond just the employees.  
Looking at a list of Escambia County Schools and the amount of cash bonus money each of these 22 schools received last year—that total was $958,093.00.  This list can be found on page 14 of

Compare this list to the recent list of schools (below) whose letter grades have dropped, and the 22 schools not maintaining their A letter grade or improving a letter grade become apparent.

Bailey Middle School has been an “A” school for nearly a decade running—and last year Bailey received over $100,000 for staff bonuses.  This year, nothing.  Ransom Middle School—another perennial “A” School, received $92,000 last year, but this year will get $0 for teacher bonuses.
This is a devastating blow to the hard working staffs of these schools; hopefully they can all bounce back next year and reclaim the lottery funded recognition money to fund more teacher bonuses!
The only bright spot—several schools did manage to maintain their “A” letter grades through this tough testing year, meaning they will still get their bonuses this year again.  Kudos to these schools! (Hellen Caro, N.B. Cook, Cordova Park, Pine Meadow, Suter, Brown Barge Middle School, R.C. Lipscomb, Blue Angels, Byrneville, and Pensacola Beach) 
For more information on the lottery funded school recognition awards program, look here.

Is Poverty Really the Reason for Poor Performance?

“Poverty is not an excuse” she stated loudly.
“It absolutely is not, it is an artificial barrier to achievement”
 These words came from District 3 Board member Linda Moultrie at yesterday’s school board workshop. 
And I wholeheartedly agree.  I grew up poor, really poor, for most of my life as a kid.  I know tremendously successful people that were poor their whole lives as kids.  Lots of people (and the number is growing) are poor and lots of kids are poor.  Poverty is everywhere—but does it excuse a family’s weak or non-existent parenting?
We, in the school district, are constantly told that poverty is the key reason why some communities and schools fail to achieve when other communities and schools consistently do well and flourish.  It is a safe answer, a safe explanation.  It, for political correctness’ sake, is apparently palatable to paint with a broad brush and say these lackluster performance issues are due to “poverty”.
But is that really the reason?
At yesterday’s meeting I wanted more information.   We are being asked to spend $2.4 Million in taxpayer dollars at 5-8 underperforming elementary schools to provide an extra hour of reading each day.  We are being asked to spend $700K at Warrington Middle School to support the next

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Escambia County School Grades for 2011-2012 Released

The Grades are in, and more than 20 Escambia County Schools have had their grades lowered. 

A.A. Dixon repeats as an "F" School for the second year running.  Newpoint earns an "F" as does Lincoln Park Elementary.

Disappointing scores for many schools today and  on this list.  Many long-term "A" rated schools dropping to "B"s, meaning staff lottery funded bonuses will not happen this year for hundreds of Escambia County teachers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

So Who is Really Driving the High Stakes Testing in Escambia County and Statewide?

Gerard Robinson at Warrington Middle School, 2011

It isn’t the State, if you take it from Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson.  Nope.  It is the individual districts that are piling on all of the testing—not the state!

From his blog:

Florida statutes require students take the FCAT in grades 3-10. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than one percent of the instructional time provided during the year.  It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state.”
Well, the problem with the above statement is that it simply isn’t true, and I find it incredible

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Senator Bill Nelson Coming to Town Again.....AKA Let the RESTORE Act Victory Dance Begin

In April, Senator Bill Nelson came to PSC to address a group of local leaders and elected officials.  It was billed as a question and answer session with the Senator.

I showed up and the small conference room held roughly three dozen citizens.  Right away, the forum turned into a one-way lobbying session for the passage of the RESTORE act--and the demonization of those Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate that were opposed.

After a lengthy dissertation from the Senator about how good RESTORE would be, his handlers opened up the floor for questions.  The Senator took a total of five (5) questions and then his staff called the meeting.

Several participants seemed peeved about not getting an opportunity to ask questions of the Senator.  My sense was it (the meeting) was just an effort to lobby for the act and get some good press during this campaign year.  Nothing wrong with this, but I wanted a better answer to my question about the dangerous level of student loan defaults in our country--and what I got was a weak, canned response that was so generic and bland it could have been labeled "Great Value" like a Wal-Mart house product.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hiring the Best, Most Qualified Candidates Regardless of Race is the Right Thing to Do, Part I

Recently the Escambia County School District has come under fire for not hiring enough administrative, professional, and instructional employees that are ethnic minorities.  I have seen this manifest itself as our district, for two years running, not having ANY Hispanic administrators---none, nada.  For two years running I have asked the EEOC director about this apparently severe underrepresentation—I mean Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic minority in our nation and they comprise roughly 5% of our student population—yet we have [ZERO] “0” administrators of Hispanic origin.  If a conversation were to be had about underrepresentation, I think a valid first priority would/should be to find a way to recruit and hire more Hispanic employees.  My questions about these disparities apparently fall on deaf ears as the situation does not change.    And the local press ignores this relevant issue.  
Asians represent a substantial part of our students on the west side—and yet we continue to have very few employees of Asian descent.  This situation goes along un-challenged and ignored.  Nobody wants to talk about Asian employees or Asian student achievement—just subjects not to be discussed, I suppose.  Nope-- Instead, we are taken to task by the weekly tabloid on our low numbers of African-American employees specifically.   In what seems to be a never-ending barrage of accusations and sinister allegations from one minor local weekly publication in particular,