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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Teacher of the Year: Jana Pavlus

About 600 teachers, administrators, parents and others gathered last night to celebrate our area's top teachers.  The winner of the teacher of the year was Woodham Middle School Science teacher Jana Pavlus.
Congratulations to her and to all of the hard-working teachers in all of our schools!  Thank you for what you do day-in, day-out for our children!

Mythology from the Meeting

So in the aftermath of the middle school town hall meeting held last Tuesday at Warrington Middle School (the one where only 12 parents bothered to show up-- to a school where we have 650 students)-I’ve given significant thought to some of the things that were stated publicly at that gathering;  I’ve come to the conclusion that much of it was absolute fiction. (I really would prefer to use different and much more hard-hitting nouns over the Pollyannaish “fiction” or “Myth”, but I won’t…..this post will be rated "G")

Myth #1-More parents were not present because they were “at work”.

Reality-some parents may well have been at work, some may have been at second jobs. But how many? What percentage? Other inner-city schools with similar demographics routinely draw a significantly larger crowd. Schools where most parents do work have well attended afternoon-evening meetings. I believe the majority of Warrington Middle School parents, at 5:30 in the afternoon, could have been there if they felt it was important. WMS is a school that has 100% universal free breakfast and lunch, so a large majority of the parents are in extreme poverty, and a majority of these parents are on some form (or multiple forms) of Government Assistance (WIC, SSDI, AFDC, TANF, Medicaid, subsidized housing, etc. etc. etc.)—meaning while they may very well be poor monetarily, more than likely many of them have time. Time may
very well be today’s most precious commodity. Today’s “Poor” in many instances are “rich” in time. Time that could be utilized helping kids do school work. Time that could be used modeling good social habits and

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Warrington Middle School Town Hall: Parents a No-Show

Tonight a town-hall meeting was held at Warrington Middle School to address issues at the school with respect to student achievement.  Although the school has a student population of around 650---Only 12 parents (12) bothered to show up for tonight's meeting.  We heard a variety of opinions about why the vast majority of the parents were a no-show, including a lack of transportation.  We also heard that "some" were at work at their second jobs.  I wonder how many parents from Warrington are actually "at-home" parents, who do not work?  Wonder why they blew-off this meeting??  For those parents that were there--KUDOS to you!! For all the rest who were not at work or predisposed with something major----congratulations, you are a huge part of the problem at Warrington.  I cannot imagine ANYONE blaming administrators, staff, school board members, or anyone else for that matter--if these same blamers could not be bothered enough to attend this meeting tonight.  At this meeting, any parent that felt that things are not right could have voiced this opinion for all the district to see--including every member of the school board--as all five of us were there.  But these folks were a huge no-show! For the large contingent of teacher/staff from Warrington that stayed for the meeting--KUDOS to you.  You (teachers) did not deserve the cheap shot the local paper took at you in last Sunday's edition, and you certainly do not deserve to be beat up for an issue that, at Warrington MS in particular, is entirely a PARENT/COMMUNITY problem!

Al;though the tenor of the meeting was positive overall--I certainly wish PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY could have been discussed and highlighted;  A lack of prioritizing PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY and GOOD CHOICES IN LIFE is what has led to the HUGE issues at Warrington MS, not a "lack of programs or resources....."

“We Need More Programs and Resources!” Warrington Middle School Part II-Staff Dollars

“We need more programs and resources!”--this is one of the big things I have heard from some in the community --and read in the press-- about why a school is or is not successful.  Programs and resources do not a successful school make, though! Families, parents, and students working together with the teachers make great schools!

Other area schools could have benefited greatly from additional monies for staff incentive pay and additional personnel-however many of these other schools do not get these resources.  We have spared NO EXPENSE at Warrington in this area, though. Warrington Middle School has benefited in tremendous fashion over the last few years with respect to staffing and performance pay; over the last 5 years, the district has spent, over and above the traditional allocation for Warrington Middle School, more than $2Million dollars on staff bonuses, extra personnel, extra administrators, behavior coaches, etc. etc. etc. A large portion of the money has come through School Improvement Grants, with annual total SIG expenditures at Warrington clocking in at $642,000 over the last few years. See the documents here and here.

“We Need More Programs and Resources!”: Warrington Middle School Part I-Facilities

“We need more programs and resources!”This is one of the things I have heard from some in the community ---and have read a lot about in the press--- about why a school is or is not successful.  Programs and resources do not a successful school make, though. Families, parents, and students working together with the teachers make great schools! While one middle school across town has no Gymnasium and no paved track for athletics, in addition to other significant facility deficiencies, We have spared NO EXPENSE on facilities at Warrington. The School Board has expended nearly 6.5 $Million at Warrington Middle School on significant renovations and additions over the last 5 years, including the following:

Aug. 07 - Aug. 08 - Warrington MS Renovate and Expand School Cafeteria, Additions and Renovations to the School Campus, and Elevator Installation - Bid Award Architect - $368,687.00 Contractor - $1,671,168.23 Project Total - $2,039,855.23

Aug. 07 - June 11 - Warrington MS Gymnasium - New Construction - Bid Award Architect - $162,308.00 Contractor - $2,205,901.00 Project Total - $2,368,209.00 2008 -

Track, Tennis, and Play Court Resurfacing - Various Schools - Bid Award Warrington MS - $6,785.00 

2009 - Security Access Control - Various Schools - Bid Award Warrington MS - $10,000.00

2011 - Safety Repairs - Various Schools - Bid Award Warrington MS - $38,000.00 

2011-12 - Weight Room Renovations - Capital Crew Warrington MS - $790.06

Current project not yet completed: Sept. 11 - Present - Warrington MS Technology Suite - New Construction, Elevator - New Construction, Admin/Core Facilities - Renovations & Addition, Canopies - Sitework, Intercom Upgrades, and Technology Upgrades - Bid Award Architect - $197,315.00 Contractor - $1,449,620.79 FF&E - $163,623.21 Computers - $43,654.08 Extras to include - Networking (VT & Dell), Carpet, Moving & Storage, etc. - $72,121.11 HVAC Controls Upgrades - $40,382.00 Total project to date - $1,966,716.19 

Total of all projects listed : $6,430,355.48 Additionally – $115,000 was spent to renovate and purchase equipment for the Warrington Flight Academy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

PNJ Warrington Middle Piece Ignores Big Issue

In the midst of its editorial today attacking teachers and school employees for shortcomings at Warrington MS, the editors conveniently left out the most important aspect of a school's success: Parents.  Instead, the PNJ ignores the tremendous efforts and monies expended by the district at Warrington, to include millions in facility, software, and personnel--all directed at the effort of improving that school.  Instead of calling Superintendent Thomas for his side, the PNJ simply says school staff have "failed"--and then PNJ asks Don Gaetz what he would do to fix Warrington.  Sorry, but Okaloosa is quite a bit different than Warrington; Okaloosa has ZERO schools with the demographic makeup of a Warrington.  May as well ask a successful landlord from Beverly Hills how he would fix a Truman Arms.  The situations are different and the solutions are complex and different as well.  I'd like to know what PNJ thinks would happen if we switched the faculty and staff between Warrington and Gulf Breeze middle schools, but kept the students at their respective schools?  Here's the answer PNJ-- there would be no distinguishable change in student performance at either school.  It's communities and parents, that's what makes a great school.  One cannot ignore the elephant in the room regarding the loss of fathers in some locations, extreme poverty, high crime, and social apathy.  It's a battle in some of these schools--keep on excoriating the teachers who are at Warrington trying their best, and soon we'll have no teachers willing to work in places like Warrington--regardless of pay.  Assign blame where it actually belongs, don't, as you put it, sugarcoat the realities at Warrington for the sake of political correctness--it's blatant, disgusting pandering and it is destructive.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

District Proposes Bold Plan to Address Facilities Needs

At the special discussion workshop of the Escambia County School Board held on Thursday, February 13th, a plan was unveiled to address some lingering facilities issues in our district.  The three year plan would relocate one middle school, relocate one high school, construct a new middle school and two new elementary schools throughout the county in the next three years.  The estimated $80Million in funding for this plan would come from proceeds generated by the voter approved, one-half cent sales tax -either bonded against over a thirteen year period-- or paid for outright as the stages of the plan are executed.

The high-points and key concepts from the presentation:

High School and Middle School:

Brown Barge Middle School would move to the more modern facility that currently houses West Florida High School of Advanced Technology.  Woodham Middle school would be re-purposed and renovated to become the new West Florida Technical High School. (solving a long running problem at WFHS with respect to their inadequate athletic facilities and fields, lack of tennis courts, fireld-house, soccer field scoreboard, etc.etc.) The students from the former Woodham MS would be re-zoned to a new, to be constructed, north-west side middle school facility.

Elementary Schools:

Two brand new elementary schools will be built.  1. will be built in southwest Escambia County, to alleviate chronic overcrowding at Helen Caro Elementary and Blue Angels Elementary (this item has been in the facilities plan for nearly a decade) and another elementary school will be built on the north-west side of the county to alleviate significant overcrowding at Beulah and Pine Meadow Elementary Schools.

At the workshop, board members were largely supportive of the plan as presented;  When asked if the district was "married" to every detail of the plan being executed precisely as outlined--or if they were open to adjustments, revisions, and/or suggestions--the answer was that the operations folks were open to suggestions concerning what was presented.

There was no media present at the workshop, and therefore no mention of this plan has been covered by the local press since this $80Million announcement was made Thursday--which is amazing and sad at the same time!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top 5 Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced!

Congratulations to the finalists for this year's title of Escambia County Teacher of the Year!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Can Our Education System Facilitate the Upcoming "New Industrial Revolution?"

The January 18th edition of the Economist contained a number of fascinating articles about automation and its effects on labor.  The really interesting thing--lost in the huge push for "income equality" that seems to be en vogue today-- is the fact that the situation for unskilled laborers will deteriorate rapidly over the next two decades. Placate the masses with a pay bump today that portends a bleak near-term future.  It is history repeating itself, as outlined perfectly in the two articles linked above.

Naive and ignorant politicians like to give speeches about how minimum wages need to be lifted, about how we need more "income equality" and "higher living wages"-- however this push to pay the unskilled more will only lead to higher unemployment for these unskilled in the near term, along with more automation to replace these same workers. Like Oscar Goldman famously proclaimed decades ago, "We can build it, we have the technology!"                          
So push for $12.00 cashiers at McDonald's and you will get an order taking ATM style machine like at the self checkout line at Wal-Mart--and there go the high school employees.  Push for a $12.00 per hour bank teller, and you will soon get a lobby full of attractive, attentive tellers that are all capable and pleasant....and also happen to be robots. Push for bus drivers that are paid $15.00 to start, and you will get "Google Busses" driven by robots.

The drive for more income equality will actually work to accelerate the achievement of the opposite condition, because in the short-term the benefits of automation go to the capitalists, the rich and upper middle-class skilled workers.  And people who clamor for "more income equality"  are glib, like a bunch of rustics....they don't even see this coming.

Burger flippers, ditch diggers, and many others will go the way of the dinosaur.  Gone.

It's coming.

What about teachers--will they be on the endangered list?  I think that will depend upon what teachers teach.

But how can the education system of today help?  What about the displaced workers? From the Economist:

"...One recent study by academics at Oxford University suggests that 47% of today's jobs could be automated in the next two decades..The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems...there should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.  Technology itself will help, whether through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or even video games that stimulate the skills needed for work"

One important thing that policymakers must do right away is to emphasize training in the career academies in disciplines that are least likely to be automated within the next two decades.  I think here in Escambia County we  are on the right track with this.  We have academies for Electricians, AC/Heating techs, Body and Fender work, and many other skilled trades that will be difficult to automate.

The chart on page 26 of the Economist article lists those occupations at greatest risk for being replaced:  telemarketers, accountants, retail salespersons, real estate agents, word processors and typists, and machinists.  Looks like robots will be doing many of these jobs, thanks to the push this technology is getting from politicians who are trying to socially engineer equal outcomes instead of equal opportunities.

And the winners will be?  Robots!  (hopefully the nice ones, not the sky-net, terminator variety)