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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

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




 behaviors. Time that could have been spent coming to the school town-hall to help us find solutions--- if these same parents thought it was important enough. They didn’t, they blew it off instead.

Myth #2-More parents were not present because they had “no transportation”

Reality-Many parents live within walking distance of the school. The weather was pleasant, no rain, temperatures in the low 60s-many could have walked. Students walk up and down Old-Corry field road daily, back and forth. There is a sidewalk. Where were the parents? Also, bus transportation is/was available via ECAT. Third, many of the parents DO have cars and could have come-if they cared. If they didn’t /don’t own a car, they know someone that does and could have arranged a ride. If it was “free-food night” or if a famous athlete or musician was the featured speaker-they would have found a way there; transportation is not the issue, was not the issue.

Myth #3-The system is broken, “we need more programs and resources!”

Reality-we've dumped more than $8Million Dollars in facilities, extra personnel, behavior coaches, community outreach personnel, computers, software, and other improvements into WMS in the last 5 years----over and above the expenditures a typical middle school of Warrington’s size would get. We've invested so much at Warrington, money that could have been spent elsewhere, at places it would have been appreciated. Read more about the specifics of these investments here and here.

Myth #4-Parents “did not know” there was going to be a meeting

Reality-Fiction, absolute fiction. Mrs. Rush, principal at Warrington, sent home information. The meeting was announced in the PNJ on the Sunday prior, it was discussed on WEAR channel three on numerous occasions before the date, and the meeting was promoted by County Commissioner Gene Valentino. People knew. If these folks cared, they would have come. They didn't, they blew it off.

Myth # 5 –a fiction propagated by the PNJ after the meeting “about 100 community members attended” Fact-That disingenuous quote from the Wednesday PNJ article about the WMS Town-hall meeting did not disclose that of the 100 or so people there, only a handful (12, to be exact because I was there and counted them) were parents. The article intentionally left the actual number of parents in attendance out of the article, to convey via omission the notion that 100 parents were there---which still would have been an anemic turnout considering the magnitude of the problem and the number of students attending WMS.

Myth #6-The school system and the justice system are broken and do not provide opportunities for these youth. And when these youth commit crimes, they are pinned with “Felonies” that limit their life trajectory, and people won’t hire them, and that is the problem!

Reality-And where to start on this one….the system may be dysfunctional, however the system affords youth that make mistakes opportunities for redemption. Look no further than the recent FELONIES committed by youth at Molino Park Elementary School. Nearly $70K in damage, robbery, theft and destruction of property. The system allowed the two “of-age” perpetrators to serve just one year in jail and a number of years’ probation after one year of incarceration. The Felony is erased as long as these individuals do not re-offend. If they re-offend again and the judge throws them in jail for a longer period, will this be called a system failure? The judge in this case could have sent them away and not afforded them grace, but even though the judge in this case will face stiff criticism for what will be considered a lenient sentence by some, he and the system showed these offenders mercy. In the past this same judge has tried to give breaks to youthful offenders that have shown potential to be productive citizens and his name and reputation has been slung through the mud by a media that is destructive, irresponsible and does not bother to look at facts. Was this judge part of a broken system? Or was he trying to help, and did he pay a steep price for trying to help? This happens every day, every day kids get second, third, fourth, fifth and more chances. We are a country with a heart; we are a school system with a heart. We let some kids get 39 referrals before we kick them out. Is that a system that fails the kid with 39 referrals, or did that kid fail himself, his family, and the system? We want to help kids be successful, we want to help kids succeed, but we have to draw the line and yes, we have to kick kids out when they are behavior nightmares. It should never get to 39 referrals….. If people are not challenged when they do not speak about realities, then their myths become realities that are believed to be the truth by many. The truth is the truth and the truth will set you free. The truth of the matter is we have a society that is devolving in many communities, and there are no fathers present in a majority of these homes to hold these families together. There is no emphasis on God and religion, and everyone is out to assign blame rather than help find solutions. People are gaming the system for every entitlement they can get, and work is becoming disincentivized in the process. Meanwhile, news media and other rubes will not tell it like it is, and the by-product of this dysfunction becomes apathetic parents, schools that under-perform, youth that have no moral compass in some cases, high crime, substance abuse, and eventually these youth end up in the criminal justice system, where even still they are afforded opportunities for redemption. All of this becomes meaningless to those who want to speak in riddles and rhymes and deal in matters of fiction and mythology rather than keeping it real and getting to the root of the problem; it’s easier to blame rather than do. It’s simply easier, but it is feeding and enabling the problem. Everyone needs to speak the truth, get in the game with those of us who do, and try to make the system work better for kids. Solutions--- no more mythology and fiction, please.

9 comments:

Lorraine said...

Was the money truly spent effectively? Or is Mrs. Rush too easy on the students? Is there really effective, evidence-based policy that puts structure to the school? What are the credentials of the behavior coaches? Has there been a strategy and certain outcomes measured for progress? Inweekly gives a different report that seems to cast doubt on the use of the money...
http://inweekly.net/wordpress/?tag=escambia-county-public-school-district

Besides all of that...what would probably help those troubled students the best, in order to get them in line, is to have a military-style PE and some drill sergeants at the school. This may be a very outlandish and nonconventional idea, but I've set students in line at Woodham because I projected a calm and controlled sense of power. I deepen my voice. I walk slowly. I look them in the eye. If they try me, I walk past their desk. They asked me if I was in the military and even called me a "military gangsta drill sergeant." This takes a lot of energy out of me, and I'm not always able to consistently perform to the caliber of drill sergeant, but it WORKS!

I am very afraid to sub at Warrington due to stories I've heard, but I'm sure hiring some grown men who know how to handle it will put fear into them and cultivate discipline and respect. Really, as outlandish as the idea may be, I'd highly suggest the idea!!!

Lorraine said...

I even think as students get to school a military-style procedure should ensue, like the video here shows.

This may very well work to get the students the discipline they need...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na8OKE1D2z8

Jeff Bergosh said...

Lorraine,

Thanks for the input and comments. I know our policies and procedures are not always the prescription for a school's success. But I will stand by this, if a student and his family are committed to recieving a quality education at any of our schools, to include warrington middle-whether or not a teacher did everything perfectly, or if a behavior or instructional coach was flawless, or if the principal was perfect. These are all important, but these things can be overcome even if they are flawed---if the students and parents are doing their part. I had to endure some horrific teachers at a couple of the 17 schools I attended (particularly in South Carolina) K-12---but the one constant I had was my family. Unfortunately for a lot of our students these days, they have no family to rely on, no support structure at all. This is the missing leg of the stool--not imprecise deployment of instructional padogogy, or technology resources, or coaching. Kids can overcome that. They have a much more difficult time overcoming apathy at home--which I think is the driver of the lion's share of the problems in many communities of the inner city today. And I agree that drill sergeants would do wonders!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was thinking about this more, and wanted to clarify a few things.

It's not necessarily more money that is needed. Just pouring money into a system without knowing how to use it is senseless.

My point about the money was to make sure it's being spent wisely on evidence-based programs, policies, and procedures. Apparently, for example, Mrs. Rush needs either 1) to be fired, or 2) training on how to discipline kids properly since she is too easy on them. She may have been able to coddle elementary students, but middle school students are at different stage of development. You don't coddle a 12, 13, or 14 year old who is going through a rebellious stage. You give them appropriate consequences that modify their behavior.


In the end, it seems the school's problem is discipline. If I were the principal, I'd hire effective boot camp PE teachers, and focus on faculty and staff training for effective discipline techniques.

Just giving a kid suspension or throwing him in jail isn't going to work and doesn't teach them. There are proven discipline methods out there; they just need to be implemented.

It may be too late to change the minds of apathetic parents; they are lost in their ignorance, unfortunately. But we can change the next generation. I know, I am a little idealistic, but I believe it is possible with the resources we have!

My motto is balance discipline with love. That's what WMS needs the most!

I hope my novel has been useful to improve the District's end of the deal ( :-) )...I'd love to see WMS excel too.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Lorraine,

Where do I start? First off-I appreciate your perspective as a teacher. You know, as I do, that education is full of real struggles that can consume the participants, and that is before we even start looking at schools that are struggling. I wonder if you have seen this article by Chester Finn-it is really an eye-opener. http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/education%E2%80%99s-endless-erroneous-either-ors

So just on pure subjects like what are the best educational practices, what is important, intelligent people disagree. But here is where you and I might disagree when the subject is a school like Warrington. You see, back in 2009 when the turnaround at Warrington began, we implemented every strategy you mention, and then some. That school has been under a state and local microscope for a hal-decade now. People are watching the spending, programs, and outcomes. Warrington has been a giant priority of the superintendent and the district. The dichotomy you list that really strikes a nerve with me is that discipline is a huge issue, yet we are chastised and excoriated by special interest groups when we punish too many students of a certain ethnicity; The effect of this, which nobody will admit to, is that certain students get lots of latitude before they are harshly disciplined-this keeps the special interest, social justice organizations content, but does lead to classes that have to deal with more frequent interruptions and discipline issues--then less learning happens. It becomes a vicious cycle. That's number 1. Number two, as I said, we've been where you think we need to go, been there since 2009 at Warrington. What we have found is the teachers that go eventually transfer out--it is a challenge to keep continuity at schools such as Warrington--even after providing cash bonuses. To the teachers who are there and are sticking it out, we owe them a huge debt of gratitude-they are really great people by and large, just trying to help kids learn. (Many of them came and stayed for the whole town hall recently, which was impressive!) We have had behavior coaches, strong male figures there, and still the results are the results. It is hard work, and the hard work continues. But Lorraine, all the low hanging fruit has been picked, the easy, knee-jerk answers have been given already. It is a challenging demographic, and without getting the parents involved much of what you propose will meet with the same results we have seen already. Do you understand this? And I do get quite strident when people like the PNJ want to show up and blame teachers and administrators--that is not the root cause of the troubles at Warrington-and if we stand idly by and let people that are trying to help get beat up by a media that is glib--we won't be able to field qualified people to teach at the Warringtons of the country. I hope you understand that, Lorraine? When you beat up a Sandra Rush who is there trying, it is a lot like blaming the chopper pilots for not doing enough to rescue the flood victims stranded on rooftops--when some of the flood victims were SHOOTING BULLETS AT THE CHOPPERS TRYING TO RESCUE THEM!! It's like blaming the firefighters for not putting out the fire when they could not safely reach to fire site until they had police escorts due to many firefighters GETTING MUGGED BY THE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS THEY WERE FIGHTING FIRES IN!! The solution must come from within the community, and you can' just point fingers at those that are working their guts out trying to help.

Jeff Bergosh said...

(Part II-continued from above)

The answer must come from within the community Lorraine-I hope you believe this. The pastors and the reverends must start speaking out. the 75% of homes where children are born without a dad--that needs to be discussed and DISCOURAGED. Entitlements must be reformed to emphasize and demand work be done and to actively disincentivize staying at home and having babies to garner Government Assistance Checks. The system has been broken since 1965 and LBJ's great society and gets continually worse as society becomes more open to drug use, de-stigmatizes entitlement accumulation and collection as an art form, embraces celebrity while scorning
God, religion, and work--it's like a perfect storm. It will take decades to get it right sided again at some places, but it all starts with keeping the conversation real and frank. We need to be dynamic, not static, and we need to be bold and brash in pointing out the problems-political correctness will not get the job done anymore, it is time for tough love! Do you understand this, Lorraine? I hope so.

Lorraine said...

(Sorry about the typos above!)

There is a lot going on here. I do find it hard to believe that after 8 million dollars worth of investment in one school, *no* progress has been made.

The reason for my skepticism is because I see programs on websites, like the American Psychological Association, that have been successful, yet WMS has not had many positive results. These are programs that deal with the demographic in question; and again, they have been successful. That's the only reason why I question the effectiveness of the programs the District implemented.

After 8 million dollars of investment, the problem is a lack of fathers in the home? The problem is merely parent apathy? I think a lack of stability, support, and love in a home is a factor, but I am hesitant to say that's the sole problem (not necessarily single parent homes! Many people from single parent homes are successful! It doesn't matter as much about the composition of home, but the stability, support, and love.) .

I am not really sure if the analogy with Mrs. Rush holds. As sweet as she seems, that seems to be her problem. Do you really think you should sit a child on your lap after they've been disrespectful? Yes, they probably need love, but not too reinforce bad behavior! Even some of the faculty and staff disagree with Mrs. Rush's leadership.

Finally, to comment on the "special interests groups." I think I know what you are referring to. Those groups are concerned with arrests of non-violent behavior and ineffective disciplinary procedures of students with behavioral problems; it is fairly well-documented this occurs in ESCD. To my knowledge, they agree *violent behavior* warrants an arrest. The way you mentioned those special interest groups tells me the you misunderstand what exactly they are advocating for...

Boot Camp, I am telling ya! That may be the answer. You don't seem to be taking that suggestion seriously! I beg the school board to try it!

I really appreciate you taking the time to share with me more information. I am just an ordinary citizen, but care for these troubled children...but I am not going to sub there -- I am not going in alone, man!

Take care, Mr. Bergosh!

Gulagathon said...

I just ran across this article/post. Man, you're talking the truth here. I'm not sure how it is now, but I spent a lot of time working at warrington and similar schools and all i ever heard at warrington was mythology and fantasy, I couldn't bare it. This crazy talk almost drove me out of my mind. Mrs Rush was sweet, but all they ever talked about was new technology this, new technology that. They kept talking about various learning strategies implementation, and keeping learning fun. Of course learning needs to be kind of interesting, but this Ain't Disney World, THIS is SCHOOL for Pete's sake, is what I would think. I felt their main focus should have been keeping the trouble makers in line. Discipline should have been their main focus because teaching would have been done anyway and would have fallen into place. Focusing on all that fantasy feel good stuff was just senseless to me. Saving all the good kids should be the main aim.

Gulagathon said...

The kids who are extremely bad and are constant disruptions, we really have no time to rehabilitate those kids because their are too many good kids who are suffering who we need to help. Technology and teaching strategies is not going to reprogram a kids disrespectful personality. If a kid is too much of a trouble maker that kid should just be kicked out and face the consequences because we just don't have time for it.