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.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Issues From the District 1 Roundtable: Trouble on the Busses

The District 1 round-table was held Tuesday afternoon, March 4th, at Helen Caro Elementary School from 4:00-5:30. The round table event is a yearly meeting of the district board member and all of the principals of the schools in that particular board members’ district. When I first was elected in 2006, these gatherings seemed more productive, less structured, and more free-form. The first few years there would be me, Sandy Edwards, maybe one other district staffer, and the principals and vice principals of the schools in district 1. Over the last few years these meetings have morphed into something different. I now feel almost like I’m a guest at a district administrator’s staff meeting. The meetings now run long, and over the last 4 years-they’ve been attended by more and more district staff—to the point now that every district administrator, to include all the level directors, several assistant superintendents, and the superintendent of schools himself attend. In an attempt to make the meeting flow more smoothly and efficiently yesterday, I attempted to shake up the format and asked that each principal list a few highlights, and concentrate on letting me know what challenges these individual schools faced. In the interest of saving time, I requested/stated that I’d call the principals directly if I had additional questions. I asked if everyone was alright with that, to which I was told to submit any questions I had of these principals through the office of the superintendent and the questions would in turn be asked and the resultant responses would then be provided to me…..I guess I won’t ask any questions of any of them if I have to go through a Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg protocol process to get an answer to any question I have from a school based administrator—I don’t think doing this will lead to frank responses and I certainly feel this is a circuitous, inefficient and cumbersome way to get information. It will also lead to homogenized, sanitized answers that may not reflect the reality of the situation; parents that have

 contacted me about problems at some district 1 schools in particular do not homogenize their issues, they do not pull punches, and certainly don’t ask permission from anybody to give me information. Keeping it real is important if we are to solve problems, in my opinion. Hearing from the principal that everything was “A-OK” at one middle school where I know there are tremendous discipline issues-that was disconcerting. If they can’t/won’t/aren’t allowed to keep it real and give real answers to the elected school board member that represents their district, why have these meetings at all? Most of the principals at the meeting did not/would not go into the challenges they faced (with a few exceptions); they for the most part simply said, when I asked, that everything was “okay, beyond the usual, germane minor discipline issues and space/capacity constraints.” One elementary principal said she could really use an instructional coach-to which all the other principals chimed in they’d like to have them, too. One common issue that just about all the principals agreed upon was the issue of discipline referrals on the busses, particularly the large 84 passenger busses. A phenomenon I have noticed and actually been a part of-- is that many parents simply recognize that bus rides are where a lot of problems occur, and so these same parents of means and ability simply drive their own children to school or arrange car pools (this is why we have car-rider line nightmares at some schools). I myself have done this for all three of my children since they entered Middle School. In my own personal experience-I had to ride the bus until my 10th grade year at Pensacola High School. In my tenth grade year, I finally earned enough money working at Popeye’s Chicken on Navy Blvd to purchase a beat-up $400 VW Rabbit. I drove from that day forward. I remember dreading the awful bus rides when I went to school before I had my own car and could drive. There were always one or two students (or more) that caused trouble and made the rides miserable. I remember when I lived in Japan in 1979, my brother and I got off the bus, and one of the bus-rider bullies got off at our stop and challenged my brother to a fight. He was about Gary’s size, he was half-Japanese, half American, his name was Steve. He was like the Area I, Area II, Bay view (a subdivision in Yokohama) tough-guy. Anyway, Gary tried to de-escalate the situation but this guy came at him, Gary punched him in the face, they rolled around on the ground, and the bus driver got off the bus, broke the fight up, and made them shake hands. They were no longer enemies, and that bus ride became easier. If this had happened today, the bus driver probably would have called the police, would not have intervened, and the FBI, CIA, and NSA probably would be investigating and both students would probably have been arrested! When we lived in North Charleston, S.C. in 1982, we were bussed from there 19 miles up the road to Summerville IHS which was a 60-40 majority minority school. My brother, myself, and a neighbor named “Chris” were among the only three students on the bus from our neighborhood. We constantly faced pressure on the bus from a kid named “Darius” and some of his buddies. Darius was small, but he talked a lot. He’d kick kids out of their seats and call them names-lots of racial names I won’t repeat. We ignored him as best we could, the driver did nothing, and it continued for months. One day, “Chris” and Darius got into it on the bus, they were about the same size, and it escalated. Chris was a shy, quiet kid, but he was an athlete. He was pushed to the limit that day. He got off the bus at his stop, ripped his shirt off, and called Darius out. He screamed at Darius to “Get off the bus, you and me, let’s go right now!” The Driver did not leave, held the door open (he probably secretly wanted to see Darius get beat down), but Darius would not get off the bus and fight. It was a huge uplifting day for Chris and for all the kids subjected to Darius’ abusive conduct on a daily basis, many of which were his friends from his neighborhood. They ridiculed him mercilessly when he backed down; the tables got turned on him that day-he was humiliated. I always wished that Darius would have stepped off the bus that day, I wanted to see him get his face smashed in, I wanted to see him get what was coming. I never felt guilty thinking that either, until much later in life. Bus rides can be horrible and lots of terrible things happen on bus rides. I don’t know what the solution is, short of hiring a number of huge muscular drill-sergeant type individuals to ride along and maintain order—and of course we’re not funded for that so it won’t happen. What I will do is bring it up at the workshop for discussion and hopefully some sort of a solution-- so that other students don’t have to endure bullying, harassment, or physical abuse on our busses. Nobody deserves this, no matter what.

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