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, May 23, 2014

Tough Decisions Ahead at Some Schools....

Two years ago the board voted to add an additional hour to several struggling elementary schools for the purpose of intensive reading instruction. I voted for this, with a bit of skepticism. Last year, with mixed data and the first year of new FCAT scoring that made progress difficult to measure, I again decided to vote to support the additional hour of reading at several inner-city elementary schools. I did so with "great trepidation"--I was even quoted in the newspaper saying this.

In the last two years at these schools, we have focused resources, outside organizations, volunteers, and specialists and subject area coaches on the task of improving reading scores. We have brought in outside groups to some schools in an effort to improve (Studer Education at Montclair, UWF at Weis) and we have asked our teachers to work longer hours (even though many were not happy with this, and left these schools to work at non-extended day schools). We experienced attrition of staff at all these schools. We instituted a mandatory 1st-grade retention policy for those that did not pass the FCAT in grade one.

We have worked and worked, and teachers have given so much effort in these schools that it is heartbreaking to see the results of the third grade FCAT reading scores that were released today. Today we see that ---through NO FAULT of the staffs, teachers, behavior coaches, volunteers, or any other

Congratulations are in Order!

Congratulations are in order for Bellview and Longleaf Elementary Schools! Bellview scored in the top ten out of all district schools in 3rd Grade FCAT Reading and Math, and Bellview also scored in the top five for 4th grade FCAT writing! Given the fact that this is a title one school with a very small PTA, limited parental involvement, and numerous challenging characteristics, I think these achievements are excellent; principal Hollie Wilkins, her staff, students, and parents should all be extremely proud! Right down the road at Longleaf Elementary, that school scored #1 in the district in FCAT writing for 4th grade--an incredible achievement! Longleaf also scored the highest year-over-year improvement in 4th grade FCAT writing-improving 20 points over last year! Longleaf, like Bellview, is a title one school with numerous challenges;

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Will the Board Do With the R & R Handbook?

A Wonderful Display of Local Governance in Action!

At times it wasn't pretty-but it certainly was interesting.....This morning's regular workshop of the Escambia County School Board was consumed by discussion of the Rights and Responsibilities Handbook for 2014-2015.  I took particular interest in going through it completely because so many of our school board rules point parents and students right back to the R&R handbook.

Today's meeting also brought multiple speakers who addressed the board regarding the R&R handbook, the majority of whom want the school district to include language throughout the handbook adding "gender identity or expression" to the list of those categories of persons that are not to be discriminated against in our schools.

Leading up to today's meeting, board members were given documents from the Escambia Youth Justice Coalition, and the Gay Straight Alliance of Pensacola, where they have given suggested language for several sections of the handbook

Patty Hightower agreed to make a motion at the table to add portions of the suggested language to the R&R book, and Linda Moultrie indicated she would support inclusion of this language into the R&R book as well.

Bill Slayton opposed the addition, stating that the current language should be sufficient, and this sentiment was echoed by Jerry Boone.

Superintendent Thomas did not say specifically whether or not he would add the language that had been suggested by the speakers in attendance as a recommendation to the board, and at one point indicated he felt the current language was sufficient as well.

For my part, I believe I have found support for the idea of strengthening the language with respect to allowing parents to be notified before police question students at school, as the EYJC have recommended stronger language that bolsters parental rights-an area that I have championed for several years.

 The other big issues I have with the R&R book are

1. the way it is inconsistent in the way it describes the one year mandatory out of school suspension for bringing weapons or drugs to school or for making a bomb threat.  I believe language will be made uniform when the board next tackles chapter 7.

2.  the way expulsions and placement changes are described together and appear to have the effect of allowing students to be expelled in de facto fashion for long periods by calling these non-expulsion expulsions "change of placement".

Not sure how all of these issues will resolve themselves, but I do believe Tuesday's meeting will be interesting.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

NEA and FEA Lose Big Court Battle, Districts Win!

In a huge ruling out of the United States District Court in Gainesville today, the powerful statewide teacher's union, FEA, and their home office national union, NEA, were defeated; The issue was the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Any and all rational humans know that basing a teacher's entire evaluation on student test scores is stupid and an inaccurate measurement of teacher effectiveness.  However, having year over year student learning gains factored into and made a part of the evaluation makes sense--- and it is the law under Florida's student success act.

The unions tried to sue our district (and several others) over this, however a coalition of school board attorneys successfully argued that following state mandates does not make us guilty of violating teachers' rights.

from the Judge's ruling:

"This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system. The standard of review is not whether the evaluation policies are good or bad, wise or unwise; but whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law. The legal standard for invalidating legislative acts on substantive due process and equal protection grounds looks only to whether there is a conceivable rational basis to support them. For reasons that have been explained, the State Defendants could
rationally conclude that the evaluation policies further the state’s legitimate interest in increasing student learning growth. The same can be said of the District Defendants. Although they have not contested Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and have not moved for summary judgment in their own right, they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law for the same reasons that summary judgment is granted for the State Defendants.

For these reasons,
1.                 The State Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 84, is GRANTED.
2.                 Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 86, is DENIED.
3.                 The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of all Defendants against Plaintiffs on Counts One, Two, Six, and Seven, which have been dismissed, see ECF No. 111; and on Counts Three, Four, Five, Eight, Nine, and Ten, on which summary judgment has been granted. 
4.                 This Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim in Count Eleven.
         SO ORDERED on May 6, 2014. "