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

community member who has lended a hand at these schools--- we see that these schools, the schools that we have spent nearly $5Million in extra salaries on over the last two years for extended day, are dead last on the bottom of the district's list of FCAT 3rd grade reading scores. The bottom. Dead last!
FCAT 2.0 3rd Grade Reading, bottom 8 scores, Escambia County Schools from DOE data

 Again, and I want to empasize and reiterate, I'm not pointing the finger of blame at our schools for this; I have spent time in several of these schools and I know teachers and others that spend time bending over backwards to help these students. I'm really disappointed, but I cannot say I am entirely surprised. I have always felt that it takes parents linking arms with us to be successful, and anything short of this will still not make a school as successful as it can be with parents engaged. I'm so bummed out, and to make it worse, the legislature will now be forcing us to continue this policy, with funding provided through the SAI and Reading categoricals that will not be sufficient to cover the costs, for the foreseeable future. To make matters worse, the legislature will be expanding the number of schools we must add the extra hour to, with no additional funds. What will it be next year-ten schools? A dozen? I really hope we have the courage as district policymakers to fight this unfunded mandate and tell Tallahassee that throwing money at this problem will not solve it; making teachers work extra hours to the point they are burned out and quit or leave will not solve it. We are dealing with a social issue that is of such great magnitude, I believe nothing short of a boarding school, complete intervention, will work for some of these students. I worry about the numbers of veteran teachers and staff members that will transfer out of these schools. I worry mostly about these students that are receiving what they need from the schools, but not from their families. I believe that is what's driving this problem but nobody will say so but me. Meanwhile, it appears as if many are quite content with the idea of reinforcing this increased spending. I don't think the money will help until we get the families and the homes engaged. Until we do that, we will only be tweaking at the margins, doing what one brilliant strategist once famously stated should never be done: "Never reinforce failure, failure reinforces itself" Carl Von Clausewitz. I sure hope we have the guts to look at different ideas, different strategies, different approaches rather than simply playing along and hoping things get better. Without engaged parents, these problems will continue unabated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I vote no. It will only wear the students and teachers out.

One thing I agree with you about: merely throwing more money won't fix a system. Truly understanding the causes of a problem and working to solve those problems will. Personally, in my experience, teachers and administrators don't appear to know what they're doing in several respects.

More school hours won't help either. In Finland, ranked 12th on recent PISA scores and higher in previous years, elementary students start school at 7 years old and are in school for 4 hours of the day. They have a 15 minutes recess break after every 45 minutes of instruction. Most kids then have an after school program that allows them to explore varying interests -- as an American teacher now teaching in Finland describes in his blog (

Sincere incompetence in educating our children, especially at-risk troubled children, is a major culprit. It's easier to suspend two kids who want to fight then it is to invest time in helping them make better choices. Tip: It's not about making them merely comply. Mediating a conflict, psh, yea right. That's too much of my time for these demon children -- and I already "expect" it not to work, so it won't work. #selffulfillingpropechy