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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Is it Really Everybody Else's Fault George?

This is my response to George Hawthorne's disingenuous editorial from Sunday's PNJ: George-your use of selected quotes of mine, taken out of context, then re-constituted inappropriately to cast me in a false light is both disingenuous and disappointing. Let’s get the facts straight. I have never said I believe the District is perfect or even blameless when it comes to some issues. To the contrary-there are many things I know we need to be doing to continuously improve for all students. I’m not shy about it either-just peruse the videos of our workshops and meetings over the last few years if you don’t believe me-I constantly urge the district to try new ideas to improve, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon. However- with respect to your editorial on how we’re somehow to blame-I’ve got to take issue with you on that. Because I know that to develop successful students requires a strong partnership with the family. You see, George, the lion’s share of the problems with some students at some schools (the 12 schools in our district with the highest levels of social dysfunction) is not a problem with poverty as much as it is a problem with the families of these students in these schools--families that in many instances have abdicated all of their parental responsibilities. Then, when their children do not succeed, these same people engage in a systematic blaming of anyone that will listen and give them an audience. But they never own any of the problems as their own. George, if you can’t see this, don’t see this, or won’t see this- then we can’t have intelligent discourse on this or any subject-as you are intellectually dishonest and engaging in blame shifting in order to dodge uncomfortable realities you simply never will admit. Be that as it may, let me ask some rhetorical questions of you George. 1. If we are such failures as educators in this district—as you put it---how do so many students (including MANY students who live in poverty) in our district achieve stunning successes yearly, winning more national merit scholarships than any other panhandle district, multiple appointments to military academies yearly, and admission to some of the finest universities in our nation on a consistent yearly basis? By contrast-how do some students who have the same access to all the same resources that produce these many highly successful students referenced above-how do these others not achieve? (hint: family support plays a role) 2. How do we succeed at bringing Limited English Proficient students who arrive in our district from out of country yearly-how do we succeed in many instances with such students to a point where they are tops in their classes in English and writing within 2-3 years? (hint: we impart the same teaching and provide the same resources, but family support plays a critical role) George, if your doctor told you for decades and decades on end to quit smoking but you didn’t-- and you found yourself dying of lung cancer—would you be the guy who would blame the doctor and hospital? George, if crime in your neighborhood remains rampant but nobody in the neighborhood cooperates with police investigators-are you the guy who would blame the police on the beat for your high crime neighborhood? George, above all else, please just have the intellectual honesty to keep it real. Blaming imperfect governance for the failures of whole neighborhoods for decades running is ridiculous. Quoting gobbledygook, mumbo jumbo from business books you brought down from your shelf and dusted off to make points that are meaningless to this discussion—this impresses no one and in many ways just illustrates to a greater degree the level to which you are detached from the reality of the situation. George, here is the way this works: We will keep trying to reach all students as best we can, no matter what, and no matter if their own families check out altogether( which sadly is a common occurrence) Along the way, however, I will never allow people like you to misappropriate blame to hard working teachers and administrators for the failures of some parents and some communities that do not, apparently, place high value in education. George, there are teachers, administrators, community volunteers, and other partners throughout our district that are working themselves to death, killing themselves slowly while trying to teach every student everyday no matter where these students come from! Do you get this? I won’t let you spit in the collective faces of these dedicated employees as you attempt to tell them they are failures! You know where the real blame lies but cannot bring yourself to name it which is sad but not surprising.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Teachers and One School

A true story below about two teachers at one inner-city, extended-day elementary school in the Escambia County School District.....Should we treat all teachers exactly alike in terms of pay?  I have questioned  this in the past as I've advocated for expanded differential pay for teachers in tough assignments.  I'm amazed that the idea is constantly rejected,  few in education are in it solely for pay, however I believe we should pay a stipend for teachers that work in the toughest schools--they deserve it!

 One teacher worked at this location for nearly a decade, she loved her job and her students. But the combination of changing leadership at the top, with growing demands for precise teaching pedagogy and rigid test preparation protocols dictated downward to this individual in her classroom slowly wore her down. Meanwhile, continuity of staff at this school was impossible. Every year, 25-40% of the staff would churn, young teachers would quit, and veterans that could, would transfer out-others would retire. Her students, by and large, were impoverished and lived in appalling conditions. They made small to marginal gains and continuous pressure was put on this teacher to get the scores up! Was she not effective? She certainly thought she was! Meanwhile, support from the parents was sporadic at best, non-existent at worst. Lots of good intention and good will was poured out to this school by many local charities pitching in and putting time and resources into the school. But progress was still excruciatingly difficult to achieve. Many students were held back. Some 5th graders became pregnant. Lots of children were neglected. Massive dysfunction! Several teachers were physically attacked, and more than one student was arrested and led away from this

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chris, You Don't Get It

In response to the viewpoint from Christopher J. Lewis in today's PNJ....


So your magic bullet to make it all better in Escambia County Schools is to make school board districts “at large”?  Really? Didn’t you think “at-large” council seats were the solution for the Pensacola City Council?  What happened there, Chris?  Never mind.

Let’s see what your idea would do to our schools.  First, in violation of a standing court ruling from the civil rights era, it would potentially eliminate the minority representation for district three.  Poof, gone, and we’d be in violation.  Guess you did not think of that unintended consequence, right Chris?

Secondly, in case you didn’t know this, we do represent the community county-wide, we are simply elected by geographical districts, in order to minimize the influence of the politically savvy and wealthy concentrated in some areas of town.  You see Chris, geographical representation is a balance to outside influence.  What does this mean?  Let me dot-connect for you.   It means I can walk neighborhoods and visit Thousands of households going door to door in my campaigns to target my message inexpensively in my district (which I have done on multiple occasions)—neutralizing, to a large degree, any outside money, influence, and power.  So your proposal actually takes power away from voters and candidates at the grass-roots-which seems counter to what you appear to believe in based upon your writings.  Paradoxical.

But, back to the response to Peacock’s article—I stand by every word of it, because it is accurate.  Chris, I understand from scanning your lengthy and rambling screeds that you see the world through rose-colored glasses instead of dealing with reality.  Folks like you that are naïve and glib on many

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thank You District 1!

I've Been Re-elected Unopposed--Thank You District 1 Voters!

The 2014 Campaign for Escambia County School Board, District 1, has ended.  At 12:01 yesterday afternoon, the last day of qualifying, I received a call from Supervisor of Elections Mr. David Stafford.

 He called to let me know that no other candidates had entered my race by the deadline, and therefore I had been re-elected without opposition.

Although I had prepared for a grueling race, I'm extremely grateful and very much humbled that the people in my district saw fit to send me back to the board for another term without any opposition.  To my constituents in district 1--  I will continue to work as hard as I can for you to make our schools as best they can be;  I'll continue to keep it real and challenge the status quo wherever and whenever it appears, and I will always put students, parents, and taxpayers first--nothing is changing in that regard going forward.  That is my promise to you, that is what I'll do.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sign SB 850 into Law!

So-- very few will actually wade through all 140 pages of SB 850 before jumping on a bandwagon, listening to others' talking points, then becoming conscripts in the charge demanding Governor Scott veto this bill.  But there are some important matters addressed in this bill and I hope Governor Scott will sign it into law.

First and foremost, the provisions related to Career and Professional Education are extremely important;  we all know college is not for every student, and proper CAPE implementation is imperative for the students who will be foregoing college and entering the workforce directly.

In addition, this law fosters an increase in cooperation between colleges and school districts, which in turn will hasten increased dual enrollment opportunities for students and families.  This will save HUGE money for these folks when the college years begin and is a big benefit to parents/taxpayers/college families/and students who do not have lavish budgets for school.  All these folks benefit from SB 850!

Also, the fact that Florida Corporations can lower their tax burdens while simultaneously benefiting students that have special needs, this is a GOOD thing!  The fact that more parents will have more options for their students as a result of the expansion of this program is a GOOD thing!  When did helping families and students with disabilities become a bad thing?  Why would anyone want to stand in between a parent and student, stuck in a failing school system, and a better educational choice for such students/parents?
Answer: ---those who would do this are those who's loyalty is for the system, not the student.  I am the opposite.  I am for parents, students, taxpayers and choice!  I'm agnostic as to the educational vehicle--be it public, private, charter, virtual, or home-school. I want public schools to succeed and get better, I'm a product of excellent public schools and my kids go to public schools--- but the world is changing and we need to keep up.   I also understand economics;  oligopolies and monopolies, in most cases, do not benefit consumers and lead to inferior products, higher costs, and inefficiency.  I want our district, and all districts, to compete!!  This will, in time, make us better, more efficient, and more student-focused.

Meanwhile--the disingenuous vitriol coming from the various guardians of the status quo is just about enough to make me violently ill.  I'm sick and tired of people screaming that allowing student and parental

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Starbucks Will Pay for Employees' College Tuition!

 My wife and daughter practically live at Starbucks, but I only go to Starbucks on an infrequent basis because I'm cheap, I mean Frugal. After reading this article in Forbes this morning, I may have to start going more often and I definitely want my son to look into getting a job there! What a great perk to offer employees--the chance to graduate with a Bachelor's degree and no student debt! From the article: "This morning at a company meeting in Manhattan, Starbucks SBUX +0.54%’ billionaire CEO, Howard Schultz, announced that the company would pay for thousands of workers, including baristas who work just 20 hours a week, to get a bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program. The initiative, the first of its kind, will allow many of the Seattle-based company’s 135,000 workers to graduate debt-free. Those who already have two years of college credit under their belts, will be entitled to a full tuition reimbursement. Those just starting college will receive subsidies worth an average of $6,500. There will be no requirement that employees who graduate with the program stay on at Starbucks."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Incremental Progress Part I

Making progress on big issues while sitting as one member of a 5 member board is difficult. When one board member sees things, let's say, differently--this further complicates the effort for changing issues. Making progress on these issues when the board has an elected superintendent of schools and does not necessarily favor a policy or idea is next to impossible. So this past week has been exceptional.

 At last week's special workshop for discussing the rights and responsibilities handbook, some very important progress was made with respect to the addition of language that requires that a student's parents be called before a student is questioned at school for law enforcement, non-school discipline related matters, by Police. It's the sort of language I've been trying to get inserted into the book for three years over HEAVY opposition from the superintendent's staff, the county sheriff, and several members of the School Board.

 So at this meeting, knowing that time was a factor in getting the book advertised for adoption, I brought

Unlikely State Provides a Big Win for School Reform: CA Judge Rules Tenure Unconstitutional

A Superior Court Judge in California has ruled that tenure is unconstitutional--- and results in discrimination against poor students who, becuause of tenure protections, are forced to accept ineffective, sub-par teachers. From The Atlantic: "under current California law, principals are forced to make high-stakes decisions about teachers without enough evidence. This disadvantages students, who might get stuck with sub-par instructors, but it also hurts teachers, who aren’t given enough time to prove their skill. Once a teacher earns tenure, it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—and countless administrative and legal man-hours—for a district to permanently remove him from his job. And in the event of budget cuts or school closings, California law mandates that the least experienced teachers be laid off first, even if they are more effective than their older colleagues, a policy known as “LIFO,” or “Last In, First Out... California is an outlier. Only 12 states have formal laws on the books mandating LIFO."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rights and Responsibilities Handbook Meeting Goes 5+ Hours

The Escambia County School Board met in a workshop to discuss the rights and responsibilities (R&R) handbook yesterday, in what would turn out to be an epic five and a half hour marathon session.
Room 160 was packed out with district administrators, teachers, members of social justice groups, and other interested community persons.

The big issue du jour was the revisions to the R&R handbook.  Primarily these were related to expanded language describing those persons whom the district would now specifically identify as persons not to be bullied, harassed, or discriminated against.  Several justice groups gave board members suggested language to add to the R&R-with the most high profile addition being the addition of“gender identity/expression” to the ever expanding list of those against whom discrimination is not tolerated, that currently includes:   race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, and many more. 

The board eventually voted 3-2 to add the language to the book, and the overall R&R book was approved for advertising via a 3-2 vote, with Bill Slayton and me voting against. (I brought an alternative proposal to use comprehensive language to encompass all the non-discrimination laws, however my idea was rejected)

I expressed my appreciation for the input from members of the public and from the staff who patiently waited through the entire meeting, and I expressed my appreciation to the Superintendent for his willingness to compromise and add language allowing for parents to be contacted prior to police questioning of minor students at school—this is something I have pressed for several years and this language change was the biggest step forward that took place yesterday-by far- during the session; it really was a huge step forward and I’m pleased to get good compromise language into the book for the protection of parental and student  rights against self-incrimination.

I was also pleased that the “change of placement” term is being rightly changed to what it really has become lately, that being “disciplinary reassignment”.  I’m also pleased that the board will now vote on these “disciplinary reassignments” monthly as statute dictates we should- based upon Mrs. Waters Memo describing the legal basis for this requirement.

But even though we made some significant forward progress in the session yesterday-I still feel like we are moving in the wrong direction with respect to discipline, and this is ultimately the primary reason I was unable to vote to approve this handbook yesterday.

Why do we allow students, during the time they are serving In-School Suspensions, to participate in extracurricular activities like football and basketball?  If a student has violated the conduct policy to the extent that they are suspended, they should be suspended from all the fun activities as well.  This must change.

Additionally, when we water down the penalty for drug use/possession on campus, which is what the revisions made to

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Who is to Blame?

Today's viewpoint in the PNJ got me to thinking, here is my retort:

John Peacock-your article is naïve and badly flawed.  You list symptoms of problems for which you fail to identify the real ailment—the real culprit. You compound the problem in your piece when you lace in some facts and improperly assign blame creating what amounts to disinformation.  First and foremost, our K-12 system is imperfect, I’ll readily admit this; however, our local public education system provides the foundation for an excellent education for those who are serious about learning.  But we’re dealing with a social collapse in the “families” in some areas of our community-a collapse of epic proportions, 50 slow years in the making, that nobody is willing to discuss.  That’s the real 800 pound Gorilla, and you know it, John. This social dysfunction incubator in some areas of our community bleeds into our schools in some areas, setting kids up for failure and inhibiting the success of many other students despite superhuman effort from many local school employees-- and that is a fact.  If we give homework and parents of some kids do not help their kids, make them do the work, do not read to their kids, and do not care properly for their kids—do you really blame teachers for this John?  Please get back to reality, and call it like it is instead of insinuating that we’re not doing our jobs.  We deal with massive social apathy and dysfunction.

Be that as it may, we’ve still got a job to do and we’re doing it.  We still manage to turn out the Panhandle’s cream of the crop students, with our class of 2014 earning $27 Million in Scholarships to some of the nation’s top schools.  Our top seniors this year—products of what you mistakenly call an inadequate system-- are exceptional! Why do people always measure from the bottom up?  I look at our cream of the crop and it stacks up better than any other district in this area-just look at what county is churning out the most National Merit Scholarship Awards? Look at our PHS IB program, consistently ranking in the top 100 nationwide.  We have great successes locally John.  But, like you, I want every child to have a legitimate chance of success.  The difference between you and I, though, is I’m going to keep it real and put blame where it is deserved and not scapegoat hardworking teachers, students, administrators, volunteers, and mentors-thereby trashing an entire organization and demoralizing the good people that are working there.

Here’s the thing, John.  Forbes recently profiled the most and least healthy cities in America.   Cities where people have the healthiest lifestyles, the longest lives, and fewest health problems.  Minneapolis MN and Washington DC top the healthy list.  Does this mean their hospitals and doctors are better than their peers in Memphis and Birmingham-cities on the bottom of the list?  Of course not.  Pensacola, as a community, is near the bottom of the list of healthy counties in Florida—but does anybody in their right mind blame our area doctors?  Of course not.  It’s poverty, social dysfunction, and a lack of personal responsibility among many who are unhealthy locally-It’s not Baptist Hospital’s fault.

And let’s talk about crime.  We know locally we have a high crime rate compared to a Gulf Breeze or a Walton County.  Do we blame the local Sheriff for this and say his police are “not as good” as their counterparts in Gulf Breeze and Walton County-because their crime rates are lower than ours?  Of course not!  It is poverty, social dysfunction, and a lack of personal responsibility among individuals, who commit crime, that leads to the high crime rate. 

So, getting back to the schools, I know it is important for us to keep working hard to do the best we can for all students.  I have brought ideas that can help to the board, on multiple occasions, and there is more we can do if we have the guts to not be politically correct and call it like it is. We have to have the fortitude to act boldly-and as a board I do not feel we always have-- and I’ll own that.  But here is what we must do to right the ship going forward:

1. 1       We need to stop the PC application of discipline.  One standard, let the chips fall where they may but strict, fairly applied school-wide discipline is an absolute must.  No more 39th or 50th try for “some” students who hate school and destroy the atmosphere for teachers and other students that are serious about learning.  These bad apples must be removed for the betterment of all.  No more out-of-school suspension for others who make (1) one bad decision.
2. 2      We need to stop the PC practice of social promotion which occurs rampantly in our district between the 8th and 9th grades destroying our 4 year, on-time graduation rate while simultaneously demoralizing students who are being promoted. Many new 9th graders are academically unprepared for the rigor of High School and this MUST be addressed.
3.   3   We need to establish one or more boarding schools for those students most at-risk, as have districts in Miami, DC, and Ohio.  For many of these kids who live in absolute dysfunction locally, this is the only way out and anything short of this or some other radical home-life modification is only a half measure that will not succeed long-term for them.  For those who want to wear red shirts and yell and scream on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee for more “programs, money and resources”—here is what we need the money for!
4. 4      We need to pay teachers a realistic, recurring, and cumulative yearly stipend for assignments at our 12 schools with the highest levels of social dysfunction.  Otherwise, we will continue to see churn as teachers burn out, quit and/or transfer out leaving inconsistency in these classrooms and instability in the instruction of students who need the MOST stability.  People who reject this idea, but that in practice do this themselves by offering 3 steps to school principals to take on tough assignments, are acting hypocritically.  Nobody is in it for the money, but if you want solid performers long term, you must recognize what they deal with and provide some additional compensation.
5. 5      Most importantly-we must recognize that there are no “quick fixes” or “new methods” that will solve this. Just look at what happened at one of our crisis schools when we brought high priced consultants in to fix the issue-it did not work.  I don’t blame them; but I had my doubts, which I expressed at a workshop last year, that what they were doing would work.  It didn’t and I do not think it was due to a lack of effort by this company or the two ladies at that site. This issue is social, not scholastic, and it has been percolating for 50 years as the entitlement state has disincentivzed work, family, religion, and personal responsibility-- while society’s morals have simultaneously loosened to the point that we glorify celebrity and hedonistic, nonsensical behavior more that academic success.  This environment is destroying some schools.  The fix will take time, decades perhaps.

Meanwhile, while we continue to work as hard as we can to make the system as best it can be for all students, we must have the guts to identify the real problems, instead of playing a PC game and blaming everything on a lack of resources.  To achieve success we must slay the status quo.  If not, our successes will be few and far between.  One principal recently told me boldly in front of a group of administrators, that “We have the resources we need, but we’re dealing with a crisis and the work is hard.”  This guy called it like it is, and that was refreshing.  It is a crisis.  Do we have the guts to address the real problems, though?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Former District Offices on Garden Street to Sell for $3.25M

The former downtown headquarters building for the Escambia County School District at 215 Garden Street has a purchase offer for $3.25 Million coming to the Board.

Once the board takes action on this offer, which I believe is a sure thing, the buyer will deposit $50K as a earnest money, and will have 150 days to investigate the property--which is being sold "as-is."  The broker of this transaction is Beck Property, who will be paid a 3.5% commission-just over $113K- on the sale per the contract.

With the Brownsville sale coming to the board this Monday, the Pickens property demolition plan moving forward, and  now the Garden Street property about to be put under contract-the district is doing a very good job of disposing of its excess property in a fiscally responsible manner in my opinion.