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?