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, October 22, 2014

Trying to Improve an Organization Doesn't Equal Not Supporting the Organization

Radical, out of control political correctness exacerbates discipline issues, maintains the status-quo, and hampers district growth.

How can you tell that people are wary of your local schools?  Where is the proof?  That’s a question that someone asked at a recent workshop.   So, let’s see-here goes.  In my last three campaigns I have literally walked and knocked on Thousands of doors each time.  And along with my campaign spiel -I always asked about how we’re doing as a district.  Worry over discipline was a top area of concern. Do I have that fact scientifically synthesized into an action research study?  No. But other evidence is all over the place; apparently it must be hiding in plain sight if people can’t see it… 

Teachers and other district staff send their own children to private schools in large numbers --that is a reality not captured in the latest climate survey.  New neighborhoods that are flourishing have lots of SUVs with “EDS”  “PCA” “CLA” St. Johns Christian School, and East Hill Christian Bumper Stickers on them.  Large PCA busses full of students run through our neighborhoods, up and down Navy Blvd. and Blue Angel Pkwy., and I see them on the way to NAS Pensacola on my morning commutes.  

People contact me about bullying, discipline issues in classrooms.  Students I know personally tell me they can’t learn due to out of control discipline issues in their classrooms and schools.  Many go dual enrolled to PSC just to escape the problems.  Parents pull their kids out of our schools to home-school them. Teachers burn out due to out of control discipline issues anda lack of administrator support. Some schools have astonishing levels of turnover over periods as short as just a few years. Some schools cannot get subs-some subs are highly selective.  Employee morale is low. 

Conversations are had with top level administrators at large growing firms and it is stated that many new transplanted workers to the area are choosing to live in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and/or Baldwin County.  Anecdotal evidence is all over—yet some people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable reasons why, but here it is.  We have a classroom and school level discipline issue in many of our schools and the word is out. Normal, rational citizens expect us to do better, but it seems we are acquiescing to political correctness instead.  Rather than utilizing firm but fair discipline, we

 are giving more and more chances to some kids, while others are removed for doing far less.  We are allowing kids to accrue 40, 50, and as many as 61 major discipline referrals; then we are allowing such repeat offenders to come back to their regular schools after serving shorter and shorter stretches at our district’s alternative programs!!  We are even so radically politically correct that we have a line item in our latest strategic plan revision that states that as a goal we will “reduce the number of minorities that we expel or to whom we give discipline referrals.”  My question at the workshop, echoed by one of my counterparts was “How will we do that??  Will we have separate, more lenient criteria for certain students based on demographic variables?  Will we overlook the misbehavior of some?  Will we minimize big infractions to meet this “goal”? That is a dangerous, borderline irresponsible addition to the plan so far as I’m concerned.  A real slippery slope to be sure, and parents and others are watching this…Meanwhile they see discussions at the workshop and they see board members say, straight faced, that we need to acknowledge cultural differences and overlook some behaviors from some students.  Whaaaat?? And they see administrators, stone faced and serious, stating that "we are treating every student the same"—when an analysis of the data points to the opposite.  It’s surreal, like I’m watching this commercial.   

But sadly, parents watch this and they draw their own conclusions; they cut through the rhetoric quickly, like a hot knife through warm butter.  They see the politician's lips moving, they know what is said about politicians when their lips are moving.....These parents are shrewd.  They network, they know.  

Many, more than ever now, do not trust that we will maintain the learning atmosphere—as we genuflect before radical, politically correct practices to appease certain social justice organizations.  This is discouraging.  I know we have excellent teachers, I know we have outstanding programs, and I know our schools rival any in the area.  Still, our enrollments are flat.  Santa Rosa’s enrollments have exploded.  Do I have visual, photographic, and/or scientific proof that discipline issues here are driving this enrollment disparity?  No, I have massive quantities of anecdotal evidence that points to discipline as a huge factor; at this stage it is a hypothesis.   If only to make it convincing enough for some to acknowledge it as a reality were this easy.  

The proof, however, is reflected in the data over the last decade and a half.   In the last decade and a half, Santa Rosa Schools have grown by more than 100%, from around 13,000 students in 1999 to over 26,000 in 2014.  Escambia County Schools, by contrast, were at 42,000 students in 1999, and we have gone flat and have less now, standing at 41,000 this year.  And all things being equal (equivalent school facilities, teachers, instructional materials, etc.) there is no other rational explanation for our enrollments going flat while our neighbors’ districts are growing geometrically.  Like the Geico commercial, everybody knows that when families move to a new area, they look into important issues like crime rates and schools zoned in their new community.  Schools are probably #1 in the new transplants’ home-buying decision.  So yes, I’m openly stating that we have an issue.

 It does not mean I’m not a cheerleader for our district---- because I am and that is an undisputed fact.  I send my kids to our schools and I am a product of our schools.    But even though I am a HUGE proponent of public education in general and our schools locally specifically, I will address massive dysfunctional problems within our schools whenever and wherever I see them.  That will never change for as long as I am on this board.  This means open discussions of uncomfortable realities will occur. And contrary to what any human ostrich might think, this is not me slamming our

 schools—it is actually the opposite!  It is an open display of my desire to improve our schools!  I want enrollments to grow, I want 50,000 students, and I want new arrivals to choose Escambia County.  I want parents to trust us to control our school atmosphere.  That’s why I’m going to make school discipline my special and concentrated area of focus for the next four years that I serve.  I’m going to dig deep, analyze closely, and talk loudly and frequently about this;  I know this is the issue we need to confront in order to move forward.


Anonymous said...

Two questions.

Do you think Escambia had growth earlier than Santa Rosa and is now significantly more densely populated than Santa Rosa?

Why were your items from the board pulled from the last agenda?

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous answer to question 1. My answer is No.

People that live in Santa Rosa County, by and large, work in Escambia County. If not a majority, then at a minimum a disproportionately large percentage. Also, a very large contingent of our district's employees live in Santa Rosa County and have their children in their (Santa Rosa) schools. A large contingent of our employees have their own children in private schools. New arrivals are not choosing our schools. So our enrollments are flat and Santa Rosa's are growing exponentially. So I want to fix the reasons why so many feel so uneasy with choosing our schools-which I feel, by and large, are because of perception in the public of lax discipline in our schools and a lack of a positive learning environment.

The items from the board, which were all three from me, were discussed in the workshop prior to the meeting, and there was no support for them; they would have failed to get three votes at the meeting so I directed that they be pulled from the agenda because I can count to three and I had no support on these worthwhile resolutions from my peers on the board.