Guidelines

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, February 27, 2015

Camelot

I recently had the opportunity to stop by and tour the Camelot school in Pensacola—and I was glad I did. 

Camelot is an alternative school for students who have been removed from their regular classes, students who have failed to meet established behavior expectations.  While I had heard about the great things happening at Camelot, I had not yet had the opportunity to drop in and visit until one day this past week.

Executive Director Drew Stem and several of his staff greeted me, and took time to show me around the classrooms and the facility; they also explained some of the successful techniques utilized at Camelot to maintain order, discipline, and learning.

One of the interesting things that Camelot does is to allow students to “earn” their way into positions of authority.  The “Tiger-Shark” is a designation that carries with it certain privileges and a different uniform (yes, all students at Camelot wear uniforms), and so therefore most of the students who come to Camelot want to achieve this status.  

Tiger-Sharks are leaders in the school, they set the examples for other students by following house rules such as the school’s prohibition on talking between classes as students “transition” from one class to another.  These students also take on responsibilities like showing guests around the campus.  My two “Tiger-Shark” escorts were Tevin and Brittany.  They were very polite and did a very good

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Encouragement Continues for More Appropriately Addressing Chronic Misbehavior in our Schools



I'm once again receiving significant support for the DESPERATE NEED of a restructuring of discipline enforcement locally in our schools.  I've talked about it, blogged about it, and now appeared on TV locally.  This is a focus that I will continue, do to tremendous, widespread support for the idea that I'm continuing to receive from stakeholders.

Some district leaders condescendingly, deridingly,  attempt to marginalize my initiative on getting control of our discipline enforcement failures in the schools.  I won't take it personally, I'll stay positive and I'll stay persistent.  And I'll clear up the misconceptions they perpetuate about me.

I never give up on a kid in our schools who wants to learn and is not a predator and a chronic nightmare to everyone around him/her

and...

No, It's not that "I don't understand the issue"

No, It's not that "I'm over-reacting"

and no, it's not me catering to "disgruntled outliers"   Nope, it's none of this.



At a PTA function I attended yesterday,

 a High School teacher that was present made it a point to come over to my table and shake my hand stating:

"You are right-on about discipline-thank you, and  I have a lot of stories I could tell"  (I'm going to be meeting with him soon)


Another stakeholder, a parent,  came by my table, gave me a hug, and said: 


"Good job on bringing up the discipline problems" 


A former ALL STAR teacher that we lost to a neighbor county last year (in large part due to a deteriorating, dysfunctional discipline climate in one of our elementary schools) stated in a recent communication directed to me:


"I saw you on the news! praise God for the boldness in addressing this discipline problem!"

Another teacher wrote:


"Thank YOU, for continually speaking FOR teachers and issues that other members want to sweep under the carpet because they actually have NO IDEA what teachers go through on a daily basis............TRYING to teach students who want to learn, but constantly being disrupted by students with multiple referrals. Yes, you are correct, younger teachers do not want to speak up because they are no longer "tenured", so they endure things day in and out that should not be..........My heart aches for teacher friends I have in other schools who have to endure with NO SUPPORT. And these are ELEMENTARY schools!! I can't imagine what it's like in middle school and high school. Keep fighting the good fight!!"


Another teacher wrote:


"lack of discipline in the school district is a major reason teachers are leaving the system. Behavior is a big issue in the school district. I don't believe we are helping children when we are constantly allowing them to continue with negative behavior and no consequences are given to them for their negative behavior."


On the issue of the current leadership team's reaction to fixing this discipline issue, another teacher wrote:  


"They live in a dream world of ideology and too long out of the mainstream. The truth is, solving the problem would be difficult at first, but zero tolerance would be quickly embraced by everyone involved. It is truly the answer. The taxpayer, the student, the parents of those who do what they are supposed to do!!!"


Another Parent wrote me about his concerns:


Mr. Bergosh,



I wanted to take the time to say, Thank You, for your comments regarding the
need to begin the process of reclaiming a respectful standard of behavior
and compliance in Escambia County Schools and establishing a consequential
path to students continue an often As the father of a 7th grade XXXXXXXX at
XXXXXXXXXX and a XXXXXXXX in XXXXXXXXX grade at XXXXXXXXX,XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXs,
 I sincerely believe the lack of definitive and escalating set of
consequences which students are savvy enough to be aware of lead to the lack
of courtesy, cooperation and at the very least, compliance with standards of
behavior. By the PNJ article on the 2-16-15, I am led to believe there is
not a limit to disciplinary events which force the parents or guardians to
act  or be notified further non-compliance will result in expulsion. Tell me
this is not the case. I just had the unfortunate conversation with a good
friend whose son will be attending  St. Paul's Catholic next year for 6th
grade because of the accounts of harassment, bullying, intimidation and lack
of consequences for offenders[in his district-ed school]. His outstanding son who simply was never
evaluated for XXXXXXXXXXX, wants to be able to experience the Workforce
Development department engineering robotics and energy courses and
participate in the new Technology Student Association club next year but
because he is not in the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX will face the disturbing accounts of
behavior during transition, lunch, and in several cases, classroom
occurrences. These accounts widely discussed by everyone in the feeder
patterns of XXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXX overshadow the
outstanding education and educators which exist at Workman Middle. To put a
relevance to this comment, my XXXXXXXX relays the weekly accounts of behavior ,
language, and conduct which seem oddly familiar with my experiences in
1979-80 as a 6th grader there. The difference being that we had to face dean
XXXXXXXXXXX in the XXXXXXXXXX office. He was fair but did not mess around. 



I am concerned the school system will continue to lose outstanding families
to private and parochial schools until this school system makes the
difficult and possible unpopular decisions to reign in the purposeful
disruption of the academic environment and behavioral expectations
concerning the rights of students to attend an institution with realistic
expectations of respect and in harmony with education's primary functions
intellectual and personal development. 



I am basing these comments and directing this commendation to you towards
your fellow board members and my family's board member, XXXXXXXXXXXXX
from the PNJ article. I hope you and your fellow members find
these words encouraging and constructive. I look forward to hearing the
progress the Escambia County School Board makes in continuing this dialogue
to reach an equitable but effective set of policies regarding disciplinary
consequences.



Kind Regards,

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Friday, February 20, 2015

David Spade and Lee McNulty, Two Videos that are Relevant.


                                     

The answer is always no.  It is like I'm the caller trying to get David Spade in the Capital One commercials above to say yes! 

When I bring initiatives to this school board that deserve at least some consideration--it seems like the first answer is always NO.  That's okay, I know how to be persistent. 

But discipline and policy enforcement as it relates to discipline are areas of concern, expressed by teachers and parents to me in increasingly large numbers in the wake of the publication of my recent viewpoint in the PNJ; Despite this-- it appears as if this is a discussion that the board and administration does not want to have.  "We're doing all we can" is what I'm hearing at the meetings. "We are limited in what we can do" is a common refrain

 I disagree and think we can and should be doing more.   I don't want any students to be subjected to some of the things mentioned in Lee McNulty's video below....



While we in Escambia county schools are like James Hilton's  Shangri-La compared to Patterson New Jersey--we DO share some of the same problems described in his video above.  Teachers discouraged from administering discipline, infractions minimized and not coded correctly, students pushed through the system, etc. etc.  (Disclaimer--I'm not linking this video to say that we are anything close to Patterson NJ public schools--thank God we're not).

Although I know we are nowhere near Patterson and that the majority of our schools are very, very good, many of the issues expressed by this 27 year high school teacher in his video above are relevant to a discussion on school climate and school violence that I am trying to foster locally---particularly when they ask Mr. McNulty what he would do if he were in charge--from minute 9:35 on to the end at minute 13:00.  Some of what he is saying is relevant to some of our schools and anyone who would deny this IS living in James Hilton's Shangri-La mentally or they are not being honest.

I'm not tackling this issue to be divisive, I want us to tighten up on this like we've done with the district drug plan and first grade reading engagement.  I want us to truly do everything we can with a comprehensive plan on school climate, discipline, and violence.  And no, I don't subscribe to the failed notion that "discussing" this problem is "attacking" leadership or the schools.  Trying to improve and organization does not equal not supporting the organization. 

I simply don't want to see us devolve to a point that we are like Patterson NJ with respect to the way misbehavior is tolerated and students are allowed to run the schools and for this receive a promotion to the next level. I don't want our enrollments to continue to stagnate while our neighbor Santa Rosa county enjoys geometric school system enrollment gains.  I don't want to continue seeing some schools churn out staff to the point that every three years there is an 80% turnover.  These issues are all inter-related and that's why I want to listen to the concerned voices from the classroom that I am hearing on the subject of discipline and school climate.  That's why I'm staying on this issue because teachers, particularly the young ones, "are afraid to speak up and they feel like they are not protected if they do."  That's a direct quote from an Escambia County classroom teacher, by the way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Florida Coalition for School Board Members


Because of a roll-out media conference call that was conducted with impeccable skill by the professionals at Sachs Media Group in Tallahassee Monday, our new coalition has garnered more than 27 individual news articles and television pieces around Florida over the last several days.  Watchdog.org picked up a piece I wrote about our newly founded group:

As it became clear throughout the state that the Florida School Boards Association would not listen to their members and drop their support of the lawsuit, several school board members in Florida decided it was time for a new organization. In January 2015, a group of board members decided to create the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, to become a conservative voice of advocacy for statewide educational policies and positions.  This group includes School Board members from throughout Florida. The goals of this organization are fairly straightforward; Erika Donalds, a founding member of FCSBM who serves in Collier County (Naples), Florida, voiced some of these concerns on a media conference call on Monday from Tallahassee, Florida.“The FSBA has lost touch with the citizens whose tax dollars fund their existence—but our new coalition will represent the interests of ALL Florida

What Should the Appropriate Sanction be for Violent Students?



Some might think that multiple, nearly limitless "chances" are warranted  and quite appropriate for students who engage in systematic patterns of bullying, harassment, and abusive conduct on our campuses and buses.  Some might say "don't give up on kids" or "they might drop out or fail" if we punish students too harshly

I believe otherwise.

I believe after a certain point, as with Mr. 61 or with Mr. Big "A", great care must be taken to administer significant and meaningful discipline, combined with diligence and attention utilized when placing such students back into classes and on to buses with their former victims after discipline has been given.

I don't believe we have an "epidemic" of violent behavior on our campuses, but I do believe we have a significant issue and that our current methods are not appropriately stemming the tide of these dysfunctional behaviors that are bleeding onto our properties and into our classrooms from dysfunctional communities and households.

These dysfunctional behaviors, in turn, are leading to stagnant enrollments in all of our schools generally and acute levels of teacher turnover (churn) at several of our schools individually.

So for Big "A" I believe he should have received a 2-year ban from riding our buses, as well as an expulsion for the rest of this year and all of next year--being only allowed back after successful

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mr. Big "A" and Discipline Dysfunction.....


It started out pretty innocuously.  Big "A" transferred from one middle school over to another in the 7th grade here in Pensacola.  But "Big A" started getting into trouble at his new school.  Nothing serious at first, nothing really too terrible.  He was caught selling candy in violation of school rules.  He was tardy.  He started to become a disruption.  nothing too bad at first.

Soon, Big A was blatantly defiant to district personnel, and willfully disrespectful to other students.  Big A liked to push his weight around, figuratively and literally;  As a seventh grader, he stood 6' 1" and weighed in at 270.  He was a big kid.

Soon, these referrals started to stack up (eventually there would be 16 in one calendar year, sixteen!)

At referral number 5, Big A committed a significant infraction;  The teacher that day recorded on the referral she wrote that Big A was "Bullying the same female student again, calling her "ass-crack" every time he saw her.  This student was upset, and did not understand why Big A was bullying her, and she did not like it.  The teacher used the word "Bullying", in her write up--but for reasons that I do not understand this infraction was not coded as bullying in SESIR.  

Other referrals came, Big A used demeaning homophobic slurs on some students, taunting others calling them "Bitches"

He confronted a female staff member outside, intimidating her to the point that she reported feeling threatened.

Big A even shoved a teacher that was trying to keep him from fighting with another student.

Fast forward a few referrals later, and Big "A" was walking up and down the halls of his school, using the "N-Word" over and over, loud enough that other students and faculty can hear it.  When 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Escalation of Misbehavior, Increasing Violence Not Adequately Checked

Don Parker from WCOA had me on as a guest this morning to discuss discipline issues.  We had a pleasant conversation, and I discussed the discipline plan I brought to the school board last Friday morning.  I was somewhat surprised that the majority of the board feels things are essentially okay and that the current system/discipline matrix needs more time to be deployed so the results can be analyzed.

I worry about how many victims it will take before we take bold action and use every tool in our kit to get discipline under control, and violent, dangerous students moved to separate locations/programs so they won't destroy the learning environment for students and teachers as they are currently doing.

I'm going to continue to talk about the most egregious discipline infractions and the anemic ramifications these students receive each month.  Eventually, hopefully, this will get the attention it so desperately deserves from administrators and the other school board members.  This is the way parents and teachers who have contacted me want me to proceed-and so I will continue my attempt to keep the focus on these issues going forward.

PATS Center

I've received several emails like this one below from a parent.  I think the biggest issue is the communications piece regarding the future of the PATS program.  Many people feel it is being closed--even I was under that impression following the meeting last week on this subject.  I'm told today, however, that the PATS center is not slated for an impending, intentional closure.

I'm hopeful that a discussion at tonight's meeting can clear up the issue of the future of PATS for everyone that is concerned.


FROM A CONSTITUENT:



To Malcolm Thomas and Patty Cebula, copied to the members of the Escambia County School Board:

In my preparation for writing this letter, I came across Mr. Thomas' website and his list of stated goals as superintendent.

·         Provide, promote and support environments that result in world class 21st Century learning.
·         Secure and develop resources (incl. human, fiscal and informational) that support and promote the district's mission.
·         Develop and maintain an organization based on trust, teamwork, communication, commitment, and competence.
·         Optimize students’, parents’, and other stakeholders’ pride and satisfaction with public education.
Please explain to me how dissolving an already diminished program serving students with special needs, in favor of overloading educators who would have to balance even more IEP related coursework on top of their regular curriculum, meets even a single one of those goals. At no time has the ECSD put forth any plan that indicates gifted kids will receive instruction suited to their non-neurotypical learning and behavior patterns. Instead, every new piece of information presented (of which there has been pitifully little) indicates that these students will simply be dogpiled with harder academic work aimed at bringing up standardized test scores, implemented by overworked gifted specialists spinning far too many plates to truly meet the needs of their students. 

Gifted education isn't about "more" or "harder" or "fill out an extra row of bubbles". It is about servicing the needs of kids who truly think differently, act differently, and do not fit

Monday, February 16, 2015

What We Must Do, What We Can Do, and What We should Do....



We should Go Out of Our Way to Accommodate Military Families, Not Find Ways to Stymie Their School Choice Selections.

At the Escambia County School Board workshop last Friday morning I initiated a discussion about military children in our schools.  We are a military town, with a large contingent of military dependents in our programs. We benefit greatly from the military's involvement in our schools as volunteers, and mentors, and helpers at special events, sporting events, and all sorts of other activities.  Military attendance in our schools also generates revenues and grant proceeds that help military and non-military students alike.  In short, having military dependents in our schools makes our schools better overall. I know, personally, what it is like to be a military dependent because after my dad adopted my brother and I, we were military dependents--he was a Navy Chief Petty Officer!  (and we attended 17 different schools before graduating from Pensacola High School).  It is tough always being the new kid....

Florida recognized this issue and attempted a legislative accommodation.

In 2008, the Florida legislature passed a law ensuring that the children of Florida service-members would receive preference in registration in our schools, to include magnet school programs.  Because parents are very discriminating these days, due to the plethora of information available about schools online, often these military parents select the best, most successful programs in our district for their children to attend.  Some of our schools have certain pre-requisite requirements, and Brown Barge Middle School (BBMS), for example, typically does not allow for entry after the 6th grade year--as the 6th grade year begins a sequentially progressing series of stream courses that form the foundation of the whole grade 6-8 program.  The thought process is that, unless a student is coming in from a similar program elsewhere, it is difficult to hop on the merry-go-round after 6th grade, as too much will have been missed.

So the issue now is a military family that is coming to Pensacola from the mid-west wanting their student to attend BBMS; They've done their homework and this is the program in Pensacola that they want their child to attend.  And yet the red tape has now stymied this family's attempt to enroll this  rising 7th grade student in BBMS next year.  At this workshop that began on Thursday afternoon, NAS Pensacola Commanding Officer CAPT. Keith Hoskins' School Liaison Officer (SLO) was present to speak to the issue--as she had tried to navigate the bureaucracy to assist this family with placing this student at BBMS.  Instead of showing any deference at all to this liaison, the board abruptly ended the meeting and so the Captain's rep., who had waited patiently 2 plus hours at this workshop to hear the matter discussed, had to come the next day to see the conclusion of the board's discussion on this issue.  This, in and of itself,  was a faux pas that most in the room did not perceive.
Setting that aside, here is the fact:  We have allowed other non-military students come into BBMS after the 6th grade.  We've allowed other military students to enter BBMS after the 6th grade.  So we

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pre-Meeting Prayer: Is This the Next Domino to Fall?


This afternoon's meeting of the Escambia County School Board became an excruciating exercise in restraint.

Listening first to a dissertation from our attorney about the ins and outs of pre-meeting prayer and the pros and cons, and the potential legal pitfalls, the ups and downs, the how we can do it but maybe we shouldn't--left my head spinning like a centrifuge and the issue about as clear as mud.

At the end of it I think her opinion is/was that we can continue to do our pre-meeting invocations but that to guarantee no litigation a moment of silence should be adopted as our policy.

I'll only go along with that if I'm forced to, or if the majority of the board votes to adopt this as a policy.

It came as a refreshing surprise that three board members stated they preferred to continue the long established practice of having each board member, on a rotational basis, bring a guest to deliver a pre-meeting prayer monthly.

For a moment I thought the pendulum had swung all the way, the last domino had fallen, and the board was going to completely capitulate on this issue.

All around the country-everywhere I look-people seem to just bow down and genuflect to the loudest voices in the room with ridiculous demands that are counter to the majority of the people's values.

Doesn't look like that is happening here yet, thankfully.

So Which Version of the Testing Story is True?



A few years back and three Chancellors of Education ago-- then Chancellor Gerard Robinson made an allegation on his blog that infuriated many board members around the state.  In this statement made by Robinson--he deflected statewide criticism he was receiving from education stakeholders regarding the out-of-control testing mandates coming down from Tallahassee.  He simply blamed local districts.  It wasn't us, it's them, they did it!

 It reminds me of a scene from the 1979 film "The Warriors" captured at minute 1:42 of this clip.


(Wrong guys got blamed due to a false statement being repeated over and over and over loudly and often by someone in a  position of  credibility)

At that time in  July 2012, I brought the issue to the board meeting and was reassured that it was the state, not us, that was mandating the massive number of tests.

Fast forward to last Tuesday and the big education summit in Tallahassee, and this time I heard with my own ears directly from the highest education official in the state  that it is local districts, not the state DOE or Tallahassee mandates, that are driving the massive number of tests administered yearly at the district level?

So who is it?

This issue was discussed by one of my counterparts on the board, and recently in speaking to a peer in a central Florida county, they are asking the same questions and are receiving murky, misleading, or flat-out inaccurate answers.

Looks like it's time to once again bring this issue to the board's workshop to pin down who it is, exactly, that is mandating the ridiculous number of tests that we are administering locally.

We're all for a rational, reasonable level of standardized testing for accountability--but what we are doing statewide now is ridiculous and it is burning out teachers and students and robbing classrooms of learning time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How DC Control of Local Districts Acts as a De Facto Tax increase that Limits Minority Participation in Some Extracurricular Activities..




What happens, what are the unintended consequences, when FEDS in DC begin to assert control over areas of local education agencies where the FEDS should have no control?

Answer--lots of bad things.

As I chronicled in a piece published Monday afternoon on watchdog.org, ripples radiate outward exacerbating existing problems in schools, making them worse than ever.

An example is the exorbitant costs borne by parents for their students' participation in most extracurricular sports; now, with new oppressive fundraising mandates being dictated downward, this problem gets worse and precludes participation by lots of poor and minority students.  This results in team sports like soccer, for instance, being weak at schools where the raw talent is ample.  A real life example is one local High School that has a track team that has won several state championships in recent years- yet their soccer team struggles chronically to compete with other area soccer teams and in fact is often-times "mercy-ruled" out of games.  Why?  Because these athletes' parents don't or can't pay for these students' participation in most minor sports like soccer, and therefore when such athletes reach HS where previously there were mechanisms that would allow such students the ability to earn part of their fees to play these minor sports----now this  ability to participate is instead further eroded due to ridiculous fundraising restrictions that we've essentially genuflected and accepted from the FEDS.  And poor students, minorities, and middle class folks get juiced again.

From this article:

"...another problem resulting from these federal machinations in local school district control has silently seeped into our schools.   As a result of the draconian controls placed on local districts by DC politicians and others, including the First Lady,  states were told that, beginning with the first day of school for the current 2014-2015 school year, most snack food fundraisers would be outlawed under the 2010 School Nutrition law. Unless a state specifically requested an exemption, there would no more PTA bake sales, candy bar sales, or cupcakes in classes. It is bad enough that this DC mandate is taking well-enjoyed snack food away from students, but there is additional fallout and unintended consequences becoming apparent as this policy is rolled out.This rule implementation now serves as a de facto tax increase on poor and lower middle-class families that utilize fundraisers to defray the costs for their children’s participation in minor sports. That’s the big problem nobody knows about.  No more candy bar sales to help the students raise money for participation in minor sports like cross-country, tennis, track, and soccer. Students who were used to raising money for their participation by selling a valued commodity in school (candy!) were now told such sales outlawed everywhere on campus all day long.  As a result, the parents are being required to write bigger checks going forward to cover the revenue loss. "

Read  DC school food policies hurt the community by going after snack food fundraisers

Interesting Dynamic Comes out of #FLPromise15 in Tallahassee


One of the more interesting aspects of Tuesday's Education Summit in Tallahassee was the contrast between the small handful of protesters outside of the FSU Alumni center that were disgruntled, loud, and unhappy---compared to the crowd of media, policymakers, and dignitaries from around Florida that participated and were HUGELY receptive to former Gov. Bush and and his message on School Choice.  Watchdog.org picked up my post on this interesting dynamic.

From that article:

"The welcome Mr. Bush received when he arrived was especially enthusiastic, with the assembled group of state lawmakers, educational policymakers, and other statewide officials giving him a standing ovation upon his entry to the room. Outside the hall, a small but vocal group of protesters yelled at the meeting attendees and waved signs for passing cars.  This assembled group of protesters had a different welcome in mind for the former Governor and would-be president. Jeb Bush and his voucher programs and testing and drilling of students are destroying our schools” said retired Hillsborough County (Tampa, FL) teacher Susan Smith. “His voucher ideas that have been expanded in Florida are draining resources from the public schools” she continued.  “And the voucher schools don’t have the same accountability as the public schools. Come talk to us about education, not someone who never taught one day in a class!” yelled a burly man to some passers-by. Inside the hall, Jeb Bush was talking about the importance of education and the audience was hanging on every word.  Before he started in on educational topics, he made mention of the protestors outside.  “They mean well and they care-but they are protesting to support adult economic issues, I’m in here because I support children and their parents.” said the former Governor to thunderous applause."


Monday, February 9, 2015

These Two Articles Frame the Big Issues Destroying American Public Education.....


Two education stories got my attention over the last few days, and they both complement each other on the subject of modern public school climate. They also point to the two biggest issues that are destroying public education: 1.)  Apathy and failure to confront the real issues that are leading some schools to fail, and 2.) the disingenuous, hypocritical, insidious educrat mantra that proclaims education reform is bad --and all schools can be fixed if everybody will just get on the same page and howl for more taxpayer money.

The first article is in today’s Forbes.com, and it points out the blatant hypocrisy of education reform critics.  It’s a brief but interesting read- really thought provoking.  From “The Paradoxes of Education Reform Critics”

“Reform critics have embraced anti-democratic rhetoric to attack the Gates Foundation and other organizations that want to influence education. For example, Diane Ravitch has called them written before ”bastions of unaccountable power” that aren’t “subject to public oversight or review”, and who “have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state”.   That sounds a lot like unions to me, but education reform critics like Ravitch don’t seem to mind them one bit.  Likewise, Ravitch and other reform critics also praise the democratic nature of schools as something that is sacrosanct, but then insist these beacons of democracy shouldn’t be able to freely operate without negotating with unions. Which kind of sounds like we don’t trust these institutions very much at all.”

Walter Williams has a piece in today’s Pensacola News Journal that tackles the issue of social dysfunction impacting education.  Interestingly, this same piece (albeit longer and less sanitized) appeared on Townhall.com last Wednesday.  In this piece, Williams  cuts right to the heart of the issue in so many schools when he correctly points out that home-life conditions are what is driving poor performance in many public schools.  He takes it a step further when he also, aptly, states that demanding more and more taxpayer cash will not fix this problem---American families must step up.  I’m certain his correct viewpoint on this issue makes him a pariah in some circles…..From the article “Tragic School Stories”

“New York's schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away. That was Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch's message to New York's governor and Legislature. She said that minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success.  Simply calling for more school resources will produce disappointing results. There are several minimum requirements that must be met for any child to do well in school. Someone must make the youngster do his homework, ensure that he gets eight to nine hours of sleep, feed him breakfast and make sure that he behaves in school and respects the teachers. None of these requirements can be satisfied by larger education budgets. They must be accomplished by families, or all else is for naught…The bottom line is that if nothing is done to affect the home life and cultural values that produce the non-learning attitudes and climate that are the subject of Linda Ball's "185 Days: School Stories," there's little that can be done to improve black education. The best that politicians can do is to give parents and children who are serious about education a mechanism to opt out of rotten schools. That option is something the education establishment fights tooth and nail against.”


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Florida State Rep. on School Climate: "How Do We Know the Data Reflecting Fewer School Incidents of Violence is Real?"


....That is the question posed by Florida House of Representatives K-12 Subcommittee Chair Janet Adkins in this past Wednesday's K-12 subcommittee meeting.

The committee was given a presentation by two DOE personnel about school climate and the apparently decreasing levels of reportable school violence and misbehavior incidents.

The very colorful PowerPoint presentation and full meeting packet is here.

Several committee members were skeptical, thankfully.  It's not a rosy picture in many classrooms.

From about minute 25 to minute 46 of this video-members of the committee asked a series of very good questions-the gist of which was captured at minute 46:22 by Chair Adkins, when she asked

"How do we get to what is real, society is not getting kinder and gentler, yet we're to believe the number of these incidents is decreasing in our schools.  But I talk to teachers and they are discouraged; they are discouraged about classrooms that are not controlled and their inability to

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Overwhelmingly Positive Response to PNJ Viewpoint on School Behavior Part II



The text message from a district History Teacher and coach was short and to the point on Sunday morning, the day this viewpoint dropped:

"Excellent oped!!  Thank you for voicing the frustration that many of us feel in the classroom."
was the content of this text message.

On Wednesday, I was on the campus of an elementary school on my lunch break.

Two teachers at this west-side elementary pulled me aside when I was on their campus.  One, a kindergarten teacher, said  "I just want to say thank you for writing that piece.  I agree with it wholeheartedly" she said.  "The behaviors just seem to be getting worse and worse, and this year is especially bad!"

Another teacher that walked by joined the conversation, explaining she has taught at this school for more than 7 years and has dealt with her share of discipline issues as well, suggesting that "Administration really does not seem to get what we are dealing with;  they don't seem to realize the uphill challenges we are facing everyday--it's like they are oblivious to it"

Later that same day, three different elementary teachers from a different elementary school contacted me about atrocious, out-of-control and unsafe behaviors being tolerated at their school.

"Every day XXXXX is out of control. He is throwing things across the room, and when a call for assistance is made they remove him--but then he is right back the next day and the bad behavior continues"  said one teacher.  She went on "I believe that Mrs. XXXXXXX  is trying to cope with XXXXX, but the feeling I get is that she is not getting support from downtown--and this is not safe, someone is going to get hurt!"

The other teacher from that school that called echoed these sentiments  "I know how to teach, and this is NOT a classroom control issue. I've taught for almost 20 years-- I can and do deal with these run of the mill issues.  This is different than that"

Finally, a former Pine Forest HS teacher related to me that "These out of control student issues are more common than people realize, I hear these sorts of complaints from teachers in this district all of the time"  he stated to me.

The following email (excerpts of which I'll paste below) that I received from yet another teacher really defines the problem---and suggests and requests a common-sense solution (bolded by me)

"I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated you recent op-ed in the PNJ.  It definitely hit home... I have been a teacher for nearly 30 years.  I have been a teacher in Escambia County for nearly 27 of those 30 years at the same school.  I wanted to share that I am very concerned about discipline.   I have witnessed events in the past three years that I never dreamed I would see as a  teacher.  Let me put it like this.. I can retire as soon as possible, which will be next December.  While I may stay a bit longer, I plan to retire.  While I truly believe the administration at my school realizes the serious issues we are facing, they tell us their hands are tied, and they have little recourse.  I never thought I would see the day when my judgement as a teacher was so disregarded that I am not even allowed to write a referral on a student for a serious offense.  Classroom management is my strong suit, however, the level of disrespect on a daily basis is difficult to endure.   I do have a suggestion that will not cost anything or require cameras.  My suggestion is that when administrators are doing a classroom walk thru to see what I am doing, they instead inquire about my day, ask if I am having any problems, and if they need to speak with a student or make a call home.  I feel as a teacher with nearly 30 years experience, this would put most of your "small time" problems on alert.  Without parent inconvenience, and knowledge of the problem, we are beating our heads against a wall.  At my school, it isn't unusual to have TWO walk throughs in a day.  As a teacher who is ALWAYS on task, this interruption would be better served addressing discipline.  The children would then see that there is a connection between the classroom teacher, and authority.  At the moment, there is not a connection.  They walk through to see what we are doing, and discipline isn't part of it.  This is just a suggestion by an old timer who is about to leave the building.  I loved your op ed, and again, thank you for your support.  Warmest regards"





Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Overwhelmingly Positive Reaction to PNJ Viewpoint on School Discipline, Part I


With the publication of the viewpoint op-ed on discipline that ran in Sunday's paper, came an overwhelmingly positive response.  I've been called, emailed, and spoken to in person by many persons affiliated with our schools, and the only thing I can surmise is that with the publication of this piece, I have struck an exposed nerve in the district.  Like a bolt of lightning hitting an umbrella, this piece has started a conversation.  Along with these numerous emails, phone calls, and personal expressions of thanks for writing this piece, I have also had friends of friends contact me through third parties, thanking me for writing this and speaking the truth.  On the PNJ site, the story has been "shared" more than 110 times--that is a lot of facebook walls that this story appeared on!   Some of the hardest hitting responses:

"Thank you for your spot-on editorial.  My elementary classroom has been disrupted by students who know their misbehavior is tolerated with no real consequences.  Hopefully your voice of reason will become the norm."

..wrote one elementary school teacher.

"Dear Jeff, I would venture to say that you will receive a "landslide" of response to your article. It is extremely accurate in that strict discipline should apply to all children regardless of a child's circumstances, with some exceptions of course. Those, who are advocates of "sparing the rod", will live to regret it. There is probably much regret now."

..wrote an interested community member and parent

"Jeff.... 
I strongly agree with your PNJ piece.... i.e. disruptive kids do not belong in a classroom.  
long ago while waiting to do six months Army reserve training I sub taught at middle and high schools. I soon saw there were always a few "students" that were disruptive and ruined the classroom learning ambience for the rest. It seemed obvious all would benefit if the disruptive few were allowed to leave the classroom...Years later when my son was navigating the Pensacola school system much remained the same.... a disruptive few were allowed to screw others by their presence. When I mentioned this to administrators I got the same response. It was school policy to try to keep all kids in class regardless of their interest or ability to learn what was being presented."

....Wrote a parent 

"You could not be any more correct in your logic and presentation than was printed in your VIEWPOINT.
Working in the district for 39 years and seeing "discipline" become a matter of laughter among students, I wish to let you know how much I appreciate your words and efforts. Trying to sweep back the tide seems impossible, but maybe enough effort directed toward students to adhere to rules, self-discipline, pride may yield positive results.  Schools in many cases are warehouses for young criminals, Mothers are allowed to claim their criminal spawn for financial benefit as long as that individual is enrolled. Special education classes often are the worst case scenario, in that a plethora of exemptions allow these criminals to circumvent the rules "normal" student may adhere to.
Racism is the catch word for any and everything for those not wishing to adhere to civilized behavior. Following closely behind is the word poverty. XXXXXXX  XXXXXXX by and large perform and excel because of family and personal honor and commitment to make the best possible out of what is available. Check any school...XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXX or any XXXXXX child is not a problem to be dealt with. If so, rarely!
At the end of my career...last ten years or so was spent at XXXXXXXXX after completing my sentence at the Gulag XXXXXXXXXXXXX. Sentence was imposed for questioning and challenging XXXXX XXXXXX and others as to spending of Federal money...waste, fraud and corruption. Branded as negative and not a team player, demoted from XXXXXXXXX to XXXXXXXXX at The XXXXXXXXXXX. ;) Keep the course and let me know if I may be of assistance in your effort."

...Wrote a retired 39 year veteran teacher

To say you 'hit the nail' on the head is an understatement...for the past two years I have said repeatedly to any one that will listen, "We are creating the thugs and criminals of the future," in the county.   I used to love my job, the kids, and even the extra effort that must go into each day.  I am sad to say I do not feel this way anymore.  Our district is in major need of an overhaul. 

Getting Ahead of Chronic, Habitual Discipline Problem Students in Schools



On the School Board's next discussion workshop agenda I have placed an agenda item regarding discipline.

I am going to propose to my counterparts that we establish a discipline intervention overlay to the district's recently adopted school discipline matrix.

The purpose for this proposed  policy addition is to catch and address bad behavior early and often in  in order to improve the safety, climate and learning atmosphere in our schools. Once we get this area under control (because currently it is not) all the other difficult issues surrounding teaching students will be much more manageable.

As we have seen with our first grade retention protocol regarding intensified notification and interaction with elementary school parents and students at the first grade level--setting a firm set of steps improves parental engagement and  student academic outcomes. With the reading program, we mandate parent conferences with students at risk of retention.  This has helped us tremendously with reducing the number of students not reading on grade level upon leaving first grade.  It has also helped our general parental engagement efforts as well.

With respect to discipline in our schools, we simply have too many students racking up obscene numbers of referrals while simultaneously being allowed to stay in their schools and demoralize staff and destroy the learning environments for other students who come to school to learn.

The overwhelmingly positive response to my recent op-ed in the Pensacola News Journal is the stark proof of this....

So what I'm proposing to my counterparts on the school board and to the superintendent's staff is a district-level intervention be written into policy.


If a student receives more than 10 referrals in any one semester, or a total of 15 in any one school year, such a student will  automatically be given a 9-day suspension from his regular school and a summons to appear downtown at the McDaniel Building for a district disciplinary hearing.   His/her family will also be required to come to the district office and appear before this panel of administrators, specialists, counselors, and other personnel as necessary--the point of which will be to ascertain what has gone wrong with such a student's behavior.  At this meeting at the downtown office, a judgement will be rendered as to the future placement of the student (traditional school w/ STRICTLY ENFORCED behavior contract, alternative school, or perhaps Camelot or DJJ) depending upon what the causes for the misbehavior are.   Additionally, if the student requires other district provided services (ESE, Counseling, etc.) for conditions that may be contributing to the misbehavior, a timeline and a detailed plan to administer such services will also be offered.

Lastly, and most importantly, such a policy must be adhered to with fidelity to ensure success.

For this reason, I will suggest that it be disseminated far and wide, throughout the district, that our anonymous hotline number be made available to everyone district-wide, with the intention being to ensure compliance.  A call to this hotline alleging any employee  attempts to subvert this policy by directing employees under their charge to not write a referral for discipline or to not act on a blatant behavior violation in an attempt to frustrate this policy, that such conduct if confirmed will be met significant disciplinary consequences in accordance with school board policy, Florida Law, and relevant collective bargaining agreement language.

I'll further suggest that the minutiae of the procedural aspects of this board policy be developed by the superintendent's staff via a SOP and disseminated to members of the board.

As we did with first grade reading--we must engage in school-wide discipline interventions.  We must do more, and we must do better.