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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Shadow Economy, Part I

District Booster clubs, PTA's  and other Outside Support Organizations (OSO's)  provide support and assistance to students and athletic programs throughout our district.

We fully support and embrace the assistance provided by these groups.  In many instances we could not pay to staff the activities that these volunteers provide for our students.

But one area that has not been fully addressed is the level of oversight of these organizations, particularly when students and parents at some district schools are directed to pay athletic or other fees directly to these organizations in order for their students to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities.

In a soon to be released report on this subject, the district's internal auditing department makes some really good suggestions to improve the district's process for oversight/accountability of these organizations.  from the soon to be released report:

"we collected annual financial information related to each OSO operating in the District. We noted a total of approximately $2.81 million in income and approximately $2.77 million in expenses flowed through the District for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Approximately $795,000 of income flowed through PTAs and $2.02 million flowed through booster clubs..After obtaining all of the information, we tested to determine compliance with District, state, and federal requirements prescribed to OSOs. We also requested and compiled information related to the financial operations of each OSO. District monitoring guidelines mandate that this information be gathered and maintained by school principals. In most instances, principals were unable to provide the information. As such, we were significantly delayed as principals gathered the information from the OSOs. After receiving the required documents, we analyzed this information to determine the approximate amount of resources flowing into and out of the District’s OSOs.. The District has acknowledged that it has some monitoring responsibilities for OSOs, but it appears that  the traditional approach of having principals (or their designees) monitor OSO compliance has not produced the desired results. Many principals did not have the required information from the prior year, and are often unaware of the officers and/or activity of the OSOs they are charged with monitoring We have encountered this same scenario in previous OSO reviews. Although the Office of Community Involvement has some interaction with District PTAs, currently there is no District-level oversight of OSOs. As such, we recommend the District consider centralizing certain duties to adequately monitoring OSOs and help ensure the compliance of OSOs with prescribed District policies and procedures"

I intend to publish this report when it is finalized, as currently it is in draft form.

FASA Drops out of FSBA, Union Lawsuit against School Choice.

This Fantastic news was reported late yesterday in numerous media outlets, and I think this is a good start.

The rest of the groups that are pushing this suit in court should re-evaluate their positions and consider following the lead of FASA.

If we truly care about EVERY child and want to speak with ONE voice, then we need to all be pulling from the same side of the rope, supporting ALL children, in public, private, virtual, and alternative learning environments--and we ought to support the choices parents make about what sort of learning environment is best for each child.

If we want to proclaim we are the voice of education since 1930 then we ought to join everyone here in the 21st century ---and read the polling data that clearly demonstrates that the majority of Floridians support school choice!

It should always be about students, parents, and  tax-payers FIRST--not adult economic interests!

From an article in yesterday's  RedefinED :

"One of the original groups that signed on to the lawsuit last August challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program has announced it will no longer be a party to the case.  The Florida Association of School Administrators announced its decision to withdraw in a statement posted on its website and first reported by the Gradebook.
'Having made our position clear with regards to tax credit scholarships through our participation in the lawsuit thus far, it is time to dedicate the resources of our 5,000 members on the priorities that are the heart of our organization.'
Reached by phone, the group’s executive director, Juhan Mixon, said the organization’s “core mission” is to provide professional development to school officials around the state, and that litigation is “not our thing.”  “Our main priorities are teaching and learning,” he said, and the organization’s board, which oversees training for thousands of principals and other school officials, as well as a major digital learning initiative, decided it would be best not “to take resources of our association away from our priority.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Allegations of Misconduct Part 2: Administrators Told Teachers to Change Grades order to help achieve an "A" letter grade and the resulting school recognition award money from the state.

That is the allegation that irritates me the most.  Another source close to this program has now reached out to me with issues about this school.  The news is not good.

By contrast--other schools, teachers, and staff members worked hard and earned this state bonus money legitimately,

Whereas this one school, allegedly, conspired to fix the grades and usurp the normal, legitimate process for receiving award money from the state.

...and then, to top this off, this organization's director was invited to the ceremony with the Governor last week-- honoring the legitimate work of 21 other district schools that got their recognition money the old fashioned way, they earned it!

from just a small sample of the information I have received:

"XXXX was asked by XXXXXXX to give Senior XXXXXX and Senior XXXXXXXXXX “A”’s in her class. XXXX was asked to delete zeros from missing work assignments the students did not turn in months earlier. XXXXXXXXXX discussed this issue with XXXXXXXXX since they are both new teachers. Both teachers were very upset about the possibility of loosing their jobs and their teaching credentials. XXXXXXXXXX was in tears. XXXXXXXXX  was very upset and told XXXXXXXX.   XXXXXXX encouraged XXXXXXXX to talk to XXXXXXXX about both of them going to the school district and reporting the incident. Neither woman did so. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX heard about teachers being asked to falsify grades for students. XXXXXXXXX asked XXXXXXXXXXX what grade she should give to XXXXXXXXXXX so he would graduate? XXXXXXXXXX was told what grade to issue for XXXXXXXX and she did. XXXXXXXXX was asked by XXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXX to give Senior XXXXXXXXX an “A.” XXXXXXXXX explained to XXXXXXX that XXXXXXXX rarely came to her class and when he did, he did not do his class work. XXXXXX was then asked to gave XXXXXXXXXX a “B” because that was what he needed to graduate. XXXXXXXXXXX was asked to help XXXXXXXXXXX pass his final exam. XXXXXXXXXXXX came to XXXXXXXXXXX classroom. XXXXXXXX allowed XXXXXXXXX to take his final exam. XXXXXXXXXX give XXXXXX the answers to the exam by standing over XXX shoulder and reciting them out loud because XXXXXX did not know the material. "

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Allegations of Misconduct Part 1: Falsifying Student Records to Obtain School Recognition Award Money

The worst example a public charter school can set is cheating.

Cheating to boost graduation rates, which ultimately raises school letter grades, that ultimately assists a school in receiving funds from the state for bonuses--is about the worst example any school could set.

There are allegations against one of our charter schools that are brewing to a roiling boil today, and I reiterate that at this point they are just that---allegations---of widespread grade tampering.

However, the evidence that continues to come in to me on this matter is enough for me to start asking some tough questions---which I have done and which I will continue to do.

From just a small part of what I have received on this matter:

"Many teachers changed grades, deleted zeros, deleted overdue assignments, forged passing grades, combined assignments, gave answers to tests, allowed additional time for over due assignments to be turned in, and falsified attendance records because it was asked of them in order to pass XXXXXXXXXXXXXX  Seniors onto graduation so the school could maintain its “A” rating..XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX was seen by several people telling senior XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX the answers to online class work in the front office using the computer closest to the office door near the girl’s bathroom after school on May 28th.  One parent (XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX) of a graduating senior (XXXXXXXXXXXX) called XXXXXX XXXXXXXX to 

Devastating Allegations Swirl around One District Charter School Program

Last night I received a phone call at 7:45.  The conversation lasted more than an hour, and the allegations were stomach churning.   The allegations are so numerous and simply so outlandish, that the pages of documentation sent to me have already been sent to our Attorney and to the Superintendent.

Sadly, I have already been able to independently confirm that some of these allegations are true.

To say I'm disappointed in what I'm reading is the understatement of the decade.

More importantly than this damning information, is the lack of knowledge about it.  The board, me and my counterparts, so far as I know, were totally left in the dark on the most severe transgressions alleged in these documents.

I'm sitting in meetings as recently as last month, glowingly praising this program----blissfully unaware that MAJOR allegations have been leveled against this program for more that a year.  Documents and phone records prove this out.

These documents, which I have turned over to Legal, show a pattern of misbehavior that could potentially result in criminal charges;  these allegations, if true, will lead to the end of careers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

School Choice Support Email and My Response


XXXXXXXXXXXXX    Tuesday - March 24, 2015 

Note of Gratitude

Good morning, Mr. Bergosh. 

While meeting with Ms. XXXXXXXX of XXXXXXXXXXX last week, I learned of your support for the Step Up for Students program in our county. As both an administrator at a private Christian school and a XXXXXX of four little ones, I would like to express my gratitude to you for your support for this important and unique program. 
I know first-hand the difference that these funds is making in the lives of families in our county by providing them with educational choices that they would not otherwise be able to afford. 
We appreciate you. 

Director of Development

My response:

JeffreyBergosh Tuesday - March 24, 2015 

Re: Note of Gratitude

Thank you very much XXXXXXXXXX.

I am a big proponent of choice in education---and I strongly believe that providing parents and students a wide array of choice and customization in education is the recipe for reviving a robust, efficient, and effective public school system in America.

The wrong way to go about building up and improving public education is precisely what we appear to be doing--which is attempting to kill anything short of a complete, 100% monopoly favoring, exclusively, public schools for the provision of educational services.

This is the wrong track to be on and that is why I remain so vocal on this.  This mentality puts big labor, special interests, and adult economic matters ahead of students, parents, and taxpayers.

I appreciate what you do for students, and unlike my counterparts, I appreciate, respect, and fully support the right of parents to take advantage of tax-credit scholarships when they feel this is in the best interest of their children, and that's why I support Florida's tax credit scholarship program;  in many instances we've simply failed to provide what all our students need and unlike my counterparts I also know this is not always just a "give us more time and resources for the public schools and we will fix them" issue.  Sometimes students and parents just need an alternative setting for their students, and we ought not to, as public school leaders, get in the way of parental choice.

Parental choice is ultimately what will save our public schools.  I simply wish more people could see and understand this simple axiom of truth.

Have a great week!


Jeff Bergosh

Monday, March 23, 2015

#NSBAConference 2015 Nashville-Day 3--VPK, Distance Learning in Alaska, and Montel Williams.

Day three of the NSBA conference for 2015 began with a break out session on the value of VPK programs-- presented by officials from Pennsylvania that are intimately involved with VPK in that state.  I must admit that I attended this session with an open mind, however I remain skeptical as to the educational benefits, long term, that these programs impart. Nancy Fishman, the director of Pennsylvania's Early Learning Investment Coalition, and Kathy Swope, the 2015 President-Elect of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, led the panel.  The presentation began with graphics illustrating that the human brain develops the majority of its simplest, yet most important "circuits" early in life, with sensory pathways, language, and higher cognitive functions developing in the first five years.  The group described the educational benefits of ECE based upon results gleaned from the Perry/Highscope project from the 1960's.  Several other studies were mentioned, but no one specific study was listed as the proof that investment in ECE increases graduation rates.  A couple of interesting survey responses were presented in this session, although the value of this information does not really pertain to the efficacy of ECE programs so far as I can tell.  Statistic One:  93% of more than 300 employees surveyed agreed that a candidate's demonstrated soft skills (extensive list here) are more important than their undergraduate degree of study.  Statistic two:  56% of 1000 middle schoolers would rather eat broccoli than do math homework?  Also stated at the conference without any studies supporting the claim was that larger investments in ECE reduce a school district's ESE spending.  Interesting tidbit that I will look into and research.  At the end of the study I asked the panel to explain where the proof of ECE's long lasting educational impacts could be found and I asked their thoughts on the recent Vanderbilt Peabody study and the Head-Start study that appeared to both show no lasting long-term academic benefit from these programs.  The panel said that they believe the head start study had design flaws.  Needless to say, I'm still skeptical.  I believe these programs are beneficial socially, economically, and that these programs may ease transition into school for students--however I take issue with the huge amounts of taxpayer cash being fed to these programs under the guise that these programs result in higher graduation rates.  I have seen no compelling proof of this from well constructed research.

The next presentation I attended was a discussion of distance learning presented by members of the Lower Kuskokwim School District  (LKSD)from Bethel, Alaska.  This district's story is compelling.  This district is in a part of Alaska that has no roads--most all transportation takes place by air, boat, or snow machine.  The district has 4,100 students spread out in small towns and Native Alaskan Villages in a massive geographical area of 21,000 square miles--roughly the same size of the entire state of West Virginia!  To ensure all students in this district receive a world-class education, the district has invested in an extensive wireless network that links all of the school sites via computer.  The cost of the wireless network in an astonishingly huge $23 Million yearly--however the superintendent reported that the majority of this cost is met by federal and state grants.  Many of the students receive their education remotely via Video Tele-Conferencing (VTC)--which solves what would otherwise be a daunting transportation challenge. This district has made huge strides in technology; to put this district's massive move toward technology into perspective, the presenters note that as late as 1979--there was but one (1) phone in the entire town of Bethel, the main city in this district. People from around the whole area would have to line up at city hall to take "turns" using the phone.  Nowadays,  students in LKSD have many teachers that remote in from Alaska and also from as far away as Wisconsin.  The technology allows students in this remote part of the world to access the resources necessary to receive a world class education--and this district has fielded championship robotics teams three years running--teams that have competed in the world robotics challenge.  Interestingly, this district's students are utilizing technology today that is literally on the cutting edge--technology that in many respects points to the future of education for many students in our nation that live in remote areas.

The final presentation of the day was a fiery, inspirational appearance by television personality Montel Williams.  He came to NSBA's final general session with an up-beat, positive message for the assembled school board members.  Before he even started his presentation, he led the audience in a series of exercises to "Wake the crowd up" he stated.  He walked around the room for most of his presentation, rarely getting up on the stage.  He talked a lot about his own journey in life and his early days in public schools, and some of his challenges and many of his successes.  He thanked the crowd for what they do for enhancing American education, proudly exclaiming to the crowd "Do you know that our graduation rates in America today are at 82%, and this is an all-time high!"  he continued "We hear a lot about this country doing this or beating us by three points on this test or that metric---but let me tell you what, Who Cares! I mean, when was the last time Finland or Sweden produced  a start-up company that anyone has heard of?!? We live in America, the greatest country in the World" said Williams to enthusiastic applause.  He next talked about his military service, and his enlistment in the U. S. Marine Corps where he excelled and was invited to attend the Naval Academy and was the only African-American selectee among the 40 who were chosen for this honor.  Eventually, he was but one of 4 that completed their education in the Naval Academy from this original group of 40.  Williams earned his degree in Engineering, attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California where he learned to speak Russian.  He ended up serving the country for 22 years in the Marines.  After his service, he began a successful career in television broadcasting, with a 17 year run doing "The Montel Williams Show"  His message to the group was to keep working hard to make the public schools as good as they can be, and he imparted his no excuses mantra to the audience>, stating "It does not matter where you come from, what your family looks like, what your level of support is--none of that matters as long as you are supported with a strong public school--you can succeed in America!"

Sunday, March 22, 2015

#NSBAConference2015 Nashville-Day 2

Day 2 of #NSBA2015 started early with a data-rich presentation on different strategies emerging from around the nation regarding teacher assessments.  This presentation was given by Jim Hull of the NSBA's Center for Public Education.

The big takeaways from Hull's presentation are that there are no magic bullets to perfectly identify and rate effective teachers.  However, over the last 10 years there has been a concerted effort nationwide to do a better job of evaluating teachers.  This presentation gave an overview on several strategies, such as Value Added Models (VAM) which utilize individual student scores to narrow down the teacher's impact on learning gains on a classroom by classroom basis.  This technique  is very tedious and requires lots of heavy lifting by statisticians and is still not a perfect system.

Less cumbersome and becoming more common is the  use of student growth percentiles, which is a system that looks at student achievement without looking at other factors that influence or detract from student performance.  This method is  not as accurate as VAM, however it is easier to implement and is becoming more widely utilized.

Other methods of evaluation were discussed, including the standard classroom observation model, which is still the most prevalent method of teacher evaluation in use today.  Additional models listed included the use of student surveys, which our presenter characterized as "surprisingly accurate, yet not wildly supported by teachers"  Other models include use of student portfolios and student learning objectives.

The next big issue in teacher evaluation will be the litigation that is occurring that is seeking to make teacher effectiveness data/teacher evaluation data publicly available for inspection by parents.

Today's general session featured Yahoo Tech chief David Pogue giving the crowd an overview of many amazing technical advances that we have in the world today.   His talk was extremely entertaining; he utilized humor and anecdotes to keep the audience riveted as he went through a litany of new technologies, Apps, and other devices on the horizon that are and/or will soon be making our lives more comfortable in the years ahead;  He pointed out that this technology is also impacting, positively, the way students learn in schools.

The last session of the day featured a district from Connecticut, the Meridan Public Schools, that have implemented a confidential survey protocol that is mandatory for students to complete yearly from 3rd grade on.  The purpose of this test is student safety and to provide appropriate staff early warning of any situation where a student may be being bullied or may need counseling.  This survey also assists staff of the schools in identifying those students who may be acting overly aggressively toward other students/staff.  The goal is to identify such students early-on, in order to make appropriate support resources available to those students requiring assistance--with the overall goal of fostering a safer school climate overall. I plan to bring this idea to the next Escambia County School Board Workshop as an idea for implementation locally to improve school safety/school climate.

Finally, at the end of the day, about 50 board members from around the country were invited to a private tour/dinner reception at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, sponsored by ABM, Inc.  The dinner was good, and the entertainer looked and sounded eerily similar to Johnny Cash.  He performed many of the greatest hits Cash ever recorded, and the assembled group appreciated this singer/guitarist's talent and showmanship.  It was a nice finish to a very productive day in Nashville

Saturday, March 21, 2015

#NSBAConference2015 Nashville-Day 1

The first 24 hours in Nashville have flown by and the day has been eventful.

After landing in Nashville, the first interesting contact I had was with "JD" the airport shuttle driver.

He was a personable, funny guy, telling jokes and playing the harmonica for the half-dozen weary travelers headed to multiple downtown hotels in his van.

He talked about his days playing music professionally with several local bands, and he treated us to a grainy video of a performance that featured him on the harmonica, from the early 90's.  It was a great performance--he looked a bit different in the video-kind of like  Patrick Swayze with a mullet.  JD told us all "I had a lot more hair back then"  He did! (we all did!)

I told him I liked the way he played the harmonica-and I tipped him.  I was the second to  last passenger dropped off.

The next day on my 1 mile walk to the convention (which I enjoyed) I found the McDonald's that isn't friendly to homeless folks (there were a lot of them milling around)  I've never seen a sign like what was posted on the wall there "Thirty minutes maximum visit length while consuming food!"

I only spent five minutes there, washing down a sausage biscuit with a coffee as I made the final stretch over to Music City Center.

The session kicked off with what was advertised as a speech from Arianna Huffington.  Thankfully, Huffington backed out and Jane Pauley was brought in to fill in the slot.

I was genuinely impressed with Pauley's 40 minute conversation with the 6000 board members in the giant main hall.  Her stories were self-depricating, honest, personal, and humorous.  Her message was positive, and she told stories of many average citizens who make big impacts on society.  She talked about life spans expanding and the definition of retirement evolving.  She urged the audience to find something to be passionate about, stating "Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to be looking for it, and you will find it"

Next I attended a series of three break-out sessions, learning about different approaches to school policing during a presentation by @safeschools, a company with 30 years of school consulting experience regarding school safety and security.  The main thrust was do not discontinue SRO programs, work on joint training with school police, and have the courage to have difficult conversations about race, policing, and school climate.  The presenter hammered this point home when he discussed the pitfalls of watering down discipline, when he stated "unintended consequences occur when schools too attempt too quickly to fix discipline "numbers" and do not address the underlying behaviors.  Amen to that I say!

Next up, a discussion by the leadership of a Minnesota school district, Anoka Hennepin, that had endured a full-blown investigation by OCR over discrimination complaints initiated by students that were LGBTQ.  The outcome--students are still bullied and harassed, this district mediated with OCR and accepted a consent-decree from ED and DOJ which costs the district $500K yearly in costs for various mandated specialist positions that focus on equity, non-discrimination, counseling, and training staff on harassment/bullying issues.  These administrators all said the changes have made the district "better" yet they did not present solid data showing the changes have reduced incidences of bullying on thier campuses.

Last session of the day was a review of teaching practices in Finland, China, India, and Poland.  A panel from several mid-Atlantic school districts went on separate sabaticals to different countries to see what knowledge could be gleaned from these other countries and brought back home to America for Implementation here.  Lots of interesting data and anecdotal stories--but the common denominator is that other countries are different than the US, and these differences are stark.   The panel were unified in their disdain for the PISA results, which I thought was somewhat odd.  Overall a decent presentation.

Between these sessions, I visited the vendor display area, talked to several companies, got a free shirt for listening to an Elvis Impersonator  that did a very cool series of voice impersonations (Christopher Walken, Arnold Scwarzenneger, William Shatner) try to sell me on educational software products--which I must admit was a pretty cool sales tactic.

Then I had lunch at Jack Daniels Old #7 Bar and Grill (great food, weak service)

Pretty eventful 24 hours...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Federal Discipline Schemes, Dictated Downward To States Through DOJ, ED, and OCR Increase Violent School Incidents Nationwide

I've talked about this problem for years.  I finally had enough so I wrote an honest viewpoint on the subject of the negative consequences of weak discipline----and I received massive support from people that work in schools!  I heard from teachers, parents, and yes, administrators that are frustrated with this situation.

Then I got beat up by ideologues that are detached from reality and have a flawed, incomplete understanding of the issue of violence, bullying, and harassment that is happening in our public schools.

Most rational thinkers see right through the flimsy, weak arguments these apologist partisans make; most correctly point out that these naive rubes would not last a week --or even a day-- in some of our district classrooms!

So Tuesday night while flipping channels-- the subject of weak discipline nationwide, being dictated downward from Eric Holder, Barack Obama, and Arne Duncan, appeared on one of the news programs I watched. The segment   was entitled "Chaos in our public schools".

violence in schools is demoralizing teachers and leading to more staff churn and student flight to private schools nationwide. Some liberal, feel good restorative justice models are exacerbating this problem.   Imagine that!?!  I've been saying this for years and nobody listens as we continue to acquiesce on this issue and water discipline down in our schools more and more while simultaneously "wondering" why enrollments are stagnant and staff churn is a constant problem at some schools.

Breitbart did a piece on this, describing the political correctness that drives many of these kinder, gentler programs that sound an awful lot like what we've implemented here in Escambia County over the last 6 years.....

From the article:

"The new “restorative” policies often suggest that teachers are to blame for the high rate of suspensions and discipline actions among black students.In Portland, Oregon, Sperry reports, where millions of dollars have been spent on restorative justice and “courageous conversations about race,” a black high school student repeatedly punched his white teacher in the face, sending her to the emergency room. Subsequently, the teacher was reportedly counseled by the assistant principal not to press charges against the student, and was “lectured … about how hard it is for young black men to overcome a criminal record.” Additionally, the teacher said, according to the Willamette Week, the administrator told her to examine what role she, “as a white woman” with white privilege bias, played in her 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


At this evening's meeting of the Escambia County School Board, an expenditure will be made totaling $21,766.00.  In the scheme of a District with a $600Million + yearly budget, this number does not seem, on its face, to be that significant.

But how many books would this buy for students?  How many field trips would this amount cover for students?  How many athletic fees would this cover for students that are impoverished?  I think this is a big number.

And this amount is significant because it represents almost 80% of the School Board's yearly office budget, with the remainder going to travel and a minimal portion going to office supplies.  This $21,766.00 expenditure is going to pay annual "dues" to the Florida School Boards Association.

I strongly believe, as do many others, that individual constitutional officers like school board members should be able to determine whether or not to send their portion, on a pro-rata basis, to an organization like FSBA.  I want to opt-out of this expenditure and return my portion to our district's general fund;  Sadly, the current system for funding advocacy groups with taxpayer money precludes individual choice in this for individual school board members.  Subsequently, organizations like FSBA conscript false legitimacy by claiming they represent all school board members when in reality those of us that choose to,  cannot opt out.  The legislature should fix this so that like all other constitutional officers (Sheriffs, School Superintendents, Supervisors of Elections, etc.) we can make an individual determination regarding the funding of "advocacy" groups.  This, in turn would force such groups (FSBA) to be more responsive to the minority views of their members, lest they lose the funding.  Such a change would also foster competition, which is always beneficial.

So here is the problem with this expenditure:

Over the last several years, the relationship the FSBA has had with our elected legislature and Governor has become strained (and that is using a polite adjective).  Three years ago, then President-elect of FSBA (and current President of the organization) Patty Hightower and I sat in the office of a Tallahassee Senator, at that moment in time the second most powerful and influential man in Tallahassee, right behind Governor Rick Scott.  In that meeting, this senator looked Patty Hightower right in the face and said "Of all the organizations that come here to see me, I can think of none, not

Monday, March 16, 2015

ACLU Gets it Wrong.....Again

Sara Latshaw, an employee of the ACLU of NW Florida, wrote a viewpoint that appeared  in the PNJ this Sunday.  In it, she chastises me for having the wrong plan on discipline; she regurgitates the same liberal talking points that I've heard over and over about school discipline, according to her, "leading the students on a pipeline to prison"

First things first:  The idea of a school to prison pipeline is a ridiculous myth!  It is a lie.  It should be labeled correctly for what it is--a HOME to PRISON PIPELINE!  blaming educators, administrators, deans and counselors that care about all kids for the horrible choices some students and their parents make is a cop-out and it places blame on the wrong people.  It all starts at home and everybody knows it.  If you live in a dysfunctional home, and you have a challenged upbringing, we are standing by to help you with all sorts of resources if you just reach out and take them.  Being stuck in Poverty does not make students misbehave and become abusive predators--their deficient home-lives do. So if you are living in a tough situation--let us help you!

But if you chose to use that as an excuse to destroy learning environments for students and teachers that are doing their jobs, that excuse holds no water with rational thinking individuals.  It's called personal responsibility, you have to chose to conform to school site expectations, otherwise it is your fault, and nobody else's.

And it is sad when students make horrible choices and end up getting in trouble at school;  if bad behavior escalates such students may very well end up in prison.  But I say again as loudly as I can-this is 100% up to the student and his parents to decide whether to do right, or do wrong.

If anything, as I correctly pointed out in my viewpoint about smashing the prison pipeline, we may be guilty of being too lenient on students in school---leading disruptive students to the false conclusion

School Recognition Funds 2015: Local Recipients

Governor Rick Scott made the official presentation today, and 17 Escambia County Schools and 5 Escambia County Charter schools  will be receiving $1.4Million in School Recognition funds to distribute to their respective school staffs.

Congratulations to all the recipients!

Gov. Rick Scott Visits Pensacola's Blue Angels Elementary Today

Governor Rick Scott visited Blue Angels Elementary School this afternoon, with a huge check in tow for the teachers of Escambia County.   After walking into a packed media center where the principals from all 22 Escambia County schools that are to receive the award were assembled, Governor Scott took time to shake dozens of student’s hands and say hello.

Before giving his remarks after being introduced by Mayor Ashton Hayward, Gov. Scott asked for the group to observe a moment of silence in honor of the marines and national guardsmen that were killed in a training accident in Navarre this past weekend.

Gov. Scott then took a moment to recognize Blue Angels elementary school teacher Kim Long for her 39 years of service to the children of Escambia County.

Governor Scott graciously thanked Blue Angels principal Karen Montgomery for having him out to her school, and he then thanked Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas for all of his hard work to make the schools in Escambia County better.

After telling the students that if they worked and studied hard in school they could be like him and become the Governor, he asked the students how many of them would like to be Governor when they grow up.  About a dozen students raised their hands.  Scott next explained the perks of being governor when he stated that “When you are Governor, you get to live in a mansion, you get to

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sarasota Herald-Tribune Covers Pres. Gaetz's Visit With FCSBM in Tallahassee

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members were visited in Tallahassee at their legislative reception by several influential lawmakers, including President Don Gaetz. 

Today's Sarasota Herald Tribune chronicled this visit from Gaetz:

"Ziegler, meanwhile, spent part of her time in Tallahassee promoting a conservative counterpart to the association, the new Florida Coalition of School Board of School Board Members. The group was established in part because of opposition to the lawsuit. “There is a great deal of excitement about the coalition,” Ziegler said at a gathering of about two dozen people Wednesday at an office building near the Capitol, including conservative school district officials from across the state, lawmakers and lobbyists who advocate for school choice issues.  The coalition got a boost from Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former school board member who recently completed a two-year term as senate president. He urged the group to advance policies they believe in, even if they’re unpopular with other board members.
“I had some lonely years on the school board,” Gaetz said, addressing the group in a meeting room two doors down from the Florida Charter School Alliance office.
Ziegler was surrounded by like-minded individuals at the event. Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds helped start a charter school. She spoke to a legislative committee Wednesday about the challenges charter school officials face.
Another school board member from Escambia County, Jeff Bergosh, said he considers himself a “real threat to the status quo” and is intending to introduce a motion at his next board meeting asking the district not pay his portion of the $21,766 in dues owed to the Florida School Board Association.

“I’m tired of sending my money every year to an organization that’s working against school choice and suing the governor and Legislature,” Bergosh said."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

FCSBM Blitzes Tallahassee to Rock the Status Quo

President Don Gaetz joins the founding members of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members at a Legislative Reception in Tallahassee Wednesday, March 11, 2015.  L to R  Erika Donalds, (Collier County), Bridget Ziegler (Sarasota County). Pres. Don Gaetz, Jeff Bergosh (Escambia County). Shawn Frost (Indian River County)

Today the members of the upstart, conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members “stormed” Tallahassee, meeting and speaking with 5 Senators and a total of 12 State Representatives.  We were very well received at every stop, and the legislators were happy to hear from a group of School Board Members that wants to work together with them ( not SUE them) for the benefit of students, parents and taxpayers. 

At our legislative reception, board members from throughout the state of Florida met and heard from State Representatives Gonzales, Hudson, and Fitzenhagen.  Sen. Don Gaetz joined the group of thirty assembled at our reception and gave words of encouragement, expressing support for our coalition, while simultaneously explaining that he thought it refreshing that conservative board members from around the state will have a voice, an advocate. 

Our coalition attended the Senate Education committee meeting, with our treasurer, Erika Donalds, speaking on behalf of charter schools.  Our group left each legislator with a one page position paper, detailing our positions on several bills of interest-most importantly HB 549 (SB1114).  We sat down with Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., and discussed this bill in depth.

We also expressed our continuing support for the bills related to expanding school choice, as well as Sen Legg’s accountability bill.

At each stop today, our group spoke with one voice:  We support students, parents, and taxpayers first and foremost---not the system, the bureaucracy, and the status quo.  Our message was very well received!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Red Meat at the REC

I was invited to be the featured speaker at last night's meeting of the Escambia County Republican Executive Committee.

I began the speech with some of my background:  Where I lived, businesses I've owned, where I went to college, a little about my family, and a little about how I ended up on the school board.

Shortly after that, though, I went right into the red-meat issues that I feel are vitally important to fixing education--solving discipline issues, finding a way to unshackle our district from heavy-handed  big government mandates, and expanding wide-open school choice.

I was humbled by the great reception discussion of these issues elicited from the assembled crowd, particularly as it related to getting discipline under control and removing chronically disruptive, abusive, and often-times violent students.

"Some administrators worry about the learning that these chronically disruptive students will miss if they are removed from their classes, but I'm more concerned about the other 99% of students who are there to learn, I'm looking out for them" I stated to a nice mid-speech round of applause.

We also talked about ever-expanding pre-K programs being touted as "educational" programs, when in fact these are glorified jobs programs and entitlements.

We talked a lot about common core.

It was fun to cut loose in a room full of like-minded, conservative citizens;  I enjoyed the one-on-one conversations with many of the attendees after the event as well--I ended up staying until the venue closed and one conversation continued in the parking lot.

What an excellent night, and I'm very appreciative that the REC brought me out to speak, it was a lot of fun.

Monday, March 9, 2015

NY Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo Takes on Education Establishment with Bold Reform Plan

Multiple news outlets are reporting this morning on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's bold, aggressive school reform plan.

According to this New York Post article, Many African-American ministers are lining up behind Cuomo:

"A powerful group of black preachers is backing Gov. Cuomo’s education-reform plan to tighten teacher accountability, fix or replace low-performing public schools and open more charter schools, The Post has learned.  The ministers said they will spend the month of March preaching the educational gospel to their congregants in church services and to the public at large in order to counter union and legislative opposition to Cuomo’s tough-love proposals.  The state budget is due April 1. 'Christ was always in favor of the poor,” said Rev. Johnny Green of Harlem’s Mount Neboh Baptist Church'. "
And of course the unions and entrenched special interests and educrats are howling mad about these reforms, because part of Cuomo's plan may include  a tax-credit scholarship component.  From an article in the Glen Falls, NY Post Star: 
“The governor has declared war on students, parents and educators,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said in a news release. “He has done it through his inflammatory anti-teacher rhetoric, and through his proposed budget that pushes the agenda of his billionaire backers. Make no mistake: We will not back down. We stand united in our commitment to standing up for what all kids need. Adequate investment in our schools, an equitable distribution of aid, and working to close the achievement gap is where our focus should be — not on increased testing, backdoor voucher plans and penalizing teachers and schools.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

District 1 Round Table Discussion 2015

One of the meetings I most anticipate and enjoy yearly is the round-table meeting with the school principals from District 1.  Initially when I was elected in 2006, these meetings were even more productive, as the meetings were much more low-key back then. In my first few years the attendees consisted of myself, the principals of district one, and Sandy Edwards.   And we would engage in frank, candid conversations about issues in district 1.   That was then—this is now…

Fast forward to now (and for the last 5-6 years) and these meetings are still beneficial and useful, however they are now attended by not only me and the principals and one district staffer---now these round-tables are also attended by every asst. superintendent, every level director, many subject area specialists, and the superintendent of schools—the boss of everyone in the room except me.
So I still ask questions and some of the questions are direct; I can’t help but think that some of the questions I ask at this round-table must put these principals in a tough spot, as candid, frank responses may not go over with the assembled cast of onlookers. 

But I asked these questions at yesterday’s round-table anyway just to see who would answer them and how they would be answered.  At the end of the day, I feel it is my responsibility to bring concerns that have been shared with me by teachers, parents, and others in District 1 to this meeting and ask about these issues directly.

Not one district 1 school reported having any issues at all with having textbooks available when needed. (This was an issue I received from a different district High School, but I wanted to see if any district 1 schools were having issues with this as well)

I asked about the greatest challenges at each school.  Capacity was given as an issue at the elementary schools that are overcrowded (Helen Caro, Beulah, Blue Angels).  Pine Forest needs some facility renovations, as much of the campus is spread out behind the schools in aging portables.  Attendance -and conveying the importance of attendance to students and parents was a challenge given by West Florida High School.  Helen Caro has issues with the car-rider line at drop off and pick-up—as does Bellview.  “Why don’t people carpool” quipped one principal.  Nobody does that anymore, it seems.

One of the questions I asked all of the principals was to gauge the level of teacher morale in their schools individually on a 1-10 scale --with 10 being very high.  On this answer, nobody pulled any

Statewide Test Glitches Add to Student, Teacher Anxieties

Testing statewide since Monday for the new Florida Standards Assessment has been a train-wreck.

Locally, many students logged on, began to complete the test, and then were booted off of the system.  Others could not even log-on to the system in the first place.  Sadly, many students that started the test and then were knocked off the system and then re-logged in--found to their dismay that all their previous work was gone.  Poof!

So anxiety levels among students have been rising, and for teachers and administrators, anxiety and frustration is turning to anger.  At one local high school alone, 28 Substitute teachers were brought in to help proctor the test that "didn't happen" due to a glitch in the testing platform.  Those substitutes, and all substitutes district-wide that were hired as proctors will still have to be paid, and they'll be paid again today as they come again to our schools and we "try again."  A unnecessary WASTE of taxpayer money due to deficient planning by the state.  What more can be said?

DOE BOTCHED this test roll-out, and they are costing local districts time, energy, and money.

More importantly, DOE are making the environment for students taking these tests that much more uncomfortable, and for this alone there is no compensation that can ameliorate this damage.

According to our Superintendent, Malcolm Thomas, we will again try to administer these tests today, Thursday March 5th.  Hopefully the platform will work this time and we can get this battery of tests put behind us.

Meanwhile, national media outlets are weighing in, with the Washington Post calling this "Florida's Testing Disaster"

..just what we needed, more negative press.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

VPK-Myths and Reality

Just as I know charter schools are not private, but rather public schools, I also know that expending large sums of government [taxpayer] dollars into ever-expanding voluntary preschool programs is not a panacea that improves education long-term.  Is it helpful to families that are poor, of course.  Is it an entitlement program, of course.  Is it the BEST WAY to spend money to improve academic outcomes? NO

No matter who says it, and no matter how loudly it is said, the data from the very few  high quality, strictly controlled studies on VPK and similar programs simply do not show these programs as being that impactful--academically.  At least not long term.

Are these programs huge money generators for states and communities?  YES.  Do they create jobs in communities?  YES.  Are these programs a benefit to poor families?  YES.  Are these programs wildly popular due to the dollars they bring to states?  YES

But for strictly academic purposes, does the data from the most well conducted studies support the claim that these are the BEST ways to spend scarce dollars for the purpose of increasing academic outcomes for all children long-term?  NO  -according to a well conducted study of head-start by the US Government

NO, according to a recently conducted, well constructed study by Vanderbilt University.  From that report:

"For that Intensive Substudy sample, we found that the effects of TN‐VPK on the WJ achievement measures observed at the end of the pre‐k year had greatly diminished by the end of the kindergarten year and the differences between participants and nonparticipants were no longer statistically significant. The only exception was a marginally significant difference on Passage Comprehension with nonparticipants showing higher scores at the end of the kindergarten year than TN‐VPK

New York Schools on Reducing Discipline "Problems"

New York City Schools under Mayor Bill DiBlasio are taking the kinder, gentler route on student discipline.  In order to make the numbers look better, DiBlasio has instructed his education chancellor to strictly limit the types of infractions for which principals in NYC schools can administer appropriate, firm discipline.  Fighting, cursing, defiance--any discipline for students engaging in these behaviors requires "approval" from downtown.  Sounds familiar to me...minimize the significance of the misbehavior, water down the consequences, marginalize what impact such disturbances have on class learning time----then claim victory and "mission accomplished" when the "numbers" are lower.

Like he did for crime rates in NYC by eliminating proactive policing and "stop and frisk" policies that worked- leading to escalating crime rates--DiBlasio is now socially engineering schools to fulfill a campaign promise to make discipline more "fair."

And now he's claiming victory.

Appeasement does not equal solution, though.

from Staten Island Live:

"The system will basically bend over backward to cater to those who disrupt lessons and break the rules. The kids who actually behave and do their work be damned. It will also remove a measure of local control from borough schools and consolidate more power in the hands of the central authority, the DOE.
De Blasio is pushing the plan in response to data that indicates that minority students are more likely to be suspended or arrested. So it's basically a DOE version of stop-and-frisk reform. The message will be a powerful and simple one for disruptive kids, no matter what race they are: Don't worry. They can't touch you."

The administrator's Union has filed a protest.

Teachers hate this plan.

Parents are appalled.

Media have panned the plan.

But the numbers for school discipline, not surprisingly, are looking better!

Education & Income Inequality: Corporate Power or Cultural Attitudes toward Education Holding Some Back?

Paul Krugman of the NY Times believes it is out-of-control, power-hungry corporations that are to blame for stagnant job creation and the inequality of incomes in the US.  If we just redistribute more of the corporate income to poor families, via higher corporate taxes, in his view- this would be the quickest way to end income inequality and he believes it would spur job creation.   He believes that education is not a player in this matter. Of course he's dead wrong.

In a very thoughtful deconstruction of Krugman's opinion piece, James Crotty of Forbes gets much closer to the mark in a two-part series on this topic.

The centerpiece of his argument is that cultural values about education, not corporate power and control of large percentages of American wealth, are what ultimately determines a student's success in the classroom and ultimately in his/her career.  Student success in the jobs market ultimately leads to successful countries.

From part 1:

"In eschewing education as a solvency to income inequality, Mr. Krugman argues that we should, instead, place “higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families.” Never mind that those “programs” would inexorably center on job training (i.e., education), unless thePrinceton University Professor merely plans to give a man a fish while failing to teach him how to fish."

From part 2:

"cultural attitudes towards education – more than income, and regardless of income – are the primary determiners of educational, and, thus, career success on the planet.  Unfortunately, for the vast majority of those Americans that economists like Paul Krugman deign to help, such cultural capital is missing in the home and neighborhood. This lack is not primarily due to the greedy ways of a “tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance” – as Mr. Krugman would like us to believe – but to the fact that so few of those on the lowest rung of the U.S. income ladder are surrounded by people who have graduated high school, let alone college."