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.

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

 punches.  The stress of new curriculum and testing issues were listed as the primary culprit in sagging teacher morale, with the average rating at schools, as represented by the principals, being a 6.125.  While alarming, this low morale score did not surprise me, considering the discipline issues I’ve heard and the horror stories about our new curriculum implementation in the primary grades.  It is a tough year to be a teacher, and there is unanimous discontent regarding the insane levels of testing being mandated-this was a message I received loud and clear from yesterday’s assembled group.

With respect to district level support for school discipline issues—every administrator I asked point blank about this reported that they were receiving “great” support from the district with respect to serving disruptive students, referring students to iCARE and with RTi/MTSS implementation.  No problems here, apparently, except for the fact that several teachers from several schools in my district have confided in me that administrators actually feel “exasperated” and point to a lack of support from the district when dealing with some discipline and other student issues at the schools.  So someone is not being 100% honest but it’s understandable given the circumstances I suppose.

On the subject of what schools need, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the district is working diligently to make Bellview Elementary and Bellview Middle more secure-with fencing and camera installation initiatives being designed and planned right now.  Safety of the school area was a big concern voiced by the principals of both of these schools that are adjacent to one another.

While the administrators present agreed that surveillance cameras were/are good for the lunchroom and on the buses, when I asked their feelings about adding cameras in the classrooms (as many districts nationwide have done in order to improve discipline and enhance safety) the idea was met with significant reservations and hesitation by the group.  One administrator vocalized her concern, stating “I think the teachers would not like this, they would think you are using the footage to judge their teaching”

 I believe this is something that is coming, sooner or later, to aid schools in safety, discipline, and maintaining a good learning atmosphere.  It’s just a matter of when.

I next asked about the frequency of the drug dog visits, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that these visits are consistent at all the middle and high schools in District 1.  The approximate average number of visits per month, according to the principals, is 3. 

Finally, I asked about discipline and I explained that this was going to be a special area of focus for me during the remainder of the time I’m on the board.  Most of the principals felt their schools’ discipline strategies were working effectively.  I was actually told by more than one principal that “the number of referrals has been slashed.”   Hearing that several schools have developed “Behavior Incident Forms” upon which teachers have to document 4 instances of misbehavior and attempt re-direction before a referral can be written—I can’t help but wonder if we are still having the same level of classroom disruptions, but just categorizing them differently on” Behavior Incident Forms” instead of on referrals, thereby reducing the number of referrals.  That is what I’m told is happening at some schools in District 1, however the principals at the round-table disputed that.

Several teachers from Pine Forest had requested I ask about the “Time-out” process PFHS used to utilize (that has since been discontinued), which the teachers appreciated as a way to remove unruly, defiant, and disrespectful students from class for a period of time so lessons could be taught.  Principal Frank Murphy related to me that the time-out process was scuttled a number of years back because it resulted in students being sent to the cafeteria with nothing to do, and such students were not learning.  This was the rationale given for ending that process at PFHS.  When I asked about the learning from the other students that was being disrupted by students that had previously been sent to “time-out” –the answer I got back was murky; Essentially, it was related to me that it's the teacher’s responsibility to engage the students and develop a “relationship” with the students, and this apparently will solve the behavior issues and make lessons better for students.  (Many other principals in the room pounced on this point as well, in what essentially felt like a shot to teachers who are complaining about disruptive students—apparently such teachers must simply do a better job of developing relationships with their students in order to expect normal classroom behavior) I don’t know if I buy into the fact that a new teacher or a substitute teacher must develop a “relationship” with a student as a prerequisite for expecting acceptable behavior.  Apparently, this is a thought process that the administrators in the room believe to be true.  I wonder what the classroom teachers in the schools will think of this?

After two hours and fifteen minutes, our meeting ended.  I thanked everyone present for taking the time out to be there, I thanked Dr. Judy Pippen, Principal at Jim Bailey Middle, for hosting the event.


Anonymous said...

Imagine that, alternative strategies for discipline appear to be working.

There is a level of grace we need to have with kids, especially those from lower income homes. Otherwise, you may need to check your priviledge. It's good to have high expectations, but you also have to remember that not everyone has the same experiences growing up, so maybe in reality you cant expect much, at least while they are young.

There will always be the really hard kids, and some times they do need alternative services (which we could do better at), but that percentage is much lower if we do aim to build relationships and work on becomign better communicators as teachers. Surely you agree that responding to moderate disrespect with a cool air is better than responding with anger and labelling the student as disrespectful.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous--I have no doubt-in fact I agree-that our discipline strategies do work for the majority of the students and the ones who are mildly disruptive. However, with this said, there are a small percentage of students, perhaps as many as 10% in some of our schools, who are not going to get with the program. They are there, but they don't want to be there...often, the parents or guardians of such students don't want to intervene to assist the schools with discipline or worse-they blame teachers and schools for "picking" on their precious angel. I'm sorry, for this hardened small percentage of kids that destroy atmospheres, wreck teachers, bully and harass other students, and are truly predatory in nature--for this narrow band of students we are not doing everything we can do to isolate and serve them in an alternative setting. Again just last night real life proof emerged: After I gave a speech as the featured speaker at the Escambia County Republican Executive Committee meeting, a member who also is a teacher in a middle school in District 1 approached me after the meeting and expressed full support for my stance on removing disruptive students. "I get cussed at, cussed out, all the time" he said to me. "I like our principal and she does a good job, but for some of these students we need to do more, we need to do something different." he continued. "The strategies are not working, so thanks for talking about this." he stated. And oh, by the way, the Principal at this teacher's school attended the round table, and when I asked her about their discipline strategies, she said things were working "very well." So, as I know to be the case--there is a massive discrepancy between what the administrators are saying about discipline, and what the front-line classroom teachers are dealing with. That is a fact, Jack. And sadly, political correctness appears to rule the day and if anything the punishments and consequences for anything short of "killing" a classmate or teacher is becoming more and more watered down and milktoast. I think this track is a recipe for disaster, a continued stagnant enrollment, and worsening discipline issues. I'm not going to stop pushing for more strict enforcement of our policies, but sadly I appear to be standing alone on this, like the lone ranger. Others pay lip service to making discipline issues a greater priority, however the actions do not match what they say, so my confidence level is not going up. So I keep pushing. One thing I know is parents and constituents want this fixed, they want to know we are doing EVERYTHING we can, pulling out all stops, to make schools safer and more conducive to learning. Sadly I do not think we are doing all we can, so therefore I'm not stopping on this issue.

Anonymous said...

It really all depends on the situation.

I hate to be politically correct for the sake of keeping teachers happy, but I guess I can't always. Some teachers, by how they respond, incite being cursed at. Of course, everyone has a breaking point, but I have observed teachers who've been teaching for a few years at least, and they literally yell things like, "I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR MOTHER TO HAVE A CHILD LIKE YOU."

Can you imagine how that makes the child feel? At that point, the relationship is totally strained and the teacher will get no respect.

There comes a point, as a teacher, where you need to face your mistakes and reevaluate your approach. Like EMTs trained to not show emotion during highly stressful environments, so teachers should train themselves in to react appropriately.

Of course I agree there will be those exceptionally tough cases, where a teacher is well-trained to handle students appropriately. In those cases, I do agree they are served better with alternative services that would be a better match, but unfortunately, and for whatever reasons (funding?), not just here, but nationwide, we just kick them out. Frankly, I just think allowing to be in an exploratory environment so they can find their niche wouldn't be a bad idea for the kids non-conforming to the traditional structure. Better to try to get them into something instead paying for them to be in prison.

More to say on this, since it's more nuanced, but I don't have time to write a dissertation.