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.








Sunday, May 31, 2015

Federalization of Local Entities: Is it Already Happening in Escambia County Schools without So Much as a Vote by the Board?



The Federal Government is meddling in the affairs of local  schools and local law enforcement agencies nationwide.

There are some startling parallels between these two types of agencies and how they are being manipulated by the Federal Government.

This is disturbing to me, as these functions should be subject to local, state, and/or municipal control--not the Federal Government.

Police departments and LEO's that do their jobs in tough areas (Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD) suddenly are the villains for attempting to fight crime.  Suddenly the cops are the bad guys and they need sensitivity training and must subject their entire departments to expensive federally dictated "improvement protocols"  Being a police officer has got to be one of the most difficult jobs in the country, especially now with all of the second-guessing that goes on among politicians.

But wait, that sounds a lot like what teachers are being put through.

Schools and teachers that are fingered for treating minorities unfairly are put on notice, and then subsequently such districts are made to live under onerous "consent-decrees" that stipulate how monies are to be spent, how resources are to be allocated, and specifically how minorities are to be treated with respect to discipline.  Otherwise, the Feds threaten to pull funding.

here is an example of a recent school district implemented agreement from Mobile.

One district in Minnesota got snagged by this sort of a situation, and is now spending an additional $500K yearly to pay a compliance officer, an independent monitor, and several other staff positions in order to be deemed "compliant."  Meanwhile, they report better discipline numbers, but this masks the phenomenon that is growing nationwide: minimize the consequences for the infractions.

That's right, in many instances, what was once an infraction that would have warranted a referral to the office, is now forcibly foisted on teachers to "handle" in their classrooms, so there is not a written referral, or a paper trail.  Say "F#$K this S@#T! in class loudly, and instead of being sent to the office, this student is now given a behavior incident form, which teachers keep track of and which teachers must have four of before they send a student to the office with a referral.  Presto  "See, our numbers are BETTER!" Our referrals are DOWN!"

And with respect to minority students, they will continue to receive more warnings and less impactful consequences for misbehavior that is committed.  This will continue, and suddenly we will all see  "LOWER NUMBERS for MINORITY STUDENTS!!"

The problem is, this will not be a solution.  This is a stop-gap measure that forces teachers and other students to absorb the bad behavior and often abusive, violent conduct of some students for political

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Interesting Take on Fixing Urban Schools...


The American Spectator has an intriguing and provocative article out on fixing inner city schools that have largely failed across America.  Of course the common-sense solution, which more and more inner-city students/parents are demanding, has a lot to do with school choice and letting the free market fix the problem.  from the article:

 "a father, concerned about his son’s attendance there, walked in past “two police cars…[an] everyday routine…. There was violence. Fighting. Disrespect and drugs.” The father complained to the principal about what he saw, and she “shook her finger” at him, admonishing “don’t tell me how to run my school ” That is precisely the response I would have expected from a modern-day unionized public school principal. The father would have been received more cordially if he had complained not about the chaotic environment of the principal’s school but about the police presence out in front..should the public tolerate an educational system that is “destroying any hope or possibility” of its students being prepared to live normal lives? What is more, Moore has the answer, to wit, increased state support for vouchers which would allow the unions to maintain their failing system, but provide for alternatives for parents interested in their children’s well-being."



Read more here

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Selected Schools Nationwide "Report" Fewer Violent Issues on Campus than in Previous Years


A very non-scientific poll was recently conducted among a "representative" sample of 1600 schools nationwide, and the results are in.  And multiple media outlets are rushing to report the good news, that incidents of violence are decreasing in the nation's schools. According to the Washington Post:

"Nearly four in 10 schools reported that student bullying happens at least once a month, and 5 percent reported that student sexual harassment happens monthly. It’s difficult to compare those figures to previously published data, which showed the number of schools that reported such problems at least once a week. Federal education officials cautioned that there are methodological differences between the last survey, in 2009-2010, and the new report, which could have influenced the results. The earlier survey was conducted by the Census Bureau, and it was completed with pen and paper, for example, whereas the newly released data comes from a survey conducted online by contractors for the NCES."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Is there an Epidemic of Bullying, Violence in our Schools?



In the lead up to the vote on the Newpoint closure, I received numerous emails, phone-calls, and other correspondence about that school.

But one recurring theme, particularly from the students who contacted me, was an intense fear, a worry over being bullied in traditional schools if Newpoint closed.

Bullying is a huge problem nationwide, with students around the country being subjected to a non-stop barrage in person, over the internet, and on social media.  Sadly—often these students end up depressed and they hurt themselves or become bullies themselves.

Bullying, harassment, abusive and oftentimes violent behavior is common at our traditional district schools too—according to many who wanted us to keep Newpoint open and also according to the frequent, almost semi- regular complaints I receive from parents whose students attend our traditional schools and are aware of these same issues.

I also read about the bullying that is a hallmark of the infractions committed by those students who end up on our "disciplinary reassignment" lists monthly....

Something has to change, we have got to get this dysfunctional violent and abusive behavior under control, no matter what. I don't think Kohlberg or Flip Flippen programs are fixing this huge problem.

 I brought the idea of mandatory student climate surveys—a method that has been successful at countering violence in other schools---where students can confidentially report bullying and force district staff into action.  I’m aggressively staying on this; I’m told staff is pursuing it

One parent at the Newpoint meeting stated her daughter was harassed and bullied so badly at Workman MS that she pulled her child out.  “One student was beaten down, his nose broken and his leg broken” was a claim made by this parent.  “Nobody investigated and the students who did it were not punished—nobody would listen and everybody at that school ignored the problem!”  (at that point in the meeting I interjected that I wanted to talk with her, I would follow up, I would not ignore her.  She and I have talked and emailed back and forth since the meeting)

One young student recently wrote this to me

“i want to keep this school open because it makes me feel very safe it's the only school that takes care of bullies really quick so please keep the school open”

Another wrote:

“dear school board members this school gives us great education.those other thing about alcohol and stuff were also at other schools like at ransoms dance. They listen to our ideas and we can work at our own pace. Some people come here to get away from bullying and if you take that away people will get bullied again like some people I know.”

Another wrote:

“I have a lot to gamble with the new school stuff we all go through, I went to Woodham Middle School and I was sadly bullied. I found Newpoint, I am no longer bullied”
A parent wrote:

“My name is XXXXXXXXXX and my son's name is XXXXXXXXXXX. He is a XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXX attended Holm Elementary for his entire elementary education. His grades were good until about fourth grade. He was being verbally bullied by his classmates. His teachers did what they could to stop it, but the bullying continued. By sixth grade, I put him in karate classes hoping to give him some self defense skills and boost his self esteem. Unfortunately, this did not work. During his sixth grade year, the verbal bullying escalated to physical bullying. XXXXXXXX was attacked more than once at school. He was so stressed about going to school that despite walking to and from school, taking p.e. everyday, and karate class twice a week, he gained over 20 lbs that year. Seventh grade did not improve either, I ended up taking legal action against another student who was caught attacking XXXXXXX. I was on the verge of putting him in counseling because he was becoming so depressed and withdrawn”

Another parent wrote:

“I live close enough to Bailey Middle School to see it from my house. But after the actions of their faculty and staff, it is more than worth it to commute [our daughter] to a school that is over thirty minutes away! Last year she was bullied by students AND a faculty member, who and I quote was heard by my daughter and two of her classmates as saying "Its not my fault you had a migraine and could not be here yesterday, you will get what you deserve, a zero..." myself, my wife, daughter and her two classmates approached the Principal with this information that same day we were told she would deal with it, when in fact we were later told by a fellow teacher (who is our neighbor) that the bulling teacher and the Principal both "Had a good laugh over it." When my wife and I approached the dean, we were told that kids would be kids and unless we had any other options we would be out of there and on to Escambia High the following year. Well, we weren't. And in fact, my daughter fell into a depression that not even the mental health professionals could rationalize. They continually told my daughter "I'm sorry for the way you were treated by people who were supposed to protect you."

Here is How You Get Better Discipline "Numbers"


Mr. Van Driessen:  "Let's examine why you are having a bad day, class.  What can I do to make things more fair for you"

The kinder, gentler approach to discipline is exploding across America.  Districts across the country are bowing to pressure from special interest groups and the Department of Justice, often being subjected to following highly prescriptive consent decrees that dictate the way discipline shall be handled.  In some districts, this can cost as much as an additional $500K yearly--while simultaneously usurping teachers and administrators of authority with respect to meting out discipline for repetitive, disruptive, defiant and often abusive conduct by students.

Is Escambia County headed in this direction?  It sure feels like it, the way discipline is being watered down and consequences are being eroded even for the most serious infractions.

Now we're hiring $200K consultants like Flip Flippen to teach us how to "get to know" students and examine OUR own behavior as adults and how this contributes to some students misbehaving.  Sorry, I'm not buying into that ever.  There are a plethora of less expensive, equally effective professional development systems with a focus on develping good student teacher relationships.  Many are free.  Why not use the free systems that are out there?  Nope, we need to spend heaping piles of taxpayer cash on this system.....

And people wonder why many urban districts are devolving?

 Here's why:

What we accept, we condone.  What we condone, we endorse.

Instead of one set of expectations, where all students of all races are held to account, along with their families, we are now attempting a broken, simplistic approach to make discipline numbers look better.  But it won't work.

When we accept disrespectful and abnormal, asocial behavior and force teachers to "self-examine"
Van Driessen "You are all victims of a system that holds you down, your actions are NOT your fault"

how the individual teacher's conduct may be a contributing factor to student misbehavior, or when teachers are force-fed garbage about how inexcusable behavior like cussing out-loud in class and willful defiance and disrespect towards teachers and staff must be tolerated by some students due to their "cultural" background---when we start genuflecting before the radical out of touch apologists who espouse this garbage, then we have tripled-down on a failed strategy that will lead to the destruction of many school districts.  This is nothing short of a license for anarchy in some schools, and this will have the ancillary effect of hastening an already acute teacher shortage in these challenging schools, while concurrently shepherding the evacuation of such schools by any students with families of means.  There will be an acceleration of flight from these schools, it is inevitable.

How do we win back the schools?  How about starting with basic discipline and enforcing rules at the outset of the school year, a sort of "Broken Windows" approach to behavioral expectations in school.  What is wrong with strict discipline--this would work, this would get parents to trust us again if they knew we were serious about discipline again-back to basics.

But we're not getting back to basics, we're going the other direction....

Trapped between all of this unleashed, unrestrained political correctness will be good students, good families, that do what they are supposed to do and only want to study and learn in school.  We will be robbing these good kids of their future along the way.  Oakland, CA, recently adopted a "no-discipline" strategy for willful defiance.  I've been to Oakland on a number of occasions; I wonder what it will look like in 5-10 years after all of this comes home to roost.......

From SF Gate:

"Mouthing off in class or failing to follow a teacher’s instructions will no longer lead to suspension in Oakland schools, a ban that will be phased in and be fully in effect just over a year from now, the school board unanimously decided Wednesday night.  As in other urban districts, African American students are disproportionately among those suspended, specifically for willful defiance in Oakland.  “We’re getting pushed out of schools,” said Dan’enicole, 15, who is African American and Italian American. “They don’t care about us.”  Oakland has been criticized for the disproportionate suspensions, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and a 2012 voluntary agreement that required the district to employ a range of practices that reduced suspensions. Among them are the district’s Manhood Development classes for African American males as well as restorative justice, which requires victims and offenders to talk about the behavior and ways to address it.  Willful defiance suspensions for African American students in Oakland declined from 1,050 incidents in 2011 to 630 in 2014, according to district officials. That number is expected to drop significantly this school year as well."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Newpoint: "You Know Enough, You Know What You Need to Know, Now Vote!"




Because we are the body that contracts, not the district, it is somewhat unsettling to be told, "This is enough, the contract violations are enough, now vote!" 

So to articulate for the record exactly why I voted the way I did, My "NO" vote to the closure of all of the Newpoint schools was by no means a defense of Newpoint's contract violations or an affirmation of the way Newpoint ran their schools. 

It was a "NO" to the start-stop, on again, off again approach that the district has utilized here-the spiritless, feckless, almost craven way in which Newpoint was not investigated in May of 2014 for the multiple issues that were known at that time . After all, in May of 2014 we had just approved a multi-year, multi-million dollar charter contract with Newpoint five-flags the month before.  Maybe if an investigation was done then, that start-up on July 1st may have bee pulled back?  Who knows, right?  So my vote last night was by no means meant to imply I feel Newpoint is blameless, It was a "NO" for lots of reasons, partly the way this whole Newpoint mess has been handled.  

I voted "NO" because there are still unresolved allegations not yet fully known to all that staff was hindered from doing this investigation in a more timely fashion and telling the board. 

I voted "NO" because there have been dramatic, disturbing leadership failures in the district that led to this not being investigated when it should have been, leading to the School Board being left in the dark which is unacceptable.

It was a "NO" vote expressing my significant angst with the sloppy way the Superintendent failed to keep the school board appraised of the issues at Newpoint. (I guess I'm the only one who thought that was a legitimate beef, but I won't accept being treated like a mushroom.) 

It was a "NO" because I know there were allegations from a year ago that were not followed-up on that could have led to a plan to correct these issues at all the Newpoint schools, but nobody did anything to follow up sufficiently. Most importantly-- had action been taken when it should have, In May/June of 2014, student safety could have been bolstered over this past year, instead of being compromised multiple times. 

So my "NO" vote was over this whole sloppy, choppy, and frankly deficient process utilized to make a "problem" go away and disappear for what I believe to be political expediency. The process matters, and everyone--even those "EVIL" Charter School Operators--- who is facing closure deserves a full accounting of ALL allegations to be known before the governing board takes a vote. 

Otherwise we are subverting due process for expediency. That's what Third-World Banana Republics do, I don't want America, Florida, or Escambia County to be like them....

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Newpoint and the Public School/Public Charter School Double Standard


There exists an undeniable double-standard between public charter schools and traditional public schools.  Both types of schools are Public schools, yet the way they are treated when they struggle is very different.

Why is this?

Because the very powerful, very well-funded and very committed bureaucracy that controls the public education agenda does not want competition.  They want all the money to feed their ever-growing bureaucracies, and these same guardians of the status quo are ambivalent about parents stuck in failing public schools for decades.  These “Educrats” (Agency captives, Big Labor, and Big Business/Crony Capitalists that grift off of the taxpayer funded educational trough) have two simple mandates:

1.        ---When a Charter school struggles—the hue and cry shall be “Shut them Down, Now!”

2.        ---When a traditional school struggles for decades, the mesage becomes “We just need more time and resources!”

How are our Traditional Schools Treated?

Generally speaking, a traditional public school like Carver-Century K-8 here in Escambia County is given time, resources, and ever more chances to fix issues along with tons of district support before any serious consideration is ever given to closing them down; such schools are nurtured, supported, and given increased levels of taxpayer cash and staff-time--- in an all-out, pull out all the stops effort to save them. 

In the case of Carver Century, it was only after the school’s own students had chosen to attend other schools--and attendance was down to about 30% of capacity -- that the school was recommended for closure.

And it was a close, 3-2 vote;

that school nearly remained open, despite anemic academic performance for years running and a rapidly declining population making it non-viable financially.  That school was nearly left open despite all the problems, though.

Another example--we have dumped $millions and $millions of dollars into Warrington Middle School over the last 6 years in a desperate attempt to improve that school’s performance—even as the percent of occupancy compared to capacity at Warrington slowly dwindles and now hovers just above 50%. 

And even though performance has been slow to improve, almost sluggish—no serious discussion of closing that school has or will ever take place.  It would be more likely that spontaneous fires would erupt on the Antarctic Ice at the South Pole than Warrington Middles School would ever be recommended for closure.

It will never happen no matter what. 

As a matter of fact, we just keep pumping more money in, and at some point when the amount of dollars and resources pumped in reaches a weird sort of equilibrium with the dwindling student population, with an additional requirement being met that the most disruptive of the disruptive students have all been removed---yeah at this point this (or any/every similar) school will improve

We are seeing signs of this phenomenon this year at Warrington Middle.  We spent nearly $500K last year on the consultant that wrote the book “The One Year School Turnaround.”  

This year we’re being lobbied to do another nearly $500K One-Year Turnaround for a second year.

 I have nothing against the consultant, and as a matter of fact I think they are doing good things at Warrington Middle School.  But why do we need to keep them there for year 2 of the 1 year turnaround?

How many consecutive years will we be told we must do another "One year school Turnaround?"

And is this sort of turn-around model sustainable or scalable?  
   
Perhaps it is if we want to starve other needy schools of resources unfairly-- or if we start printing money. 

How are Charters Treated?

Charter schools like Newpoint Five Flags, by stark contrast, are almost on a stopwatch if they start to struggle. 

The only solution we are being offered for Newpoint in general, Five-Flags in Particular, is the immediate vote today for a closure to happen in 90 days.

But as recently as three weeks ago, there was not even going to be a 90-day notice given to Newpoint.  That is a fact that can be verified!

But nope, not now.

Now we have to close them no matter what, in stark contrast to what we've done with our own traditional schools, no matter what the parents say.

With Newpoint it has to be a hair-trigger calculation.

I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with such an accelerated time-frame for demanding either performance or a closing/re-constituting.  But why must we treat them so drastically different? If Warrington gets time to fix their issues--why can't Newpoint?  Why must they close NOW!?

I’ve voted to close charter schools when they could not get their act together, and I'll do it again when necessary.

I'd just rather not do it before all the facts of the investigations are known.

This won't happen in this case, though. 

Because there is a crystal-clear double standard at play.

Why not put all schools on the same “improve or close/reconstitute” timeline?

I happen to think we would be a whole lot better as a public school system if we had the intestinal fortitude to more quickly shutter traditional schools that fail to perform, just like we are prepared to do to charter schools like Newpoint. 

I’d be all for it and I think the average taxpayer and parent would be as well—that is why we’re seeing parent-trigger laws pop up. 

Charter schools are public schools funded with public dollars. 

Charter school students are public school students and these students face the same accountability protocols that traditional schools face.  Their scores and their test outcomes affect our district’s letter grade.  And all schools, traditional and charter, are funded with public taxpayer dollars.


So can we please, for the love of God, at least stop treating them so differently, especially as they struggle and face closure?

Boom: FEA, FSBA, and NAACP Lawsuit Against Choice Dismissed!

 
Rejected!


Education Establishment 0    Students, Parents, Taxpayers  1

In what can only be described as a devastatingly bad loss for establishment, bureaucratic educational guardians of the status quo, a Leon County Circuit Judge did what many expected, he dismissed the case against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.  


Florida Students, Parents, Taxpayers, and genuine proponents of School Choice are the winners today!

From the Miami Herald:

"Opponents of a controversial law that directs would-be tax dollars to private schools suffered a setback Monday as a Leon County judge threw out a legal challenge to its constitutionality. Circuit Judge George Reynolds III ruled that the Florida Education Association, Florida School Boards Association and other plaintiffs had no legal standing to bring the case against the nation’s largest private school choice program. His rationale: The way the program is funded, often referred to as a “voucher” system, doesn’t use government vouchers at all. Rather, Reynolds stated, the multimillion-dollar program gets its income from corporations who receive tax credits for giving money to an outside organization that provides scholarships to lower income students. Those students — about 70,000 of them and growing, with the greatest share in Miami-Dade —— then attend private schools, most of them religious. In other words, it’s not state money."




Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article21319284.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, May 18, 2015

Newpoint: Lingering Questions Must be Addressed



There were takeaways too numerous to discuss from the marathon all-day workshop the School Board held on Friday.

The staff did a thorough job of detailing the numerous contract violations Newpoint has had.  There is no question that there have been numerous contract violations.   And these are important.

But I don’t need to bring in a thick binder of information and be led through it to know what I know about Newpoint.  There are other issues at play more devastatingly serious that could very well warrant closure of these schools.

The contract violations, all of which were known in January, February, and March of this year, did not even warrant a notification to the board.  I have a huge problem with this.  Apparently my counterparts on the board do not.  I can’t make informed decisions about important issues if the information I receive is incomplete, inaccurate, or non-existent.

Often, as a board member, I have felt like the last one to know when important issues pertinent to board decision-making  are known by staff members.  On the rare occasion when I have been made aware of potentially serious issues, I have followed up vigorously and have effected change.

Administrative staff was furious with me when I made a public records request of the DOE regarding lunch over-rings and over-charges that were contained in a state report.  I followed through, made additional inquiries, pushed hard for additional audits that led to expanded investigations, and we ended up paying back $250,000 to the Department of Agriculture.  (Former employees are facing charges for their part.)

Then we had the Kesco debacle that was brought about in large part to a devastatingly bad hire—the effects of which are still resonating as that employee was recently in court pleading to a felony over her puffed resume that was not checked. The Judge in that case wondered aloud about why the district did not do their due diligence in that hiring decision...... Disaster.

Then we have the auditor general findings, resulting in our having to make multiple restatements this past year.

And massive under-staffing in the grants administration department at our career center that led to a blistering audit finding.  And that understaffing situation was known about for years and not addressed.

Then we've recently had 10 months with no bank reconciliations---prompting the Board's audit committee to request a special meeting to take action.

Frequent violations of statutes regarding the posting of minutes occur--this is almost a common occurrence,

And then the gigantic fiasco with the PATs center, where board members were left in the dark about what appears to have been a strong push to close that 49 year old PROGRAM.  That  disastrous committee/working group debacle still has PATS Parents pissed-off. But to quote a telemarketer,

Friday, May 15, 2015

Newpoint: 1:30 Today is Discussion Time

I have fielded dozens of emails about Newpoint, many of which describe conditions at district schools that hastened a decision to choose Newpoint over traditional schools.

The closure decision will be made Tuesday evening at the Board's regular meeting, but a significant discussion of this issue is slated to occur today at 1:30.  The decision was made to make this a time-certain 1:30 so that once discussion on this item begins, it can continue until completion, for continuity.

I have many questions that I'll be asking.   Many will be uncomfortable yet necessary.

$136,000.00. : What is the best Way to Spend This Much Money?



The Escambia County School Board is being asked to approve an expenditure of $136,000.00 for Flip Flippen and the Flippen group to bring a seminar to the district on June 16th.  200 staff members will participate in this 2 and 1/2 day training seminar called "Capturing Kid's Hearts."

District staff appear very receptive to this concept, and all of the assembled staff at yesterday's workshop spoke glowingly of this wonderful program.

I remain skeptical, particularly given the price-tag.

What are the opportunity costs of $136,000.00?

Why can't we do this ourselves with materials that are available online right now for free?  Why not scale one of the many available MOOCs, TEDtalks, or Khan presentations that relate to professional development, classroom management, and/or forming good relationships with kids?

Is this the most efficient way to spend $136,000.00?  I asked how it is measured, and I was told that the number of discipline referrals went down.

But what does that mean?  We have watered down discipline so much in this district, that behavior could be getting worse and referrals still could be declining.  I asked how else it is measured, and I got a nebulous response about how the number of  greetings administered to students in the mornings by teachers is one measured metric.  Whaaaat?

This is the fourth year they are bringing this, and I'm not sold on it.  Inviting me to participate does not help sell me on this expenditure.

Telling me that teachers have to examine themselves and question themselves about whether they have committed a "foul" contributing to students' misbehavior ---sounds like some social justice experimentation and social engineering.  I'm not convinced.

I'll probably vote against this because I think there are more economical ways to provide better professional development.

This is too much taxpayer cash to expend when this could fund three reading teachers for a whole year!

Or how about we give that money as raises for the teachers working in the most challenging environments, like Weis Elementary, as a bonus?

What are the opportunity costs of $136,000.00?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Newpoint: State Rejects the Charters at Panama City

Newpoint was notified yesterday by the Florida Department of Education that their charter school applications for two Bay County Schools have been denied.  The letter is here:




Sunday, May 10, 2015

Newpoint: A Constituent's Email of SUPPORT (and My Response)


Here is an email I received from a constituent yesterday evening, supporting Newpoint schools.  My response to this email is below.


>>> XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX  05/09/15 4:32 PM >>>
XXXXXX XXXXX XXXXXXX,

I am writing in response to the press release out today by Rick Outzen in
regards to the Newpoint Schools. It was stated that the agenda for the next
school board meeting will include a recommendation to close all three
Newpoint Schools.

XXXXXXXXXXXX attend Five Flags Academy, after having to leave XXXXXX
XXXXXXXX school over terrible conditions. This is the flagship year at
Five Flags and all of the teachers have been wonderful and show nothing but
a love for their jobs and our children. From even the little information
that was issued to the public by Rick Outzen, the grade tampering issue is
being investigated on a high school level and the individuals responsible
are no longer employed by Newpoint Education.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX thriving in the environment they are in and my husband and
I do not feel that they should be punished for the actions of individuals
that are no longer employed. 

No information had been issued to the public
by Malcolm Thomas or anyone on the board when the allegations were brought
to light in 2014, which could have made a difference for parents who chose
Five Flags Elementary for their children. At this point in time, school
choice is closed and students in Five Flags are not being served by their
district schools. Private schools are not an option for all parents in the
area, obviously. 

We realize that there are political motivations to the
press release, with Mr. Outzen wanting Mr. Thomas out of office; also
calling for an elected superintendent, and we question the timing of the
release of the Newpoint information. That said, it feels like the
recommendation to close the schools is a response to the political attacks.
The education of our children is not a political matter in this already
failing school district. All viable educational options should be utilized
and explored for our children.

At this point, we are asking for time, much like was given for LuTimothy
May when he ran Dixon as a charter school. Although the school was failing,
he was given additional time to make improvements with additional school
board and community oversight. The Newpoint Schools are not failing
schools. Five Flags school is in it's infancy. Please do not let politics
motivate any hasty decisions and instead follow normal district procedure
(i.e Dixon),and let the investigation take it's course.

Thank you for your time,

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Super Voter, XXXXXXXXXXXX




My response:


XXXXXXXX,


Not by choice, mind you, but I was put into the middle of all of this when whistle-blowers contacted me with incredible, outrageous allegations about Newpoint and a lack of any district response/investigation.

Remember, for reasons I still fail to apprehend, the Escambia County School Board was not made aware of the most egregious allegations against Newpoint, we were totally left in the dark until whistle-blowers contacted me.  That is when this whole thing broke open.

And regardless of what anybody says, I do not believe that any significant investigation of the allegations of May 2014 would have happened had I not aggressively followed up on the whistle-blower's complaints; had I remained silent this would not all be happening.  But I will never ignore issues that threaten student safety.  Never.

This said, I remain open-minded on all allegations until I see all evidence.  You can take that to the bank.

And I remain strongly supportive of expanded school choice and charter schools in particular.
In short, I'm not convinced we, as a district, are blameless in all of this.  I think we made significant mistakes in the way we monitored Newpoint, and the way in which we responded (or did not respond) when we learned about problems there.

When a traditional district school struggles and has big problems, like Warrington Middle school has for years, the hue and cry is "We need more time, more resources!"  personnel, particularly if they've done wrong, are removed/replaced. Sometimes not in a fast manner.   The school does not pay the price for the misdeeds of the personnel running the schools.  That is how we treat OUR schools.

With charters in general, there appears to be a zero-defect, hair-trigger mentality when there are problems.  "Close them down NOW" becomes the chant loudly and often repeated.

If these allegations surrounding Newpoint are true and all of these contract violations are legitimate, I will listen to what Newpoint has to say about a plan of attack to address all the issues.  Make no mistake, if crimes were committed by anybody involved in this mess--Newpoint or District Personnel, I'm convinced those responsible will be held to account.

But My vote on whether or not to terminate Newpoint will be the vote that least impacts students and parents, and will be cast in an unbiased, open-minded manner as I have typically cast my votes throughout my time on the board. 

I'm not out for blood, I just want people to do their jobs and not waste taxpayer resources.  I want people that did wrong to be held accountable.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bergosh
Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board
District 1 Board Representative
850-469-6147
www.jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com
jbergosh@escambia.k12.fl.us

Newpoint: Problems Mount as Multi-Agency Investigation Continues....



Newpoint Schools have problems, not just locally but over in Panama City as well.

Just this last week the Newpoint School in Bay County has sued the Superintendent of Schools in Panama City over nearly $1Million in Grant money that Newpoint wants but cannot get because the Superintendent there will not sign the grant application.  From the News Herald:

"A charter school provider is bringing legal action against Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt after he didn’t approve a grant application for school equipment. Newpoint Bay Inc., which operates the existing Newpoint Bay Academy and Newpoint Bay High School and is opening Newpoint Bay Preparatory Academy and Central High School in Bay County, filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus, which seeks to compel a party to perform a legally obligated action."
Locally, the  Escambia County School Board will be voting on a recommendation from superintendent Thomas to terminate the charter for all three Newpoint schools in Pensacola.  The issues that are given to justify this termination are outlined in today's Pensacola News Journal:

"Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has made a recommendation to the school board to terminate the charters for the schools. The matter will be an item on the consent agenda at the regular board meeting on May 19. If approved, the contracts will end Aug. 17. The school district and the State Attorney's Office are investigating allegations of grade tampering at Newpoint Academy and Newpoint High School. Initially, Newpoint Education Partners, the schools' parent company, denied any wrongdoing. However on April 29, the company announced it had launched an independent investigation."


The  problems locally stem from a series of allegations that began in the spring of 2014.  The allegations, the gist of which were well documented in a story in this week's edition of InWeekly, were not followed up on by the district until this spring, and now I have knowledge that there is a robust, multi-agency investigation underway (State, local, Federal);  This issue is multi-faceted and involves more than just Newpoint schools.  This investigation is complex, and everyone is watching everyone else, it kind of reminds me of this scene from "Casino." 
And the truth of all of the allegations will be uncovered.  I'm convinced of this. 
Meanwhile, for Newpoint, whether or not they are guilty of any of these allegations, the fact that these claims are being made against them is a massive  public relations problem.  
Although I will be open-minded and will listen to all sides of this issue before I cast my vote on Newpoint, I know that there are those that already believe all of these allegations are true.
We will all just have to wait and see what happens next. 

The Escambia County School District Celebrates our Volunteers


The 31st Annual District Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon was held last Thursday at New World Landing.

400 people attended this wonderful event, to include four members of the school board, County Commissioner Doug Underhill, NAS Pensacola Commanding Officer Keith Hoskins, Dozens of uniformed military volunteers, outstanding teachers of the year from all of our district schools, and many district business and faith-based partners.

The superintendent's office was represented by Norm Ross, who thanked the crowd profusely for their support of the schools.  (Supt. Thomas was in So. Florida attending to other district matters)

Marty Stanovich, the director of 1st Tee of Northwest Florida and former College Professor, served as master of ceremonies.

Many schools were recognized for their efforts in achieving higher levels of community involvement, and several schools have received the highest designation for this achievement (Gold Level) for decades running.
Marty Stanovich welcomes the attendees of the Escambia County School District's Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon 2015 at New World Landing Pensacola, Thursday May 7, 2015

As District 5 Board Member Bill Slayton put it in his very well-delivered  opening remarks to the assembled crowd, "We can't do what we do without you (community) supporting us."

The highlight for me was having the chance to meet and congratulate the individual award recipients on stage, and the outstanding senior volunteer of the year Margaret Gardner made a splash with everyone in the Hall.  As this 90 year old came up on the stage, she loudly proclaimed "I don't need this cane, the doctor said I do, but I don't need it"  She proceeded to High-five everyone on stage as she received her award.

It is great to be able to say thank you to all those folks that do so much for our students, and this nice event is one meaningful expression of this thanks!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cox Heroes Awards-An AMAZING Night!



Yesterday afternoon the folks from Cox Communications honored some exceptional district students.

The very nicely conducted ceremony was held in UWF's conference center, and included students, parents, dignitaries from government, and staff from Cox Communications.

4 of the 5 members of the Escambia County School Board, as well as Deputy Superintendent of Schools Norm Ross attended this very memorable ceremony.

A total of 47 students and their families were recognized.  Tears were flowing throughout the room.  People in my row, myself included, were swallowing hard and wiping tears from our eyes--these stories were soooooo touching...

One student was born with half of a heart and has had to endure multiple open-heart surgeries.  Several students had major, life altering debilitating disabilities.  Several students have lost family members.

One young student, when it was announced that he had lost his older brother, started to break down on the stage.  I broke down with him in the audience....it was heart-wrenching watching this young

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Exit Interviews



This past week, the school board members received two "exit-interviews" via emails addressed to the Superintendent and copied to the board.  One was from a retiring employee from one of our inner city schools, the other was from a student who graduated from one of our High Schools in 2014.

Exit interviews provide invaluable insights into conditions within an organization.

When conducted properly, these interviews provide the opportunity for the person leaving the organization to leave feedback that can be constructive for the organization going forward.

As a board we have discussed exit interviews in workshops, yet I'm not aware that we have ever developed a firm, consistent district-wide policy on exit interviews.  I think it is time to re-visit the issue.

Both of the emails we recently received were fascinating, because it was plainly evident that the writers both cared deeply about our schools, even though one was heading into retirement, and one is beginning a college career in another state.

Both of these email "exit interviews" were unsolicited.

From the employee's perspective--the district must address significant problems with the implementation of our FOCUS computer software program.  The employee provided compelling examples of the frustration and non-user friendly aspects of FOCUS that employees deal with in trying to use this software system;  some of these issues are profound and have compliance implications that must be addressed by the district ASAP (Information security, attendance, ESE services, etc.)  This employee also spoke of the significant benefit at her school of having a more robust police presence.  from this retiring employee's email:

"Another thing I have noticed is when a police car is out in front of our school at closing time, less parents check their students out early.  They, the parents, do not act crazy in the front office when the officers are in the school.  Even students are calmer acting.  We need a police presence to help us out, even if it is just in the mornings and afternoons for an our."

A student who graduated from one of the High Schools in District 1 also sent an email encouraging us to change our "core curriculum" in a way that provides graduates more opportunities to learn "soft-skills" like interviewing for jobs, writing good resumes, navigating the college application process, learning about finances, and the basics of adult, independent living.  Interestingly, during the recent round-table on education, I heard much discussion from local business leaders on the panel about students graduating from schools locally lacking soft skills. So, to me, this is an area in which we need to improve for students and to help businesses with hiring graduates that are better suited to the   workforce.

The email from this former student resonated with me, as I read it I could almost hear his plea that curriculum be modified to address these concerns for his peers that will follow him into adulthood going forward.  From the former student's email:

"Students in Escambia County are not required to learn the basics of finance, and therefore make poor life decisions when they think they are a qualified adult. Personally, I had to figure out how to do my own taxes this year, and it caused me a lot of stress because I did not know what I was doing or who to talk to in order to find out. I am sure that I was not the only person that experienced this situation. I know entirely too many people that have moved out of their parents’ house without a stable financial foundation, and now they are struggling. These students are so determined to be an adult that they do not think of the consequences of their decisions. I also know too many females that have gotten pregnant simply because they think they are ready for a family. XXXXXXXXXXX never even had a sexual education course to show students how a child would affect their life, let alone how to raise one. These young couples are making decisions that ultimately lead to their lives spiraling downward into crippling debt, and it is because they were never given the opportunity to learn that a family needs to be financially stable before they can even begin to think about expanding."

We can learn a lot from those who have left us and sent us feedback to make us better.  I want to listen to these two individuals and at least have a discussion with the full board and staff about the issues they have raised.  We can improve if we listen.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Could School Choice Help Prevent the Next Baltimore Riot?



As I was flipping channels on Sunday morning, watching the various Sunday Morning News Programs, there was a lot of discussion, naturally, on the Baltimore Riots.

Everyone on This Week with George Stephanopoulos was talking about it. 

Face the nation had a panel talking about it.

It seemed that everyone had issues they believed contributed to the problems in the Baltimore area.  Poverty, concentrated poverty, income inequality, and a lack of jobs was a recurring explanation.  The police need more training.  The police need more psychological training was one line of thought.
One guest even blamed a lack of neighborhood grocery stores and a deficient transportation system.
 
Whaaaat?

Nobody talked about individual choices, personal responsibility, the disintegration of the Nuclear Family, Skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates in most large urban communities, or the long rap-sheet of drug charges Freddie Gray had.  Nope, no conversation about any of that—those are taboo subjects on the Sunday morning shows.   It was just a lot of gushy, idealistic drivel about how when people make bad choices, it is everyone else’s fault; the government is actually at fault--and must install and pay for more “programs” at once!

And then several panelists mentioned poor education as an issue.

Bill Kristol piped up after the Bernie Sanders Interview and threw out a gem, that nobody touched

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Florida is #1 in Digital Learning According to New Report



Watchdog.org published a story I wrote on Digital Learning initiatives nationwide this past Thursday.  The story was based upon a new report out this past week that delves into the efforts nationwide to increase opportunities for students to participate in high-quality digital learning opportunities.  from the story:

"For the 2014 report card, Florida earns top honors and the highest overall grade, followed closely by Utah.  These two states are the only two states that earned an “A” for this year’s report. Eleven states earned “B’s,” 13 states earned “C’s,” 19 states earned “D’s,” and 5 states (Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Connecticut) earned “F’s.” One of the keys to the success of Florida in this report is the passage and subsequent implementation of HB 7059 (2012).  This bill requires school districts in Florida to inform all parents of options for early high school graduation, and also expands student advancement options based upon demonstrated achievement.  Implementation of HB 7059 over the last three years also expanded career and technical offerings while simultaneously allowing those who finish high school early to maintain eligibility for Florida’s lottery-funded Bright Futures college scholarship program.  This report contains an entire section dedicated to the brief description of several current and/or pending laws from states that are moving bills in their respective legislatures to advance digital learning.  The report also includes tables listing the bills introduced in 2014, the number that were enacted, and the number that failed before passage.Additionally, the report contains links to 18 different reports on digital learning and competency based student progression, as well as numerous links to organizations that readers can contact for more information on this topic.  Digital learning is the cutting edge in education, and this report does a very nice job of introducing the topic to readers, defining what successful implementation looks like, and then ranking the states that are working toward implementation of these initiatives."
Read the full report here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What Does the District's Contract With Newpoint Allow in terms of Oversight?

The Escambia County School Board entered into a contract with Newpoint Pensacola on June 21st 2011.  You can read the  30 page contract here.

While the contract is written and provides wide latitude to the charter school to operate autonomously in most respects, and while Newpoint Pensacola has its own school board and administrators that oversee the day to day operations of this charter school--- there are still many provisions in our contract with Newpoint that allow for the Escambia County School Board to provide oversight and to even to cancel the charter under some circumstances--particularly if laws are broken, or if the charter is not being followed, or if student safety is compromised.

I am not a lawyer, but I read the contracts.

I don't know which, if any or all, of these highlighted provisions on the pages linked below may have been at the Board's disposal to deal with allegations that erupted in May of 2014.

Maybe we could have used these contract provisions to address the allegations raised by a whistle-blower that contacted me on 3-25-2015?  I don't know, but it seems to me we had the power to immediately inspect the books and premises, initiate an intervention, ask questions, or perhaps even close them down via a 90 day (or immediate) notice if the allegations had been investigated in May 2014 and if the allegations were found to be true.

This appears to be a moot point now, as our ability as a board to act on these allegations (when they were made in the Spring of 2014) was foreclosed because we were not told of these issues by staff at that time.  And Newpoint came to the award meeting with Rick Scott and had a photo op.



(See additional pages by hitting "read more" below)