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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Welcome to Portable-Ville!

I toured Beulah Elementary School late this afternoon on my way home, and I must admit I was amazed at the burgeoning portable farm out back and to the East of this school.  Beulah Elementary has been a popular neighborhood school for decades, all three of my children attended school here, yet over the last 6 years this school has seen exponential growth.

Today, the gates were open so I went in and looked around.  Wow--18 portables and a brand new 8 classroom modular!  The school's EOY attendance figures show the school nearing 1000 students, even though it was initially designed for 650 or so.  Now, the portables, modulars, and permanent 8 classroom addition completed in 2009 are beginning to swallow the entire back-yard area of the school.

But the true growth is just now starting to ramp-up.

Right down the road, literally 1 and 1/2 miles west, at the Helms road/Beulah road intersection, is a brand new subdivision under construction.  According to the realtor I spoke with there today, the demand for lots has been brisk and there are 103 home sites in this particular development Woodlyn Meadows.  "We've got another one right down the road, about a half-mile from here south on Beulah road" said the salesman.  That new subdivision, Weaver's Run, will have more than one hundred new home sites.  This in addition to the exploding Nature Trail on 9 mile road, Twin Spires, Woodglen on Mobile Highway, another expansive high-density development on Tower-ridge road, and a brand new, gigantic apartment complex being built right at the I-10 and exit 5.  All of these developments, and more, are being built right now in the Beulah attendance zone;  To address this, the plan is to move 300 students, out of 1000, and bus them north to Cantonment, and then to build a new Middle school in Beulah.

This plan will do nothing to fix Beulah.  These new developments, within 12-24 months, will fill Beulah back up to over 1000 students and then we will be right back where we are today.

We need a new Elementary School in Beulah to alleviate the massive demand for Elementary School slots in this rapidly growing community--that is what is needed.

Why We Need to Get Students out of Portables

Occupied portable classroom behind one of our district's High Schools, photographed June 18th by a district teacher.

Occupied portable classroom behind one of our district's High Schools, photographed June 18th by a district teacher

One of our High School teachers forwarded these pictures to me.  

They tell a story better than I can describe in words, a story that must be told and discussed before we vote to spend upwards of $75 Million for three brand new schools, the effect of which will not eliminate all of the portables (like the ones pictured above) from being present on many campuses in our district.

When I asked this teacher about the current use of these portables pictured above, not believing they actually could/would still be used based upon the dilapidated appearance, I was told they were, in fact, still being used.  

"Yes sir, they are being used.  And the kids told me that they are "nice" inside.  They may think so, but I believe they deserve better"  Said this teacher.  

And I agree with her assessment--- as I'm sure most of the voters in the county would, given the fact we just asked them to re-authorize the half-cent sales tax for facilities needs.

Portable classrooms are a necessary evil in some cases--everybody gets this.  When school choice becomes a priority, and students choose other schools, sometimes temporary, portable capacity is needed.  Most folks have no problem with the utilization of these structures for temporary needs driven by school choice.

But when some schools have needs that keep expanding year after year after year--- the answer cannot be to create "portable farms" outside these schools.  Beulah Elementary school has 18 portable classrooms, 8 modular classrooms, for a total of 26 total classrooms that were not part of the school's original footprint-- creating capacity for an astounding total of  520 students.  (In addition to all of this relocatable capacity having been added to Beulah ES, an additional 8 classroom Kindergarten addition was built and added to this school in 2009.)  While these portable and modular units allow for the additional classroom space necessary--this comes at a cost;  The portables must be evacuated during thunderstorms, and these students and teachers then must try to teach and learn in doubled-up classrooms, the library, the PE room, and/or the cafeteria until the weather passes.  This is an 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part II: Middle Schools

As we are moving toward a plan to build a brand new middle school in order to accommodate growth in the Beulah/Pine Forest Road/9 Mile Road growth corridor, a plan I strongly disagree with, it is instructive to look at our current middle school utilization district-wide.  

As is stands right now, according to figures from the latest 2015-2016 FISH report compared to the EOY attendance figures from 2015---we have excess capacity district-wide in the middle schools of nearly 24%--meaning we are utilizing only about 76% of our existing capacity.

The troubling thing that is on my mind continues to be Jim Bailey Middle School----the most over-crowded middle school in Escambia County----get's no relief from the over-crowding as a result of the proposed building plan that is being contemplated by the district.

The second troubling thing on my mind is the move of Brown Barge Middle School out of District 3, which would leave no middle schools at all in District three, meaning every middle school student in district 3 would now be bused out of district three-- to attend schools in other districts.  Are we going back to busing like in the 1970's here?  This is problematic.  BBMS is a solid facility, and can be upgraded with some remodeling and renovations to fulfill its mission for years to come there.  To those that scoff at this--Warrington MS is older than BBMS, and yet we have spent $millions there renovating that facility, making it quite nice now from a facilities perspective.  Why can't we renovate BBMS like we did Warrington, an older facility?  Answer:  we can and should--and we ought to consider raising the cap on that program as well to alleviate crowding at Ransom, Baiely, and Ferry Pass.  Parents want that, and the program is solid--so if not for political considerations why should we not consider listening to the will of the people and raise the cap at BBMS by 1-200 students?  And, the idea that IF Warrington can be improved, Jim Bailey will be less crowded--that is not a realistic solution to Jim Bailey over-crowding although it appears as if it is the de facto plan which I find unacceptable. (The big problem with Warrington now is its continuously dwindling attendance--now down to just 660 students representing  a 57% utilization as a facility.  It is the oldest middle school facility in the district and it is the least utilized.  So tell me why,  if not politics, why this is not the obvious choice for closure/consolidation?  Oh, that's right--politics and political implications are infused in this current building/relocation plans.)

Our district needs an independent, non-biased, non-political assessment of needs done by an independent consultant that is free of political or other bias.  We've done this in the past here, and other districts do this routinely. We must make smart decisions that are free from bias or other political considerations.  Our middle schools, with the exception of Jim Bailey, Ferry Pass, and Ransom, are dramatically underutilized.  We should engage SAZAC immediately and we should put every option on the table before a knee-jerk building of a brand new, unnecessary middle school in Beulah.  Everything needs to be on the table--to include re-purposing Molino Park's use (only 42% utilized right now) as it was initially designed to be a K-8 to alleviate over-crowding at Ransom.  (Yeah--that was another instance where politics muddied the waters to the detriment of students, parents, and taxpayers.) or Ernest ward, currently underutilized by as many as 200 students, being used to absorb extra students from the northern Ransom boundary.  Everything must be on the table so that the best utilization of taxpayer resources, free from politics, can be accomplished.

We have made blunders in the past with respect to facilities (Northview/Tate locations, Three schools together, Molino Park K-8, West side K-8 deleted, and there are many others) --let's not do a repeat this time through. Let's get it right this time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

President Obama and the Worst Example to Set for Students...

Some liberal allies of the President are scratching their heads collectively over his irresponsible choice of words yesterday during an interview on the WTF podcast.  Most, however, unequivocally support the President's use of the "N-word" during an interview,

Of Course MSNBC viewers think it was just dandy that Obama said the "N-Word."  (although hardly anybody watches MSNBC who cares, right?)

In an otherwise interesting conversation that lasted more than an hour, the President discussed many subjects and the responses he gave to comedian Marc Maron were thoughtful and insightful .

But then in one segment he dropped the N-word while discussing his view that racism, explicit and implicit, is still an issue in America in 2015.

But why say that word?  Why not say “N-Word” instead, sparing our ears from the verbalization of the full word, complete with all of its associated baggage?

And then the President triples-down arrogantly and has his press secretary defend his use of this disgusting racial slur.

I think that word is offensive and has no place in our society.  I think the word is the problem, no matter who utters it.

But the larger problem is this---Students are watching, and now this incident and the President’s poor decision-making has added even more legitimacy to this word for kids. 

They already hear this word too often in rap lyrics, on the internet, in their homes and communities, and even on the school yards.

One Escambia County elementary school principal told me that “students’ using the “N-word” at school is a real problem.  The kids call each other this word, black students and even some white students—it is a real problem.”

Now all they have to do is point to the President.  “See, even the President uses the N-word.” 

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part I

I appeared on Pensacola Speaks late last week discussing the school district's current plans to address population growth in the north-west area of the county, in Beulah, near the new Navy Federal Credit Union.  The segment went well, you can listen to the podcast here.

My continuing concerns are multi-fold.

1.  We must ensure our plan and the associated expenditures remove all portables from the back yards of these north west corridor schools (Beulah, Pine Meadow)

2.  We must include a realistic solution toward easing the over-crowding at Jim Bailey Middle School.  We cannot leave the over-crowded southwest schools (Caro, Blue Angels, Bailey) out of this plan.

3.  We must involve an unbiased, unaffiliated third party consultant in the planning of this massive $75Million dollar expenditure--to ensure we are spending this money in the BEST manner possible to achieve the best results for the maximum number of students for the tax-money we're spending.

4.  We must better utilize our existing capacity (e.g. Molino Park was designed and built as a K-8--however for political and other reasons it was never utilized appropriately, and continues to be massively underutilized)

5.  Why must we build a brand-new middle school?  Brown Barge is a solid school; with the addition of a gym, a track, and some modest renovations that facility can continue to serve its population well while simultaneously saving taxpayers millions of dollars.  Also- moving BBMS takes the last Middle School out of district 3, meaning all of district 3 middle school students will be bused out of their district to attend school.  This is not the answer.  Swap Woodham and WFHS and there is plenty of MS capacity in the corridor.  Utilize Molino Park appropriately and/or draw Ernest Ward's southern attendance boundary further south, and there is even more MS capacity where the growth is coming.

We have made, in the past, numerous facilities mistakes in Escambia County---everybody knows this;  this next set of moves, re-zonings, and building projects must be made void of political implications and timelines that are manipulated.  The only sure way to make this happen is to hire a firm to make independent recommendations in an open, transparent manner.

We certainly do not want the public to think politics or election timelines are driving these decisions.

In Leon County--their facilities blunders have led to the media turning on their elected superintendent.

 We don't want what is happening in Leon County to happen here or even the appearance of this sort of a thing to be allowed by not getting our building/re-zoning plan right.  Let's do this right.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Violence and Bullying in Schools: More Must be Done

While the overall national trend on reports of bullying are headed lower, there are still unacceptable levels of bullying reported in our Nation's schools.  Laws and rules written by well-meaning lawmakers and school board members must be followed with fidelity--otherwise such regulations are not worth the paper they are printed on.

We have the issue of bullying and harassment here locally as well, and I believe a mandatory, confidential student survey administered to all children in grades 3-12 could stem the tide.  Many districts have utilized such surveys with great results to curtail incidents of bullying/harassment on school campuses---as well as a means to identify other potentially hazardous issues students may be experiencing..

Sadly, bullied students often take their own lives.  The story of Steve Wesener is heartbreaking.  As a nation we have to do better, we have to do more.

A few months back the idea of confidential, mandatory student surveys was discussed at our school board workshop---- and the board was told such a survey plan was in the works, it is/was being bargained with the teacher's union.  I intend to follow this closely and advocate for implementation as soon as it is practical to do so.

We are not alone in this issue, and parents in Escambia County are not alone in the frustration over bullies apparently getting away with their outrageous misconduct not only in person, but online as well...

From Yesterday's Modesto Bee:

"The old days of cornering a kid in the bathroom were bad, but the danger stopped at the front door, noted Sylvan school board member David Collins, who works with the Center for Human Services. “Now, with social media, it follows them until they go to bed,” he said.  Social media was the weapon of choice for bullies who went after Breanna Mendoza, an eighth-grader at Dutcher Middle School in Turlock. Mendoza has a facial deformity and was bullied so badly her parents took her out of school and spoke out publicly. Students at the school, speaking informally, said it “got ridiculous.”Nina Gatton, mother of a Modesto second-grader, wanted her son’s tormentor gone. “The school did nothing about it; you can’t have a zero-tolerance policy to bullying and then do nothing,” she said in exasperation after seeing the bully at school the next day. “He beat up my son,” Gatton said. “He spun him around and round three times, grabbed a handful of dirt and grass and shoved it in his mouth, and then punched him in the eye.” The school told her the bully had been disciplined, but could not give her details or promise to guard her son at all times."

Read more here:

Read more here:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why We Should Site Adapt our New Construction Projects

Rendering of recently completed Ernest Ward Middle School, designed by Sam Marshall Architects, built by Greenhut Construction Company.  Sam Marshall Architects were not/will not be utilized for designing Escambia County's newest proposed middle school to be built in Beulah.  The four short-listed firms are Bullock-Tice, DAG, Quina Grundhoefer, and STOA.
While I am in disagreement with parts of the plan that has been put forth to address over-crowding in  Beulah near the Navy Federal Credit Union expansion, and I have made my significant  disagreements known both online , directly to district facilities staff, and at recent meetings, there is one facet to construction that we should all universally want and upon which we all should agree---keeping costs as low as possible must be a priority!

We're about to spend as much as $75Million dollars on construction--and we have to get this right!

One way to do this is to re-think the way we build.  

Why do we need a brand new design for every new school we build?  

What is the purpose?-- because designing every new school we contemplate building adds 6-9% to the overall project's costs.

It is for this reason we should Site-Adapt an existing design for our soon to be built schools.  

Take a school we have already paid to design and build, and use the same design and site adapt the exact design for the plot of land upon which such a school will be built, taking into account the physical characteristics of the land--slope, terrain, wetlands, existing underground utilities, road frontages, etc, etc.

It does not even need to be a design we have paid for or built.  We can find a school in a 100 or so mile radius that is exceptionally well built, tour the constructed facility, speak to the users, then contact the architect of the one we like best.  Next, we hire them to reproduce their design for us, site adapted, for our parcel.

--Doing this allows for a better, time tested facility  ( after being built the first time, all kinks will be known, can be ironed-out and addressed/corrected for new location)
--Design costs can easily be reduced by as much as 70%---leaving more money for other facilities 

Free Exercise Clause and the Freedom OF Religion

After performing a chant on a carpet in front of the Board's Dais,  David Suhor of Pensacola non-verbally protests the  opening  Christian Prayer of the Escambia County School Board by turning his back on the Board and holding a sign that reads Matthew 6: 5-8  6-16-2015
This past Tuesday night, I had the distinct honor and privilege of leading the opening prayer for the benefit of the assembled legislative body--the school board--- at our regular monthly meeting. 

Our board has a standing tradition of rotating the duty of the opening prayer/pledge of allegiance among the five board members.

Over the last year or so, we have been berated by an individual that has accused us of being non-inclusive in our prayers.  This individual has also inaccurately accused us of violating the law with our opening prayer practice.

The board has discussed this issue on several occasions and the consensus is that we stick with the current practice of rotating the 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Flagler County Settles With SPLC

From Bay News 9 :

'The complaint alleged that while black students made up 16 percent of the district, they accounted for 31 percent of all out-of-school suspensions.  Instead of fighting back, school leaders sat down with the SPLC to try to find a solution. And that solution was approved Tuesday night by the school board. According to Amir Whitaker, an attorney for the SPLC, what this does is “create more preventions, more interventions and address the issue for all 13,000 students in Flagler..The Southern Poverty Law Center still has federal civil rights complaints against the school districts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa and Suwannee Counties."

Read the settlement here

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bullying in Schools: What We're Supposed to do When a Report of Bullying is Made...

The approach to managing and controlling incidents of bullying/harassment on Florida's school campuses has become very prescriptive with the passage of the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act in 2008.  This law's passage gave Florida some of the toughest sanctions against bullying and harassment in schools in the nation.  

Our school board rules regarding Bullying mirror the statute.

But a law is useless if it is not enforced with fidelity.

I have concerns that our district may not be adhering to this law and the associated school board rules regarding the way these incidents are handled once a bullying complaint has been made.  I've seen incidents, including one that occurred in one of our district's middle schools on December 2, 2014, for which I do not have confidence the rule was followed.  The classroom teacher who knows the alleged bully and his victims and had taught them all year wrote that the infraction was bullying, and she was not going to tolerate it.  She wrote "Bullying" twice on the referral.  Did we follow our school board rule?  I have requested the investigative report to figure out if we did.

I'm zeroing in on this and I intend to make it my mission to ensure we are following this law and these rules.

Read the complete chapter 7.18 here, or see an excerpt of the investigative language from 7.18 below

(From Chapter 7 of the School Board Rules)

"C. Any written or oral reporting of an act of bullying or harassment shall be considered
an official means of reporting such act(s). Reports may be made anonymously, but
formal disciplinary action may not be based solely upon an anonymous report.

(4) The investigation of a reported act of bullying or harassment is deemed to be a school-related
activity and begins with a report of such an act:

A. The principal or designee will select a designee(s), employed by the school, trained
in investigative procedures to initiate the investigation. The designee(s) may not be
the accused perpetrator (harasser or bully) or victim.

B. Documented interviews of the victim, alleged perpetrator, and witnesses shall be
conducted privately, separately, and are confidential. Each individual (victim,
alleged perpetrator, and witnesses) will be interviewed separately and at no time
will the alleged perpetrator and victim be interviewed together.

C. The investigator shall collect and evaluate the facts including but not limited to
1. description of incident(s) including nature of the behavior;
2. context in which the alleged incident(s) occurred, etc.;
3. how often the conduct occurred;
4. whether there were past incidents or past continuing patterns of behavior;
5. the relationship between the parties involved;
6. the characteristics of parties involved (i.e., grade, age, etc.);
7. the identity and number of individuals who participated in bullying or
harassing behavior;
8. where the alleged incident(s) occurred;
9. whether the conduct adversely affected the student’s education or
educational environment;
10. whether the alleged victim felt or perceived an imbalance of power as a
result of the reported incident; and
11. the date, time, and method in which the parent(s)/guardian(s) of all parties
involved were contacted.

(5) Whether a particular action or incident constitutes a violation of this policy requires a
determination based on all the facts and surrounding circumstances and includes
A. recommended remedial steps necessary to stop the bullying and/or harassing
behavior; and

B. a written final report to the principal.

(6) A maximum of ten (10) school days shall be the limit for the initial filing of incidents and
completion of the investigative procedural steps. The highest level of confidentiality

District Facilities Challenges/More than One Potential Solution

A Special Meeting Will Be Held on July 20th to Address the Facilities Building Plans Going Forward

I appreciated the facilities handouts brought to the meeting of the Escambia County School Board for the workshop yesterday.

We’re on the cusp of a major building campaign now that the ½ cent sales tax referendum has passed and now that the construction bond authorization is in place.

The problem I have is that I believe some of what is planned is unnecessary and that there are alternate plans that could be considered that could also tackle the district’s growth/capacity challenges and issues in a different more creative way that would save the taxpayers money.

Just because we have money to spend, does not mean we ought not find the BEST solution when spending it.

And none of what was presented yesterday addresses the ongoing over-crowding at Jim Bailey Middle School in Southwest Escambia.

One thing that I understand is that if we can get 32 acres of land in Beulah for a reasonable price—we need to do this and we will be voting on this tonight.

I disagree with the assessment that “This is too big for an elementary school and it can only be used to build a middle school.”   That logic does not hold water.  We use what portion of the 32 acre parcel of land we need for either an elementary or a middle school, and hold the additional land for a sale later at a better price—as prices are appreciating in this area.

But we desperately need to fix the issues at Bailey.  Hoping that Warrington Middle will improve on the second year or the third year or the fourth year of “the one year turnaround” –attracting students back in the process---is not the solution.  Bailey is bursting at the seams and Warrington is down to just 650 students.  Students are leaving Warrington to come to Bailey!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Better Numbers Part III: Coding Infractions Incorrectly

When a discipline infraction occurs in our schools, if it rises to the level that consequences must be administered, a certain code is assigned to the infraction.

This coding drives the discipline consequences.

Politicians in Tallahassee and in DC have over the last several years made bullying a high priority issue.  It is for this reason that Florida DOE puts a school district's Safe Schools allocation (for Escambia County it is about $1Million dollars) on the line if a district does not accurately report and code bullying in the system.

I know that school administrators don't want to have bullying be an issue on their campuses--nobody wants that problem.

But when a teacher uses the word bullying in a written referral, and the corresponding coding is not utilized, I have an issue with this.  This month there are instances of this and I am going to ask about this.  In a particularly blatant instance--the classroom teacher writes the referral on a student she has witnessed bullying and harassing her students in her class.  She uses the word "Bullying" two times in the referral.

"[he is] bullying another student.. XXXXXX Knows he is on thin ice.  He tries to control his behavior but I do not tolerate bullying against another student who is trying to learn"

In this instance, the bullying was then coded to "disruption,minor, instigating trouble, refused to follow instruction"  but no bullying listed.

Our board rule stipulates, in 7.18, as does the state law, that once the term bullying is used a specific set of steps must be taken to address the behavior, generating an incident report of the findings.  Within ten days an investigation must be concluded and a report generated.

I have asked the superintendent today for a copy of that report as it relates to this student's infraction from 12-2-2014.  I hope it was completed and the process was followed, because this infraction was not the one that led to this particular student's removal from school;  that infraction happened later in April and was much worse, leading to his arrest on a Felony charge.

But why was this behavior not curtailed after all the earlier transgressions, the bullying, and other infractions this student committed?  Why?

Having the greatest reporting system in the universe and a magical "Discipline Intervention Matrix" does nothing if they are not both properly utilized and aggressive, abusive, and violent behavior is not swiftly addressed.

School board rules have a specific set of steps that must be taken when bullying is alleged and I'm going to push and push on this until I know these steps are being followed.

Are these reports being completed as board rules dictate?  I do not have complete confidence that this board rule is being followed.

I certainly hope it is not being done deliberately in order to get lower numbers.

If so, it is not right and it will jeopardize, potentially, not only student safety but also our safe schools allocation.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Surrender: FSBA Votes to #Drop the Suit!

In a stunning reversal from just less than one year ago, the Florida School Boards Association's board of directors has voted 21-9 to drop out of the lawsuit challenging Florida's tax credit scholarship program that benefits nearly 70,000 poor, mostly minority students.

A few weeks back a circuit court judge in Tallahassee threw the case out, and the odds were long that an appeal would be successful.

Yesterday's action leaves just the FEA labor union and the NAACP as the two entities still involved in this suit.

They can either continue to fight, which I'm certain their lawyers will want to do, or they can drop the suit as well.

If they stick with the lawsuit, they will have to win the appeal and then fork over more legal fees to keep the fight going even in the face of long odds.

In New Hampshire and Arizona, the same sort of tax-credit scholarship programs have successfully fended off challenges in court.

Florida's outcome will be no different, and the winners this time will be students and families and the losers will be FEA and NAACP.

FSBA, to their credit, obviously saw this "writing on the wall" and wisely extricated themselves from this badly flawed, destructive lawsuit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Disturbing Spike in School Drug Infractions

As I look over the backup provided for disciplinary infractions over the last two month period, I see a disturbing spike in drug possession/use on our campuses.

For the last two month period, we are removing 25 students for drug violations.  Several of these offenses are for prescription pills, but the lion's share are for Marijuana possession/use.

I do not know what to attribute this rise to--could it be a growing problem outside in our community?
Yes, I'm certain that plays a part.

Could it be the non-stop barrage of media coverage glowingly describing the states that have legalized recreational marijuana?  Yes, I think this serves to make marijuana appear to be more benign than some other hard drugs like LSD or Crystal Meth or Flakka.

Could it be the non-stop barrage of media seeking to legalize medical pot in Florida?  Yes, I think this contributes to the narrative that pot is no more harmful than Beer or Whisky--even though researchers from Northwestern University recently debunked the myth that Pot is safe--proving that marijuana use by adolescents rewires brain structure--even with infrequent use.

Marijuana is a dangerous hallucinogenic drug, but society wants to sell a different narrative and it is working.

And more students are bringing this drug into our schools which should be setting off all kinds of alarms bells.

I'm going to talk about it, and I'm going to ask if we are still diligently conducting our drug dog sweeps and conducting our randomized drug testing of athletes  as the board has approved.

And of course I will never stop advocating for swift and significant punishment for those that bring drugs to school, even as I see these punishments being minimized with greater frequency now than ever before.

It takes a combined, diligent effort to combat this problem.

Getting Better Numbers, Part II

Everyone involved in schools wants fewer student expulsions and suspensions.

Everyone wants lower numbers, just like the cholesterol commercials.

But like the pharmaceutical statins that reduce cholesterol and also have significant side-effects like turning livers into shoe-leather---lowering numbers of suspensions just to get “lower numbers” has side-effects, trade-offs, and unintended consequences as well.

For example, in the Escambia County school district for the months of May and June 2015—there are only (4) students being expelled.  Considering we have just over 40,000 students—this 4 expulsion stat is a small number, right?

The reality—we had during the same period 87 “disciplinary changes of placement” which is the dandy new term we use for what used to be called expulsions just two short years ago. Drugs, weapons, fights, abusive conduct—yeah, now all of these infractions are handled with “disciplinary reassignments”

We get lower expulsions by changing what we call punishment, and everybody golf-claps—but in reality the discipline problems are getting worse but because we are expelling fewer students than ever, the illusion is that things are “better.”

But things are not better.

  Things are getting worse. 

I recently spoke to an administrator who showed me pictures of physical injuries she has sustained in

Monday, June 8, 2015

Do We Really Need to Build a Brand New Middle School?

...Or should we plan prudently, address the issues in a different way, and save $30+ Million?

Do we really need to build a brand new, $35 Million Dollar Middle School in Escambia County right now?
Is this the best way to spend $35 Million Dollars?

We desperately need, at a minimum, two new Elementary Schools, in order to alleviate the current massive over-crowding at Helen Caro, Blue Angels, Beulah, and Pine Meadow Elementary Schools.
We need these elementary schools yesterday—and everybody knows this!

(Beulah elementary has 18 portables out back; Pine Meadow has at least 10!)

But why build a brand new middle school to fix this elementary school problem? 

We could solve all of these facilities  issues with an immediate WFHS site-swap with Woodham middle and the construction of two brand new K-8 facilities (one to address overcrowding at Beulah, Pine Meadow, and Ransom---and one to address  lingering overcrowding at Helen Caro, Blue Angels, and Jim Bailey)  --but apparently K-8s are no longer considered as viable alternatives, even though we had a West-side K-8 facility in the 5 year work plan for a decade until it was removed from the facilities work plan in 2012.

I think a K-8 out near the new Navy Federal was/is a solid idea.

So on July 11, 2013, after meeting with the top brass at NFCU-- I brought a proposal to the board to build a state of the art K-8facility in Beulah by the ever- expanding NFCU headquarters in order  to address  expansive growth at Beulah, Pine Meadow, and Ransom. 

We could have partnered with NFCU, and potentially lured some newly transplanted employees of NFCU into buying here in Escambia County instead of moving to Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, or Baldwin County—as had been the trend for most of those incoming employees with school-aged children according to NFCU officials.
Nope, that idea was shot down—but I was told (and it is inthe minutes) that plans were in the works to get an elementary school built out there to address the overcrowding at Beulah and Pine Meadow.

Two years later ---and the new elementary school was never built.  Beulah and Pine Meadow are still

Getting Better Numbers, Part I

A common metric being used around the country to show that school districts are "taking misbehavior seriously" is the lowered number of suspensions and expulsions.

We do this locally as well.

At one school locally, those charged with managing the discipline are keenly aware that the numbers must be kept low, and these staff members know there is the potential for a lawsuit if too many students, particularly those of color, are suspended or expelled.

So different punishments are being utilized.  Teachers are told to re-direct misbehavior up to as many as four or five times and to "handle the misbehavior in your class, deal with it!"

In some cases this is appropriate--if the behavior is minor and can be corrected.

But what about students that bully and harass their classmates?

One middle school teacher I spoke with recently told me straight up he gets "cussed at all the time, the students get away with it and they know there is no meaningful consequence."  he continued "They know I have to fill out a behavior incident form, and even if I fill in all four parts in a day--it is still no guarantee the student will receive a written referral"

It is not just happening here.  Instead of having real "courageous conversations" about strict enforcement of discipline, many districts are weakening the ramifications of bad behavior to make "numbers better."

Tacoma, Washington is changing the way they handle discipline.  They are being pressurred into lowering their suspension and expulsion numbers.  They are also, apparently buying in to the flawed notion that in order for minority students to learn, they need to have minority teachers teaching them.  (I think that is garbage, good teachers come from all cultures and backgrounds, and are good whether they are White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, or any nationality.  There should not be a racial quota system in hiring teachers.) 

From today's  News Tribune:

"If a student uses profanity, for example, she believes there are alternatives to suspension. In some cases, Santorno said, students might try to use that kind of language to goad a teacher into suspending them because they want to be out of school.  Another factor: While more than half of Tacoma students are students of color, 86 percent of its more than 2,000 faculty members are white, as are the vast majority of teachers statewide.  Last year, Tacoma began a new program called the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative which uses positive discipline techniques. Instead of telling kids what they can’t do, it spells out what they can and should do. The goal is to make sure schools meet the needs of students not just academically but also socially and emotionally. That often requires understanding a student’s cultural background.  If a student is disrespectful to an adult, Franklin staff use the episode as a “teachable moment.” Instead of sending the child immediately to the office, teachers instead review their expectation of how to behave respectfully."

Read more here:

Read more here:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Scapegoating the Wrong People Slowly Destroys Communities and Schools

I see disturbing parallel similarities in the way schools, teachers, and administrators are being blamed when students are subjected to punishment for incidents of misbehavior in public schools, and in the way police are being targeted when simply doing their jobs in challenging urban environments.  

 In both schools and society, generally speaking, what leads people into trouble is poor personal choices and the lack of a solid family foundation—not bigotry or poverty! 

As the genuine practice of religion has evaporated along with the nuclear family in parts of urban America today, there’s been a proportionate rise in violence, drug abuse, social decay, and failing schools in such communities. 

The Federal Government has exacerbated this problem; with ever-expanding entitlements that have disincentivized work and made fatherless households convenient and renumerative—what else did the social justice engineers that developed these “programs” expect?

The radical,so-called  social justice organizations that point fingers of blame will never acknowledge the real cause of all of these troubling symptoms:  There is a lack of functional, effective family structure in large swaths of America today. 

It remains much more salacious, newsworthy, and lucrative to instead portray teachers, cops, school districts, and police departments as “overzealousbigots.”

Police Departments are fully capable of doing their jobs if they are allowed to do so and if they’re supported by their respective cities and counties.  Policemen should be commended for doing the dangerous work they do!

Instead, the minute something tragic happens like in Baltimore or Ferguson---politicians of every stripe immediately pounce on LEOs. 

Before you know it, abracadabra, it is entirely the police’s fault that communities are dysfunctional and disproportionate numbers of minorities are incarcerated.

Next come the outlandish explanations from the ideologues that demonize police—the tactics are too aggressive, departments need re-training, they need more diverse workforces, etc. etc... 

Once these na├»ve rubes get exactly they want- crime rates soar.  Police back away from proactive

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Newpoint: North Carolina Asking Questions about Newpoint Issues Here Prior to Newpoint Schools opening There.....

...Apparently there are several pending applications by Newpoint for schools in North Carolina.

An administrator with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has requested the electronically available public records pertaining to Escambia County's investigation into our Newpoint schools here locally.  What was requested by this NC official, and what was provided yesterday, were the following:

1.  The redacted electronic copy of my initial package of information from a whistle-blower.

2.  A redacted copy of Tab "5" from the district's binder.

These officials are paying close attention to the media surrounding Newpoint schools both here and in Panama City.

Will the issues here lead to charter application denials in North Carolina??

We shall see.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Newpoint and the Day of the Long Knives....

Communication provided to terminated Newpoint staff today, 6-2-2015

I have been contacted by several now former employees of Newpoint schools in Pensacola.

According to these sources, all Newpoint staff have been terminated as of today.

Staff has been told they may receive the rest of their pay if adequate funding remains in their schools' accounts after today.  Otherwise, these staff members are being directed to apply for unemployment and to contact the Escambia County School Board if they have additional concerns.

Several staff were on 12 month salary schedules and want to be paid the monies owed to them for June, July and August.

Superintendent of schools Malcolm Thomas has told me he is withholding Newpoint's June payment of approximately $140,000 and will not release this money until he has assurance that all financial obligations owed by Newpoint, including salaries to their employees, have been met.

Much more to come on this entire mess,