I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A First-Hand Account of Terror on Campus--A Pensacola Connection to the Story....

With what appears to be increasing regularity—it is all too often we hear about suicidal maniacs taking innocent lives.  Many on the left want to use these tragedies to take guns from law-abiding citizens.  But the larger issue is lunatics with weapons—whether it is crazy people using their cars as a weapon, or the lunatic that stabbed a random stranger to death in a Maine grocery store last week.  It is a mental health problem—not a gun problem!  But after the tragedy in Virginia on Wednesday with two reporters being murdered on live TV---everyone is talking about these insane people killing innocent victims.

With the Virginia killings fresh on everyone’s mind--yesterday it was a lunatic on a college campus in Starkville, Mississippi that garnered attention.  A friend of mine has two children attending school there, and one of her children was in the hall where the intruder, a gunman on campus, was arrested.  She wrote the account below about her firsthand terror on campus yesterday at Mississippi State—and how law-enforcement agencies intervened at just the right time……

August 27, 2015
It Was Never Going to Happen to Me
                You watch on the news of school shootings and think about how sad you are for that town and those families, but it would probably never be something that happens to you. But they resonate with you. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia, etc. Everyone can remember something about that event whether by word of mouth or by watching it unfold live on a local TV channel. So then even yesterday, August 26, when the reporter and cameraman were killed because of a mentally unstable man, it resonated with me. I’m going into a communication field in a few years. It hit hard. But surely it was never going to happen to me.
                My high school wasn’t in the best area of Pensacola but I did learn a lot more than school while I was there. I learned that economic status only mattered on a tax form, not in friendships. I learned to be comfortable but aware of my surroundings. And then one day in the spring, I learned something about life…to cherish it. Because that thing that wasn’t going to happen to me, seemed like it might happen. A person on a car chase ditches his car outside the school while we were doing our routine fire drill and files in with us into the building carrying a gun. We had no idea. It’s a school of 1500 students. The police came in and knew, as they had been chasing him. We were on lock down for about two hours but it seemed like all day. So although no shots were fired and no one was injured, the fear was real. The threat was real. We could’ve been the next big news story.
                Fast forward three years and it’s a normal Thursday in Starkville, Mississippi. Normal in the routine, except the weather was a little cooler. I had Public Relations writing at 8am and went across campus to the drill field in McCool for Spanish 2 at 10am. We aren’t supposed to have our phones out during class. But in a class of about 30 young adults, it’s inevitable someone would have their phone nearby. I’ve never been so thankful someone disobeyed the teacher’s rule. At 10:16 a campus wide emergency alert, a “Maroon Alert” was sent to phones everywhere. A girl in my class who had her phone out exclaimed some explicit phrase I won’t restate. The teacher of course was appauled at the outburst. The student read aloud, “Starkville Campus. Active shooter report at Carpenter Hall. Seek safety immediately.” Suddenly the lecture on informal commands in the usted and ustedes form was irrelevant. I pulled out my phone already trembling to see for myself. Immediately screenshot it and sent it in my family group message, especially to make sure my little brother, a freshman on campus, was out of harm’s way. He was on his way back to his dorm at the time which was far from the incident. But I was right across the way from Carpenter.  This was not supposed to happen to me.
                10:19 alert: “Starkville Campus. Active shooter last seen in vicinity of Lee Hall. Seek safety immediately.” The trembling turns into tears as that is the building in between his original 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who Can Accompany a Parent to a Meeting With School Officials?

If a farmer's barn is on fire, yet the farmer does not see it, does not want to see it, cannot see it or is too preoccupied to attend to the fire ----should the fire department not respond if they know the fire is burning?  

If a Good Samaritan tries to tell the farmer that his barn is burning and yet the farmer smiles and does nothing or shrugs his shoulder and says "What do you think I should do?"--should the Good Samaritan call the fire service for the Farmer?  Uh, Yes.

But what if the fire service dispatcher tells the Good Samaritan "We can't respond, you are not the owner of the barn, we must wait until the farmer calls us!"  "You are not the owner of this barn!"

I ask these questions rhetorically and use an analogy to illustrate a problem--this blog entry is not about William Faulkner or Barn Burning or structure fires and emergency responses----It's about people trying to help students and bureaucrats getting annoyed by this. 

Some parents do not know how to best advocate for their own children.  Some parents want to do what is best for their children, but they often let things slip and do not make the right decision for their students--hoping and believing that the system will make sure their students are appropriately looked after.

And well-meaning staff do their best in most instances but even still sometimes mistakes are made.  The wrong class is assigned, the wrong GPA is calculated, the wrong information is given, and the list goes on.

So what happens if a parent that is not necessarily sophisticated with  the world of college eligibility requirements, GPA calculation, or academic scheduling asks another parent for help navigating the

Prominent Legislators are Embracing Tenets of the "Sunshine Solution..."

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members strongly supports a common-sense solution to the massively dysfunctional standardized testing problem in the state of Florida.  We want a proper balance of limited testing for maintaining accountability but not at the expense of wasting too many precious classroom teaching hours.  We have advocated for a common sense solution.  Our member Erika Donalds, in March of this year,  wrote a very in-depth point paper on this subject.

Dr. Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County Schools, offered his idea-- a one-page document to the Florida DOE which was unceremoniously rejected.

Everyone, it seems, wants to be parochial about who comes up with the best idea and who gets credit for writing the best solution.  When our board discussed this at a meeting, I was the only board member who supported this idea, and I don't care if it was a district other than Escambia that came up with an intelligent solution!  Who cares who gets the credit is what I say!

Recently, our coalition of school board members from around the state- along with state senators and multiple Superintendents of Schools  from various districts-- met for an online summit discussing a solution, a simple "Sunshine Solution" that balances accountability (including reasonable amounts of testing using known commodities like the SAT and or Iowa Assessment of Basic Skills) with the need to not infringe on classroom learning time.

Many have viewed the recording, and now prominent state leaders appear to be embracing this balanced approach, this "Sunshine Solution"

From Politico Florida:

"Some lawmakers hope to ditch Florida’s controversial new state exams by requiring the Department of Education to instead administer existing national exams, like the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or the SAT college entrance exam.State education commissioner Pam Stewart rejected the idea when it was originally proposed by Seminole County Public Schools, a high-performing district neighboring Orlando. The district’s leadership has argued the move would decrease the amount of time students spend taking tests and help prevent administrative problems like the technical difficulties that plagued state exams this spring. Sen. Don Gaetz, a Republican from northwest Florida and former Senate president who now chairs the chamber’s education appropriations committee, said he plans to try to circumvent the department with legislation.“We already have, in this country and in this state, testing instruments that are proven to be valid and reliable that have brand-name authenticity and respect,” Gaetz told POLITICO Florida, “like ACT, SAT, international baccalaureate and national industry certification assessments for career technical courses."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kindergarten Students SHOULD NOT be Treated Like This!

"Can you imagine this?" the voice was crackling with rage.  This veteran teacher was angry.  "This is wrong, and something better be done about this or I will go to the media--I've never seen anything like this in 20 years teaching!"

From a reliable source that does not want to be named--this is what happened in one of our (non-universal free-lunch)elementary schools today

It all started when four kindergartners forgot their lunch money--or their parents forgot to give them the money.  When these youngsters reached the cashier with their trays in hand, one by one their lunches were taken from them and dumped in the trash can right in front of them because they did not have their lunch money.

Instead of their normal lunch, each was given two slices of white bread, a slice of american cheese, and a cup of water.

These are kindergartners--not savvy high schoolers trying to get over on the system.

Saddened, traumatized, these 5 year old children began to cry.

One adult present checked and confirmed that two of the four children were, indeed, eligible for free lunch.  So they were given a new plate of food (although the previous tray of food was wasted, thrown into the trash according to this witness).

The other two, were left with the cheese sandwich.

One teacher offered to go get money from her classroom to pay for one student, and the cashier held

Orange Vest Controversy at PFHS

Several parents contacted me this week about the new policy at Pine Forest High School that requires students to wear orange vests when they are out of the classroom, like the ones pictured above.

Some parents were concerned about the potential transmission of lice and/or other hygiene issues.

Some parents thought making the students wear the vests was demeaning--almost prison-like.

Channel 3 did a piece, they spoke to me and asked my opinion and I told them I understood the parents concerns, but that I also understood the reasons for being able to allow teachers and administrators to quickly ascertain if a person in the hall belongs on campus; last year at PFHS, there was a trespassing issue where a former student came onto campus with a weapon.

See the huge facebook conversation on this subject here

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The "Sunshine Solution" to Florida's Standardized Testing Dysfunction

A webinar was held on August 17th 2015 among school board members from around the state. Present on the call were superintendents from several districts as well as state senators and representatives.   The issue--how do we address the disastrous state of the standardized testing boondoggle Florida has created?

A common-sense, one page letter was sent last month to Ed. Chancellor Pam Stewart describing a rational way to use currently available norm-referenced tests to measure student progress in Florida.  The response to this letter from the state did not address the questions put forth in the original letter, leaving many (including me) scratching our heads wondering about Stewart's terse, not-on-point response.

The issues discussed and the potential solution to Florida's problems were discussed, and a solution that makes sense is being forged right now via a collaborative effort among school board members, legislators, and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.

The solution will address the wasted class time Florida currently enables through faulty, onerous dictates from DOE to districts.  Additionally, this solution will address the costs and slow turnaround time of our current process.

Using SAT, and the Iowa assessment, we can and should have electronic and paper and pencil options for districts to utilize to administer these well known tests.

Turnaround times from these well-established testing firms are between two days and two weeks (compared to the months long delays our current system has created.)

Everyone who is at all interested in solving this problem and advocating for a better way forward should watch this webinar as a jumping off point.  Then, join us as we craft a #Sunshinesolution collaboratively.

Watch the webinar here

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Failure Factories--Investigative Journalism Deconstructing How Public Schools Can Fail Their Students...

This article from the Tampa Bay Times is incredibly good.  This is investigative journalism at its best.  Even though I do not agree with many of the points or assumptions made in the piece, I see much similarity to some circumstances/conditions in some Escambia schools.

This is a compelling read.  from "Failure Factories"

"Elyse Mermelstein started as a first-grade teacher at Lakewood Elementary nine weeks into the fall of 2013, but she already was the third teacher to run the class, her principal told her.The other teachers had quit. “The kids were horribly behind,” Mermelstein, 43, said in an interview with the Times.  A certified teacher of elementary school children and non-native English speakers, she said her Lakewood students could barely read. “They should have been reading books with paragraphs. They should have been comprehending. “They had so many teachers, it added to the problem.”Eight weeks after taking the job, she resigned, too. She said administrators left her on her own to handle behavior problems and encouraged her to teach at too slow a pace. She said both she and the principal agreed it wasn’t working out. Mermelstein said that as she packed up her things on Dec. 20, just before winter break, she heard crying coming from the classroom next door. It was another first-grade instructor, who was halfway through her first year as a teacher. She, too, walked out that day and never came back, Mermelstein said. Keeping teachers at these five elementary schools in south St. Petersburg has been a difficult task, records show. In 2014, 52 percent of the schools’ instructors requested transfers out.  Fourteen quit in the middle of the year. At least three of them simply walked off the job without giving notice, opting to risk action against their state teaching certificate rather than stay a moment longer"

Monday, August 10, 2015

How Several Public Schools in Escambia County are Denied Proceeds from Local Option Sales Taxes

At next month's discussion workshop I will be bringing an issue of inequity I feel needs to be addressed:  We only allocate proceeds form the county-wide half-cent sales tax referendum to "some" public schools.

That's right I said it.  There are a handful of public schools in Escambia County that are excluded from receiving any of the proceeds the voter approved measure provides.

But I believe we should be allocating money from this referendum to ALL public schools--just as the voters believed we would.

To complicate things and make matters worse---, the directors/principals of these schools are told "The School Board does not want nor do they allow you to get any of these monies for facilities."

This school board member (granted I'm only one of five) wants to share this resource with all public schools for the benefit of all public school students.

Each year, this 1/2 cent  tax generates between $20-$23 Million for schools.  We utilize the money to build schools and to renovate and construct educational facilities infrastructure  throughout our district.

Yet some public schools, already receiving less than their full share of operational revenues to start with, are denied ANY of this money.

Politicians/Bureaucrats have looked me in the eye and said "We don't have enough to share, we have too many needs in Our schools, and we can't spare them ANY!"

I've heard this rationalization frequently "Those schools get some money that the legislature didn't give us!"  Okay, so that is a valid point but that situation has been remedied and even if it wasn't, two wrongs don not make a right.  Every kindergartner knows that axiom of truth.

Students that attend these schools deserve for their fair share of the tax proceeds to be allocated to their schools.  These  are public school students.  These are public schools. This is what the citizens voted for.

Parents of these students pay tax, pay this 1/2 cent sales tax, yet none of their students' schools receive one thin dime of this revenue to enhance the learning environments of theses schools.

We are going to discuss this at an upcoming workshop because what we are doing is not right.

These are public schools.  Charter schools are public schools and the students that attend charter schools are public school students and should not be the victims of financial deprivation/discrimination.

We can and should allocate the proportional share to ALL public schools---just like the flashy campaign literature promised when we successfully lobbied the electorate to vote for the continuation of this tax.

Let's not turn back the clock like it is 1950---let's not financially leave SOME public school students on the back of the bus.

Elected or Appointed Superintendent of Schools?

I've been an outspoken advocate, for a long time now,  for the model of school boards hiring superintendents, directing them, overseeing them, holding them accountable, and evaluating them on an annual basis.

This is the way 99.2% of our nation's 15,000 school districts operate, and it gives the voters maximum oversight, accountability, and control of  district schools.  I've given my opinions about this subject on this blog here and here.

The PNJ ran a front-page story on the issue this past Sunday.

A recent viewpoint appeared in the Sunday PNJ

In Tallahassee, the editorial board of the paper there has called for appointing of superintendents after the superintendent of that school district was the subject of an FBI corruption probe recently.

But the false-perception lingers among some voters that feel they "lose control" if they allow duly elected school board members to hire the superintendent of schools.   This false view is a big  problem.   "I want to elect two of the persons that run schools locally, not one!" said one person I spoke with recently about this.  His sentiments are echoed by many.

What people don't realize is that with elected superintendents, once you vote one in, you are stuck with that person for 4 years. If he initiates curriculum you don't want---too bad!  You are stuck.  For 4 years. If he disregards the elected board, too bad.  You are stuck.  For 4 years.

Elected superintendents are powerful and they politicize the system and the position whether knowingly or unconsciously.  The only realistic "check" on their power is the ballot box on an infrequent, four year cycle.

Eventually, elected superintendents accumulate so much power that they become all but unbeatable in elections; eventually they end up greatly influencing the elections of the very school board members that (allegedly) serve as a check to their massive and ever-growing power.  This accumulation of power becomes almost absolute after a second and subsequent term absent some self-inflicted political catastrophe on the part of the elected superintendent of schools.

Irregardless of how he/she portrays themselves--the multi-term incumbent, elected superintendent of schools  (holding the large expenditure purchasing decision power and the employment fate of so many people singularly in his/her hands yearly)  eventually accumulates power that is nearly absolute..

Lord Acton famously describes what absolute power does to any person, and his famous quotation on this subject remains spot-on.

  Appointed superintendents, by contrast, are always on the bubble.  They can and do concentrate on doing their jobs instead of appeasing special interests to win the next election.
 With appointed superintendents, the board members who are elected every two years can hold the superintendent accountable, lest they themselves will be out of a job at the hands of an angry constituency in the next election!

Boards can censure, re-direct, and/or terminate an appointed superintendent immediately if he/she does not perform or follow school board policy.   That is maximum accountability for the electorate--as it should be.

But neither an appointed nor elected  "system" is a magic bullet panacea that cures all issues in school districts.  For optimal performance, an active engaged school board that works well together making policy in concert with an appointed superintendent, with the courage to hold the superintendent accountable for executing the policy, is the best model.

But either way-- it all starts with the board.

Either type system needs a board that is engaged, astute, and aware of the issues.  Absent this, the system or model (elected vs appointed) that puts the head man in charge is really a problem of a lesser degree...

Yes, more important than whether a superintendent is elected or appointed, is whether or not members of a school district's  board are paying attention, actively following the issues, and keeping the pressure on the administration to follow board policy with fidelity.

If members of a school board are just going along to get along, providing only milk-toast, anemic oversight/opposition to bad policy or budgetary recommendations, or worse yet----"mailing it in" and doing precisely what they are told by the superintendent----then no system or superintendent installation model will work effectively, ever.