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, January 29, 2016

2017 Teachers of the Year Announced

Congratulations go out to the following Escambia County Teachers who are all nominated to the Teacher of the Year for 2017!

Tim Deloge - Escambia High School - Tech Ed (Engineering)
Caroline Gray - Tate High School - Economics
Melissa Harold - Beulah Elementary School - Fourth Grade
Allison Hartzog - Montclair Elementary School - Kindergarten
Kristy Imhof - Ransom Middle School - Language Arts (7th grade)

Is the Push to Graduate Students Using Compass Classroom Actually Leaving Some Student Athletes Behind?

NCAA requirements disallow the use of these classes for meeting eligibility requirements for athletic scholarships.  That is what I'm told from a concerned citizen that gives me issues of importance and typically this individual has been right.  This is something I will look into;  I'll bring this for discussion at the next board workshop.  Nobody should be forced into courses that limit the potential of any type of a scholarship---academic or athletic!

From a concerned citizen:

"This is what I know...

For several years, Escambia County(and I assume other school districts) have been using Compass classes to push kids through to graduation.  In most cases, not giving the children or parents a choice or informing them of the implication of the decisions.  However, XXXXXXX and other teachers have been trying to make them understand the problem and have just been ignored.  So the problem is two-fold.

In order to qualify for a NCAA scholarship you have to have completed 10 core classes before the beginning of your senior year.  Because Compass classes do not count toward NCAA credit (based on the fact that a student-teacher dialog is not possible), several students are now [expletive] out of luck.  They are seniors and do not have the 10 core classes because they were put in Compass classes.  There is no way to fix this from what I understand.  The school district was informed and chose not to believe their teachers and did nothing to confirm or deny the teacher's claim.

Fast forward to the current students who were held back for one semester in 8th grade and have been enrolled at XXXXXXXX this spring semester.  From what I understand, two of them are potential college athletes.  Here is their situation.  They have spent a semester taking Compass classes that will not count toward NCAA eligibility.  They have now been enrolled at XXXXXXX as a second semester freshman.  Because they cannot take most of the core classes, because they are full year classes, they have been enrolled in electives as well as a part of the Algebra 1A-1B series.  In most cases, nothing they are taking this semester will count toward the NCAA 10 Core at the end of 11.  So, now they have gone to high school 1 year and have zero core classes.  The result is that they will now have 2 years (sophomore and junior) to take 10 core classes in order to be eligible.  In the case of football

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Status Quo "Takes it on the Chin" In Tallahassee Yesterday!

I was proud as a duly elected constitutional officer, school board member, and immediate past-president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members to be able to speak yesterday at the Florida Senate Community Affairs Committee in Tallahassee.

This committee was considering numerous bills, but one was of particular interest to me.  SB 1426 is the membership bill that will allow school board members, individually, the ability to "opt-out" of paying high priced, taxpayer funded "association" fees.  The discussion of this bill begins at minute 9:00 of this video.   The committee moved the bill favorably after several speakers spoke in support of the bill.  One member of the gallery, the newly appointed executive director of the FSBA, attempted to explain the reasons behind the school board association joining forces with unions ans special interest groups to sue the state.  Ahe was grilled by the committee over this lawsuit attempting to kill tax credit scholarships.  It was a great day in Tallahassee.  The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Buzz Blog covered the meeting.  from the Miami Herald:

"The bill also makes it optional for members to join associations that receive tax dollars -- giving school boards, for instance, the option to opt out of the FSBA. That provision, in particular, is pleasing to the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a separate group from the school boards association that was formed last year and whose members embrace conservative principles.  Coalition President Jeff Bergosh, an Escambia County school board member, said some school board members' voices are "shut out" when the FSBA acts on behalf of the majority of its members.  "There’s a great number of school board members whose voices get quashed every year," Bergosh told senators. "I don’t want my

School Recognition Bonus Money Strife, Part II

I've been contacted by several teachers now who are hating the process being utilized to distribute school recognition bonuses this year.  At one school which shall remain un-named, teachers are upset that the site administration is taking such a hands off, laissez-faire approach, which is resulting in teachers being pitted against teachers.  This is destroying morale and some teachers at some schools that typically receive their bonuses may not get theirs this year--due to the infighting that could lead to no plan being developed, which will result in only certain staff members getting award money---to the exclusion of other staff members.

From one teacher:

"We earned an A grade.  In making the decision on how the bonus money should be allocated, it has been put on teachers to make recommendations.  In doing this, teachers are hurting other teachers' feelings, faculty are not supporting each other as we once did.  Morale is down. There is disharmony of the biggest kind in the environment"  This teacher goes on to say "recommendations should have come from the admin and then teachers give input. I know there is nothing that can be done but our school is not a pleasant place to be right now..this makes my heart sad..ther's a huge lack of leadership here---very sad"

Gifted Advisory Committee Discord, Part II

I've received two more emails from separate members of the gifted advisory committee that shed some light on the recent discord in that group. This is unfortunate. One of the emails excoriates the committee member that resigned... a portion of that email reads as follows:

"To the School Board of Escambia County,
In this parting shot of a petulant and sore loser, XXXXXXX has demonstrated clearly the contempt for parents and the PATS Center that XXX   has brought to this discussion from the beginning.  It is very instructive to read XXX words and understand that they reflect the often passive-aggressive, sometimes openly adversarial posture of our dysfunctional and misguided Gifted Program.

1. Note in XXX first sentence that XXXXXX aims to minimize us as a small contingent.  It is disingenuous and deceitful to call the 550+ petition signors, or the nearly 50 adult and youth speakers who addressed your board on the subject, a "small contingency".  It is particularly laughable, considering XXXXXXXX, with the full support of the XXXXXXX  XXXXXXXXX, has never been able to raise a fraction of that level of support. 

2. In XXXXX graceless departure, XXXXXXX  makes it a point call us, the citizens who had the audacity to question her course of action, "narrow minded".  Socrates said it best: "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser".  Little more need said on this topic, except that the

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Discord on the Gifted Advisory Committee

I received the below email from one member of the district's gifted education task force.

It appears as if some in the group feel as if the district is headed in the right direction, yet there is discord from a small vocal minority that is attempting to push the group a different way via social media and political pressure.  I'll be asking some questions in the next few days to get a sense of what is really going on.

To Whom it May Concern,

Two years ago, I was asked to join what I had hoped would be a gifted advocacy committee; however, it is becoming the gifted advisory council that the initial, yet small contingency of parents wanted in the first place. I have been a part of this group since its formation as a gifted work group and have watched as that small group of people have pushed their narrow-minded personal agenda onto the School Board and District Administration through the media, social networking, and behind the scenes political pressure. I am one of the many who see and appreciate the growth our gifted program has experienced over the past couple years. I teach gifted endorsement classes and have over thirty teachers enrolled in the current course. The district is encouraging as well as fully reimbursing this professional development in order to equip as many teachers as possible to provide our gifted students services in any and all classrooms. The district is funding small groups of teachers to collaborate in developing gifted curriculum to disseminate to all teachers who wish to use it. Our under served population of gifted students are being served at a higher rate than the state mandate and higher than most Florida counties. Is there more that can be done? Absolutely. Could this group bring in community and business partners to increase opportunities and resources which our district simply cannot afford? Absolutely. Could this group be a listening ear and place to collect and analyze data from the voices of our teachers, students, and parents so as to brainstorm new possibilities for our gifted population? I had hoped so. Unfortunately, this School Board has encouraged the formation of what I believe will now be a platform for the narrow-minded, personal, and political agenda which was seen over a year ago. This is not in the best interest of our district and will not serve the needs of our gifted students and teachers who want to continue to improve what they have going in their home schools. I was eager to lead this group into becoming a true advocacy committee, not an advisory council set up to attempt to strong arm the administration and School Board into giving a few people what they want personally. After much thought, I no longer wish for my name to be associated with this group, therefore, I am submitting my resignation. I applaud this district for being open to listening to the needs of the community, but this group has become a group for the needs of the few. I hope to serve the district in many other capacities throughout my career; however, being a part of this group will not be one of them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gnashing of Teeth over Florida's Best and Brightest Continues

The Crab Mentality:  If one crab is on the verge of escaping the bucket, the others in the bucket pull him back in...

Yes, there is HUGE gnashing of teeth by special interests over the idea of paying bonuses to some, but not all, teachers.

....Yet the Senate Pre-K Education sub-committee passed this bill that would do just this out of committee with a substitute amendment today.

Sure, there is no perfect system for rating/ranking teachers, and everybody knows this.  As a result, when it comes to rewarding great teachers no system satisfies everybody.  And no system ever survives the wrath of the guardians of the status quo, the "one potato for you, one potato for you everyone is equal devoid of seniority" types.

The perfect becomes the enemy of the good, and the ball does not move forward.  Or it does very slowly and sputteringly as was the case with 2007's Merit Award Plan, which was passed and signed by the Governor with great fanfare yet only implemented in 9 of 67 counties the first year, and subsequently killed two years later.

So now comes the "Best and Brightest" award, an approach that looks backward at college entrance scores and rewards teachers who did well on their ACT and or SAT scores.  An interesting approach that rewarded those teachers who applied and met the criteria with $10,000 bonuses, this idea is HATED by the teacher's unions because it does not reward every teacher equally.

And now the detractors come with every possible complaint and problem imaginable with this bill.

Newsflash--it is not perfect, but it will help keep those high achieving students who stick with teaching as a career--it will keep them motivated to stay in the profession.  This isn't the be all, end all, we can still look for ways to reward all teachers.

But in the meantime, we should find ways to keep these bright teachers in our classrooms, as we work on raising all salaries and finding improved ways to recognize great teachers.

Let's not channel the crabs in a bucket mentality here, where the group keeps any and all from escaping the bucket because they can't.

I want to find every way possible for us to recognize, reward, and pay the great salaries and bonuses to the great teachers who go into, and stay, in one of the most important jobs in our nation---educating students!

School Recognition Money Bonuses--Clock is Ticking for Local Schools to Develop Their Plans....

The state of Florida's Department of Education is extremely tardy this year with respect to assigning school letter grades to individual schools.  This is problematic for many reasons, one of which affects or has the potential to affect teacher bonus paychecks.

Those schools that make and maintain an "A" letter grade-- or improve their school letter grade based upon student test scores---earn recurring, yearly lottery-funded cash bonuses for their schools.

(This is why the idea of assigning "I" or "incomplete" for all schools this year due to numerous testing snafus was roundly criticized by teachers at schools that earn these bonuses regularly)

School advisory committees for each school set plans for how this money is to be distributed.

Schools can do one of three things with this money:  Pay staff bonuses, buy instructional materials or aids, or pay for supplemental teachers to come into the school to help students.

Statewide, roughly 90% of the bonus money ends up going toward staff bonuses.

Not surprisingly, the creation of these plans sometimes becomes heated and controversial.  Let's face

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Virtual Town Hall Meeting with Senator Don Gaetz 1-13-2016

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members hosted an online, town hall meeting of its membership and Senator (and former Senate President) Don Gaetz yesterday evening.  Counties from all around Florida were represented on this webinar, the subject of which was legislation that is important in the upcoming session.

Senator Gaetz was extremely gracious as he described several bills of interest, fielded questions from our members, and gave his thoughts on what would be necessary for these bills' passage this session.

SB 672, the Education Options Bill, passed out of the Senate 39-0 yesterday, and the Senator believed it would pass in the House as well, where it is headed today.

SB1360, Alternative Assessments Bill, allows local districts the option to choose alternative, paper and pencil and/or computer based assessments from known entities like ACT or SAT--or such districts could stick with the FSA.  Gaetz described passing this bill as a "heavy lift."

SB 1426, Membership Organizations:  We were all delighted to hear that Senator Gaetz has signed-on as a co-sponsor to this bill, a bill which we strongly support because it gives individual school

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Devastating Loss is Coming to Organized Public Sector Unions via the United States Supreme Court.......

The five conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court appeared to side with California teachers that are tired of being forced to pay Union Dues to Teachers Unions that do not represent their individual views.  This was reported after the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case from Union lawyers and attorneys for teachers that want to opt-out of paying mandatory union dues.  This case, once it is ruled on sometime in June, will send shockwaves through the nation's blue states where many public-sector unions force all employees to pay dues. Friedrich v California Teachers Association will be one to watch closely...

From the LA Times

"The Supreme Court sounded ready Monday to deal a severe blow to public employee unions by striking down laws that require all workers to help pay for collective bargaining. In its tone and questioning, the argument resembled more of a congressional hearing at which Republicans took one position, Democrats argued the opposite, and there appeared little chance to sway either side.The court’s five Republican appointees strongly suggested they believe it is unconstitutional to force an objecting teacher from Orange County and millions like her to pay for union activities they do not support. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described the mandatory fees as “coerced speech” that violates the 1st Amendment."

Putting Students First in Detroit!

Over the last several months, teachers in the Detroit, Michigan Public School District have staged a series of "sick outs" that have closed dozens of schools.  Yesterday, in a mass sick-out, 60 schools were closed when more than 50% of each school's staff called in sick to work.

So what's going on there?  This district has been under state control for nearly 15 years, due to financial mismanagement and numerous other issues.

Academically, this district is the worst in the State of Michigan and the eighth grade students recently scored the lowest level in the nation in reading and mathematics.  This despite an expenditure of nearly $15,000.00 for each of DPS' 48,000 students. (Last year's budget was $721 Milllion)

The most recent financial releases peg DPS's debt at $3.5 Billion, with $1.7 Billion in short term debt

Monday, January 11, 2016

Membership Accountability/Individual Freedom of Choice in Advocacy Bills Filed for 2016 Session!

One of the really worthy bills from last year's legislative session that died when the Senate and House became deadlocked over the budget was HB 549.  It passed the house resoundingly  (85-28) but later died when the session was called early, prior to the Senate taking action on it.

This year, the bill has already been filed in the House by Rep Eric Eisnaugle (HB 1155), with a companion bill being filed in the Senate by Kelli Stargel (SB 1426).

Elected constitutional officers deserve to have choice in advocacy, and not be roped together into supporting high cost "association" groups that differ ideologically from individual elected officials and their constituencies.

As I have passionately stated in school board meetings, in the press, and in the offices of Florida legislators in Tallahassee----choice and freedom are hallmarks of our Constitutional Republic.

Allowing one group to monopolize the taxpayer funded educational advocacy business based simply on majority votes in school boards around the state is wrong; It alienates conservatives that are on

FCSBM to host 2 Virtual Town Hall Meetings this week: Rep Erik Fresen on Monday and Sen. Don Gaetz on Wednesday

FCSBM founding Executive Board Members with Chair Fresen at our Legislative Reception 2015 l to r Bridget Ziegler, Erika Donalds, Erik Fresen, Jeff Bergosh, and Shawn Frost

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members is hosting a series of online Town-hall meetings with key legislators throughout this session, starting this week.

Monday's online chat was with State Rep. Erik Fresen.  about chairman Fresen:

current legislative assignments:

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sustaining Escambia County's New, Higher Graduation Rates While Simultaneously Improving Student Readiness upon Graduation

I was a guest on Wednesday's "Pensacola Speaks" radio program discussing the topic of our excellent progress on achieving a higher graduation rate in Escambia County.

The district has done a fantastic job of increasing the rate over the last 6 year period, particularly the rate of at-risk student graduations and also Black student graduation rates.

While we still trail the state average by about 7 percentage points, there is no doubt that we have improved significantly over this last 6 years, clocking in a 72.6 on-time four year graduation rate for all students.

To what is this increase attributed?

According to Superintendent Thomas it is a combination of things to include focusing on at risk students, providing graduation coaches, and also expanding career academies at all of our schools to broaden the appeal of finishing High School to non-college bound students.

I'm happy to see a larger percentage of students finishing in four years, but I want to know what that 72.6 percent number jumps to if we take into account the fifth year, if we add in the numbers of students that take just a little extra time to finish.  I requested this data and was told it is not readily available.

This is an important data point which I will be looking into going forward--I think it is a number the

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Today is a Huge Day for Accountability in Florida

The State Board of Education completed a marathon meeting today, culminating in a 6-1 vote to accept Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's cut-score recommendation for assigning school letter grades.

The state board had expressed concerns about accepting these recommendations, as several members stated they felt the cut scores should be more in line with NAEP scores. This sentiment was echoed by business organizations including the Florida Council of 100.

In the end, after a slew of Superintendents from around the state implored the board to accept the recommendation of the commissioner, which would in turn assure these superintendents that their district's school grades would not be impacted significantly, the vote was taken and the board voted to take the staff recommendation on cut scores.

Because of this, the various district's school grades, released late last month in simulations based upon Pam Stewart's cut score recommendation, will ultimately align with the simulations.

The Tampa Bay Times' Jeff Solocheck did a great piece on the meeting, here