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, February 26, 2016

When the Story of a Student Comes Full Circle.....

It was a beautiful, almost Spring-like day two Saturdays ago when I happened to be walking through a neighborhood in West Pensacola for my current campaign for County Commission.

As we approached the woman on the riding lawn mower, she greeted us with a smile and shut down the machine so we could give her our campaign talking points and literature.

She politely listened, and then she looked over to me and said, "I wish you all would do something about that Zero Tolerance against the students!"  To which I replied, "We no longer have Zero Tolerance in our policy, and we only now have minimum mandatory penalties for severe infractions like Bomb Threats and bringing a Firearm to school"
"Well," she continued, "You all at the School Board crushed my daughter and it wasn't fair what you did"   Prying, I inquired, "What did your daughter do, and what did WE do?"

And here's where the story of a student comes full circle...

"She was a good student, a great student, that never got into trouble, ever.  She made one mistake, and it did not hurt anyone, it was not violent, and she was forthright and told the truth!" The mom said.  "Even the Principal of the school asked that she not be kicked out for a year--but the School Board Kicked her out of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX High School anyway!"  Why?"

At that very moment, a chill went up my back even though it was warm and sunny.  I felt that awkward sensation of the hair on my neck standing up.  I knew this story from a few years earlier, because I had voted against the expulsion.  The student in question was an honor student with a GPA above 4.0 and no previous referrals.  But she made two mistakes.  One, she had some sort of a tryst in

Congratulations to Ransom Middle School's Kristy Imhof, 2016 Escambia County Teacher of the Year

Ransom Middle School's Kristy Imhof was selected to be 2016's Escambia County Teacher of the year at the Golden Apple Awards Banquet this past Thursday Evening.  Congratulations to Kristy, and all the nominees, and all the hard working teachers in our district!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Huge Day In Tallahassee Yesterday: Membership Association Bill Passes the House

Yesterday was a monumental day in Tallahassee:  The House of Representatives passed the Membership Association Bill (HB 1155)-- that I have been pushing for two years--- by an overwhelmingly large margin (78-36) , And then the  Senate Appropriations Committee blasted through the Senate’s version of this same bill (SB 1426)  in blistering fashion (less than two minutes --32:00 to 33:45-- of this video), with no debate.  The Senate bill then subsequently passed favorably out of committee by an overwhelmingly huge 14-1 margin-- with only one dissenting vote.

I just scratch my head and wonder why some folks just will not support this bill…..….

This bill allows freedom of choice in advocacy for School Board Members that are elected Constitutional Officers---the same sort of freedom of choice in advocacy that ALL other Florida Constitutional Officers currently enjoy!  (Florida property appraisers, for instance, have two separate and distinct statewide associations from which appraisers can pick; Senators and Representatives in the Florida legislature that are in the minority party are allowed to direct their portion (s) of state funded advocacy dues to “progressive” advocacy organizations  (see  minute 85:30 of this video )

Why shouldn't school board members enjoy the freedom of choice?

I thought progressives love “choice?”

 I guess “choice” is only “good” when it benefits them or a cause which progressives support. 

 Conservative school board members, according to the partisan vote totals I’m seeing in yesterday’s votes from Tallahassee, apparently should NOT enjoy “choice.” 

As Spock from Star Trek might have observed on this curious display of overt hypocrisy, “Fascinating.”

But I believe liberals and Conservatives-together with progressives- all should support this bill, because in this context choice is good and it is fair--there is no disputing this known fact of reality.

And I hope the full Senate will pass this bill and I certainly hope that Governor Scott will subsequently sign it into law.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Getting the Disciplinary Process Right Part II

So as I’ve stated before multiple times in many school board meetings, I think the board needs a better process for ensuring that decisions that come from our delegated hearing officers are not defective.  Under the current protocol, the status quo, we are told we can do nothing to challenge a hearing officer’s written order.  I reject that notion.  Hearing officers are humans, and like judges, hearing officers sometimes make mistakes.  Unlike judges that routinely have their defective decisions overturned by a vibrant and fair appeals process, however, our hearing officers are apparently  beyond reproach;  their decisions, even if defective, MUST only be “accepted”—is what we are told.  

This mindset is garbage.  I reject this logic totally.  I mean, what happens when we get a hearing officer who comes back with an order stipulating the “sky is green!”  Are we to blindly genuflect and accept something just as blatantly wrong as it pertains to student discipline?  I say no way.

Simpletons that refuse to accept the reality of this problem will be dismissive and say things such as “This is the way this process has always been conducted here.” 

The problem with this line of thought is that with no appeals mechanism in place to challenge a hearing officer’s defective order, justice is not served for victims or perpetrators --be they guilty or innocent.

Here is the thing:   I have no problem adopting a hearing officer’s recommended order---even if I disagree—so long as the hearing was conducted appropriately, Board Policy was followed, and there are not blatant legal problems with the order.  I have accepted and have voted for many of these orders throughout my time on the school board.

But when even a Blind Man could see problems with an order---I will NEVER simply vote to accept such a flawed product.

Example 1:  If the hearing officer finds, to the preponderance of the evidence, that a student committed what would be the textbook definition of a battery, yet such a hearing officer fails to 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Getting Discipline and the Disciplinary Process Right

Discipline is a continuing problem in our schools locally.  We make policies to address this issue, yet the best policy is worthless, meaningless if it is not followed or worse yet if it is ignored or if it is filtered for political correctness’ sake.  The district has a huge problem with bullying and harassment----yet what I am hearing is that often bullying is not being addressed because teachers are being compelled not to report bullying for what it is.

Bullies must be dealt with, period.  Allowing a predatory bully to continue victimizing others is unacceptable.  Failure to follow our policy (and state law) about bullying can lead to a significant financial penalty to our district.

More importantly---unchecked bullying can lead a student to depression, isolation, and even suicide.
A student from a District 1 Middle School committed suicide just this year, in January, and I was given some details about this student’s death by another student from the same school.  I don’t go a single day without thinking about that student.  We have to get our discipline enforcement right.
Teachers and parents know what is going on.

A veteran elementary school teacher contacted me two days ago and confirmed my suspicion and worst fear when she told me the following:
“The district is ignoring bullying to a huge extent. At the beginning of the year we were told that what a lot of people are calling bullying is not bullying and then a few examples were sited (which in my opinion were classic bullying examples). I then looked at the district policy and what the policy stated was exactly these things. We were told NOT to use the word bullying in paper work (when

Friday, February 12, 2016

Student Surveys: A Profound Step Forward for Escambia County Schools

A year ago I had the good fortune to attend a conference of school board members in Nashville, and one of the presentations I watched was on the subject of confidential student surveys.  The previous year, in New Orleans, I had seen a similar presentation on student surveys.

The Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut were battling an epidemic of bullying in schools and they were also attempting to stem the tide of student depression among the local population in the effort to prevent suicides.  These schools did this by initiating compulsory student surveys, confidential but non-anonymous, for all students in grades 3-11.  The surveys were developed to be age appropriate for each grade level, and many of the questions were innocuous, while some of the questions were designed to be "trigger" questions that would identify students who were suffering from depression, bullying, or other serious issues.  An affirmative response to a trigger question would be reported to school counseling services and such students would immediately be given support and assistance.

On the first round of implementing their plan, this Connecticut School District had one student answer one of the trigger questions as follows:

"there are some people who call me names and … people start rumors about me that i dont like sometimes i want to die and kill myself before the next day. i feel like everyone hates me and for no reason. ive sometimes been nice but when they bring up the rumor i say realy bad things to keep them away … one day i was thrown a note saying im ###. and it was my by bestfriend ... i lost the only thing that i can trust. i was alone for a long time. if this is un healthy then pleace help me …" 

Fortunately, this student was referred to counseling and received the help he needed.  (Other similar responses can be found on slide 22 of this informative 38 slide Power Point presentation on Meridens'

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Unbelievable That a School Would Do This!

Fox News reported on this issue yesterday.  To me it is inconceivable that a public school would air such a video of ridiculous propaganda and half-truths.  Talk about feeding into a victimization mentality!  Stuff like this and ridiculous ideas such as those espoused in this video, combined with a top echelon of "leadership" in Washington DC that feeds narratives like those this video spews, and abracadabra we have the worst race relations in our country that I can ever remember in my life.  I cannot imagine the thought process that was used in showing this garbage in a school classroom. Appalling....

From Fox News:

"An animated film designed as a lesson in “racial discourse” for students at a Virginia high school has led to backlash from community members who’ve taken issue with not-so subtle references to so-called white privilege throughout the video. 'They are sitting there watching a video that is dividing them up from a racial standpoint. It's a White guilt kind of video,” Don Blake, whose granddaughter attended the assembly where the video was shown, told told WWBT. “I think somebody should be held accountable for this."

Friday, February 5, 2016

Suicide Awareness and Prevention-- Important Legislation is Moving in Tallahassee

Florida Sen. Lisbeth Benacquisto

Senator Lisbeth Benacquisto joined members of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members from around the state for a legislative town hall meeting Thursday evening.  Senator Benacquisto has multiple bills filed and moving in the legislature, but the conversation quickly centered around her suicide awareness and prevention bill (SB 884)  which is quickly moving through committees in Tallahassee, on it's way toward becoming law.

According to Senator Benacquisto, the latest data available from 2013 reveal that 34 Florida students aged 10-12 committed suicide that year.  Here in Escambia County, we have had a number of student suicides over my 10 year career on the school board, including one middle school student that killed herself just this past January.

This is an issue that demands attention at all levels of government.

Fox news, just today, did a full blown story on the epidemic of suicides by young people in our country.  This is a problem that has grown every year since 2007.  from that piece:

"We are seeing significant increases in suicide for those ages," Dr. Thomas Simon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's suicide expert, told "When you go back to 2007, the rates in that age group have gone up every year."According to the CDC, 5,504 people ages 10 to 24 died by suicide in 2014, the most recent year in which statistics are available.The figure was up from the grim 2013 tally of 5,264, and the number has risen every year and up 13 percent from 2010. Experts are braced for official 2014 and 2015 statistics to show a continued upward trajectory.Males are four times as likely as females to kill themselves"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Huge Committee Day Yesterday in Tallahassee for Membership Association Bills

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members had an excellent day in Tallahassee yesterday.  Members of the coalition made their presence felt in the House Education Subcommittee and in the Senate K-12 Education committee.  As a result of some diligent effort by various members of both chambers of the legislature, as well as some discussions individual school board members from our coalition have had with legislators face to face, the membership association bills  (HB 1155 and SB 1426 ) that we all strongly support made their way favorably through both committee stops.  In the House, 1155 moved favorably through the committee by a 10-2 margin.

In the Senate, the vote was a bit more precarious, with 1426  moving favorably through the committee by a 5-4 vote.  Former Senate President Don Gaetz made a rousing endorsement for the bill, the reasoning behind the need for such a bill, and why he was proud to be the bill's co-sponsor ( minute 85:30 of this video )---- explaining this all to his colleagues just prior to the vote.

Erika Donalds, the current president of the Coalition, gave her testimony before the committee at minute 72:40 of the meeting

Andrea Messina, the Executive Director of the FSBA gave testimony in opposition to the bill at minute 78:00 of this video

I spoke in favor of the bill in this video at minute 81:50

The next stop for HB 1155 in the House is in the full House Education Committee.

The next stop for SB 1426 in the Senate is in the full Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tallahassee Democrat Publishes Op-Ed on Union Lawsuit

Last week, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper published this piece by the president of the organized statewide teacher's union in Florida.  The article was badly biased, inaccurate, and totally incorrect.  The Democrat allowed a rebuttal to appear in yesterday's (Sunday) edition, and it was a piece that I submitted.  You can find it here.

I feel it is arrogant for this special interest group, the FEA, to try to tell the legislature what laws and programs it can/can't pass---and then to go to court to try to scuttle this program after it was duly enacted by the legislature and Governor---this is overtly aggressive!  The Union is out of their lanes here---this is not taxpayer dollars at issue here, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

For this special interest group to try to tell corporations it is somehow wrong for them to donate to scholarship programs that primarily benefit minority students is reprehensible.  To spread mischaracterizations about this program is  wrong.

I hope that many legislators saw both pieces and realize that the special interest labor unions do not speak for all of us that are invested in Public Education in the state of Florida!

From Sunday's Op-ed:

"I, too, am an active participant and believer in public education as an elected Escambia School Board member. But I see far too much self-interest in her claims that choice is bad for these parents. In her recent “My View” in the Democrat, Ms. McCall offered some dubious claims about this 15-year-old scholarship program:
The private schools “make their own rules about testing” – though the law requires them to use a test approved by the state.
“They don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely” – though the law requires an independent accountant’s report for any school receiving more than $250,000.
Scholarship students are “being harmed” academically – though seven consecutive years of standardized test results tell us they are achieving the same gains as students of all incomes nationally.
Like Ms. McCall, I too want every student to thrive in our district schools. But different children learn in different ways, and these scholarship children lack the financial means to access a private school. So why must we view this opportunity as an attack on public education?One thing that is clear to me as a school board member is that this scholarship is not the cause of any fiscal challenges we may face. These scholarships are only 80 percent of what we would have to spend for the same children in our district schools, and reputable analyses by independent agencies have shown without exception that the program saves tax money.Just imagine the hole it would blow in our district budgets if the union persuaded the Florida Supreme Court to evict 78,000 poor students and they suddenly show up in district schools? The cost to build schools alone could be well over a billion dollars. The most nagging conceit is that every education dollar is owed exclusively to us, as school boards and teacher unions, and that any dollar spent to allow students to pursue different paths to success is a “diversion.”