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, October 3, 2016

Half Measures

"No Half Measures"....Mike Ehrmantraut

I was asked by the New American Press/Education Today magazine to answer a questionnaire about my opinion of the state of public education today---both  locally and nationally.  Here are the questions and answers that I provided in response.

11.       What are some the main concerns do you see in the Education system in Escambia County and the nation as a whole?

Apathy at all levels is the big issue.  From the households that have checked out of participating/partnering with their child’s school, to the bureaucrats that run the schools and embrace the status quo because that is the path of least resistance, to the politicians that ram ridiculous mandates down local school districts’ throats with no regard for the consequences—apathy at all levels is killing schools, churning out good teachers, and slowly destroying our public education system right before our eyes.  I’m particularly concerned with the teachers and the students.  Hiring and retaining  good teachers is going to be a harder and harder job going forward as we do not pay them well enough to deal with all of the issues they must bear in many of our schools.  And the good students that want to learn, regardless of their race or family income level or zip code, are going to be the ones that pay the biggest price if this situation is not properly addressed.  Half measures are no longer cutting it.

22.      What improvements would you suggest in Education for Escambia County?

Addressing discipline in strict fashion is critical.  When we offer up feckless solutions to chronic misbehavior, bullying, and abusive conduct by some students—we are simultaneously driving good teachers, good parents, and good families to the exits—and this is part of the reason why, in my opinion and based upon what I have been told by many parents, our enrollments are declining while other nearby district, homeschool, and private school enrollments are skyrocketing.  Every hundred students we lose equates to about $800,000 in lost revenue for our district.  Declining enrollment is a devastating problem and is one metric that cannot be explained away by politicians—it is probably

the most telling and accurate assessment of a district’s performance because it cannot be manipulated—it is what it is and people choose where they go and where the want to be by moving and this can’t be explained away.    Just today I spoke to a parent of two students that are grown now but who attended Escambia County Public Schools, this parent told me point blank “Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time I would have moved to Santa Rosa County and never put my students in the Escambia County Public School District.”  It just nonchalantly rolled of this person’s tongue---and this person is someone I know well!  It breaks my heart to hear this because I care so deeply for our schools and our students.   We have to change this with BOLD action.  What would that entail?  It’s simple:  Enforce board policy on discipline, find a way to properly compensate those teachers that work in the toughest most challenging schools, cut back on the number of tests administered where we can, and tell the politicians in Tallahassee and Washington DC to stay out of our schools locally!  Essentially, we simply must just get back to basics.

33.      What are your views for County Commissioner? and why the switch from School Bd. Member to County Commissioner?

I wanted to run for BCC back in 2012, but decided to wait one more cycle out of deference to incumbent Wilson Robertson who I have supported as our district’s commissioner.  When he and I met and had coffee in early 2012 at the Waffle House, he told me “Jeff, I’m going to do one more term and then retire.”  So I waited until the seat was open and ran this year.  I am an entrepreneur at heart—I love business and creating and improving businesses.  I’ve owned and operated Sports Bars, Restaurants, Nightclubs, commercial properties, and other retail stores.  I’ve recently co-founded two non-profits that are starting to take off.  I am always looking for opportunities to improve processes and I have taken this passion into my work on the school board and I want to bring this insight into my work as a commissioner.  So far the campaign is going well, as I recently emerged from a tough primary as the victor.  Now I just have one more election to go on November 8th, and I feel good about my chances in that contest.  As to why I’m running:  I see so many issues in our community where the County can make citizens’ lives better—and I want to be a part of that effort.  When I attended and graduated from Pensacola High School in the mid-1980s’—there simple were no good employment opportunities for a guy like me, an average, lower middle-class graduate with no connections.  Because of this, I had to leave Pensacola to find work.  Now the situation today is much better, but I believe it can be improved even more.  I want to work to make Escambia County a place where graduates of High School, Trade School, or College can stay and find good jobs.  That is my primary goal, to really push economic development so that more people can participate in the work force and find rewarding employment opportunities.

44.      Do we have a fundamental problem in leadership in Escambia County School District? If so who, and/or what needs to change?

I try not to personalize things so I want to emphasize that I’m not blaming Malcolm Thomas for everything that happens to go wrong in our schools locally.  He is a hard working superintendent of schools that truly cares about our students.  With that said, I think over the last few years there have been some significant issues that have come up where I have strongly disagreed with the way these matters were handled by his team.  There have also been areas where board policy has not been followed and other situations where the Board members’ area of purview has been stepped all over by this administration.  I always call these out, primarily in discreet phone calls, but often in meetings where I openly discuss my concerns if the situation is flagrant and blatant.  This is what makes me so popular among the upper echelon of district staff!  J [sarcasm intended]  But in all seriousness, what one allows, one also tacitly condones, and when something is not right I tend to be a person who will say and do something about it to get it fixed.  With this said-- I do think that the school board locally as a whole is incredibly meek due simply to our district’s structure.  99.4% of the nearly 16,000 public school districts nationwide have figured this out:  They have elected board members that hire, supervise, evaluate, and oversee an appointed superintendent of schools that such boards select from nationwide searches of highly qualified candidates.  Our structure here locally is very, very antiquated and retrograde—with an ELECTED superintendent of schools.  This structure makes the position of superintendent a hyper-political position and it also concentrates too much power in the hands of one person—which is always a dangerous thing to do.  So the fundamental issue is structural—we simply must get in the 21st century and modernize our school system to hire the very best leadership while simultaneously curbing the power of that position to create an increased level of checks and balances in the system overall  while simultaneously making the school system LESS political.  While this change in and of itself is not a panacea or magic bullet--I do think this would be an essential first step in really improving our district.  This combined with a strict enforcement of discipline and a deliberate effort to make the teachers’ jobs less stressful would do wonders for our district.  I certainly hope we as a community have the will to push for changes that will make our district better---because I will say it again---half-measures are no longer cutting it.



Anonymous said...

I read somewhere (probably on the PNJ) that we are beginning to gain jobs (such as Navy Federal) but locals do not have the skills to gain employment. What initiatives might you employ to help folks gain employment with these higher paying jobs?

Jeff Bergosh said...

At the school district level, we have increased our career academies in all of our Middle and High Schools. Students that complete these programs in many cases earn certifications that will more easily enable them to find meaningful employment upon graduation. We do a very good job of this---however I am also aware that a significant number of our graduates do not possess the skills upon graduation to jump in to certain fields because, according to several business owners I have met and know, these students in some cases do not speak well, they do not write well, and many cannot do basic arithmetic. So there are various levels of abilities that come out of our local public school district, but I will say our top-end graduates are amazingly good, brilliant. I have, for 10 years on the board, asked that we increase the rigor and more importantly eliminate the social promotion that persists---particularly as it relates to pushing over-age middle schoolers into high school even when such students are not ready. This happens and nobody wants to seriously challenge this practice for many reasons, most of which are social, financial (for the district so students won't quit resulting in lost FTE) and not academic. At the County Level, we need to work closely with the school district and with George Stone to align our Economic Development initiatives with our workforce training curriculum--and at the moment we have done a decent job at this, as we are moving airframe and aircraft maintenance into the curriculum ahead of ST Aerospace moving to Pensacola with 400 jobs. There are other examples that are too numerous to relate here, but I believe there are many successful outcomes that eminate from our Vo-Tech programs that have enabled many citizens locally to find gainful employment. We just need to continue this.