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, June 16, 2017

Achieve Escambia Visits the BCC

Achieve Escambia is a local group working for positive changes in our community to foster greater achievement from “Cradle to Career” for Escambia County youth.  I listened with great interest as Jennifer McFerrin gave the BCC a presentation/update about this group at this past Thursday’s Committee of the whole.  When it was appropriate, I asked questions and chimed in with my view as a 10-year member of the local school board.  

I was cut-off at one point by my colleague Grover Robinson, and another counterpart disagreed with much of what I said.  But the fact of the matter is that much of what we are doing is not working and I strongly believe that we need to take a different approach. Once again we are loaded down with 5 “F” Elementary schools and a raft of “D” schools throughout our local public school district.  The point I desperately tried to make was that we must stop dumping money into the same programs over and over that do not work.  

We must stop demoralizing and beating up the teachers that are working themselves into early graves giving all they have in order to help students that have abysmal home-lives.  We must, in my opinion, take a different approach.  

Focus on Families.  Remove discipline nightmare students.  Apply for a school of hope grant for a public charter boarding school to help the students in our community that live in extreme social dysfunction. Eliminate social promotion. Focus on rigorous academic programs for reading in grades 1-3.  These are the priorities.  Because if we can get to the students who want to learn—we can make a difference.  But first we must have some difficult conversations…..

Social Dysfunction and Poor Choices Destroy Communities and Socially–Dysfunctional Communities Create Low-Performing Public School Districts

Whether we’re talking about facilitating neighborhood trash clean-ups, enabling neighborhood property improvements via low cost loans and grants, setting up summer work programs for community youth, building sidewalks and parks, or giving all students county library cards--a local government can do things to help make communities better.  Our County spends millions of dollars every year providing services that enhance our community.  But this, in and of itself, does not make a great community.

Our local public school district provides all students access to educational 

opportunities, programs, and resources that enable students locally to reach levels of educational achievement that are amazing!  I witnessed this as a locally-elected ten-year school board member who attended dozens and dozens of graduations through the years.  A majority of our amazing local students of all races and socioeconomic brackets finish school and go on to lead productive lives either in the workforce, the military, or in the pursuit of an advanced degree.  Some finish High School with GPA’s in excess of 4.0 and attend the top colleges in the country.  But what these students do, great as it is usually, does not make a great community.

Our local Police Department and Sheriff’s Office do tremendously difficult work in our community, routinely putting their lives on the line to protect citizens and businesses while arresting lawbreakers.  Believe it or not, there are those that actually blame the police for problems in communities rather than thanking the men and women of law enforcement for what they do.  But having a great police department does not, in and of itself, guarantee a great community.

So what is it that makes a great community? 

Families do. 

Rich or poor—or anywhere in between—communities with high concentrations of strong nuclear families make create communities.  And great communities make great public school districts-it’s not the other way around.
By contrast, failed communities marred by vanishing families, drug abuse, crime, blight and festering social dysfunction create public schools that struggle.
This is why parents who are contemplating a home purchase regularly choose their neighborhoods based upon the quality of the local public schools. 

Now, some will quickly dismiss and overlook the dysfunctional attributes of some communities instead bemoaning the “poverty” of such areas that invariably “created” the problems.  This is naïve and ill-informed.  Poverty and dysfunction do not necessarily go hand in hand.  The world is full of poor people and poor families that respect one another, work jobs, remain married, reject illegal activity, attend church, and otherwise act responsibly.  Poverty is difficult and it is challenging—but we simply cannot allow ourselves to adopt and accept the mythology that poverty is the singular culprit that creates social dysfunction.  Poor life choices combined with the wholesale abandonment of the concept of personal responsibility creates social dysfunction.

As an example--the most recent data available from the National Center for Health Statistics that looks at birthrate demographics in our nation (from 2015) is stark. This research indicates that out-of-wedlock birthrates are 27% for Asians, 30% for Whites, 56% for Hispanics, and 77.3% for Blacks.  The numbers go up even higher for mothers that don’t graduate from High School. 

These numbers point to an untenable condition that is feeding the dysfunction in some communities nationwide and right here in Escambia County.  When you are looking at nearly 8 out of 10 children being born with no father in several areas-the probability of success for these children under our current conditions is abysmal.  Every married couple with children knows that raising a family is difficult and even if a strong family does everything right—children of strong families still make mistakes and poor choices.  These children, blessed as they are with strong families, still need encouragement, love, and sometimes discipline and redirection from their loving, two-parent family.

A child with one parent, or no parent, doesn’t even stand a chance statistically.  The deck is stacked against them from day one.

Sadly, the well intentioned liberal social welfare programs from the 1960s have enabled this condition to flourish. These programs disincentivized fatherhood by making single parents with multiple children remunerative to an extent that working a job requires a “pay-cut.”
This simply must change and the focus must become tailoring programs that encourage families to stay together.  Instead of rewarding irresponsible, self-destructive behavior—how about we create programs at all levels of government that reward families that stay together?  I’d like to see recurring, growing and cumulative tax-credits for families and parents that stay together.  How about targeted sales tax and property-tax exemptions for low income families that stay together?  How about creating real penalties for fathers that do not pay their child support—to include hard labor in exchange for payment credits? 

Treating the symptoms of generational social dysfunction that have ruined many cities in our nation simply is not working.  Frankly, it is not affordable and it has been ineffective at best.  Worse than this--some of these programs have exacerbated and enabled the problem to grow!

Here is the sad truth. 

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, or panaceas that will fix the issues social dysfunction has created.  It will take tremendous will, effort, and patience.  It may also take decades to turn this tide.  It will take a concerted effort at all levels of Government to re incentivize families while simultaneously curtailing those entitlement programs that enable socially dysfunctional behavior on a broad scale.  Fix social dysfunction and you fix public schools. No pre-kindergarten program will fix the problem, no matter how much money is dumped into it and no matter how many prominent citizens believe in it--if families are not engaged and do not do their jobs at home.  Pre-kindergarten helps students socially, it helps families, and it helps communities by infusing money into jobs that support these programs—so yes this is a valuable social program.  But as an academic program that helps students long term---the most high -quality research does not support this notion.

Achieve Escambia will focus on “high quality” pre-kindergarten programs as their vehicle of choice to improve educational outcomes locally, there is no doubt about this.  Several points I made about this at the meeting are important to note:

1    .      I am aware of no rigorously-controlled scientific studies that show a direct correlation between pre-kindergarten attendance and increased likelihood of H.S. Graduation. 
2    .     When Achieve Escambia moves ahead with Pre-K as their vehicle of choice to improve educational outcomes—it is imperative they measure the cohort in relation to a control group of similarly situated students that do not attend Pre-k programs.
3    .     It is imperative that Achieve Escambia follow the groups longitudinally, and keep track of the data.
4    .     At the end of grade three for both groups, it will be imperative to measure the academic achievement of both groups and report results back to the stakeholders.

We are fortunate to have so many in the community that are willing to give time and resources to help our students.  But even with all the volunteers and groups that are helping—we are still losing too many students that are falling through the cracks.  We must be intelligent with resources and focus our limited resources on what truly works to help students academically—not what we think will work, and not what we hope will work.  And we must be honest in our program assessments-regardless of what apple cart (s) this might topple.


Anonymous said...

So what is your plan? Short term solution?
You did a good job pointing out the problems and close to being on mark. But more bars and restaurants are not solutions. More school are great, but not the entire solution. What family activities are there for the families making under $60,000 a year? Where are there more parks other than one crowded park in D1 and going to city limits? Where are the family museums other than the NAS? Where are the interactive kids museums and centers in D1, D2, D3 or D5. Yes you want better families and so do I, but you make the votes and plans, while not really listening to understand... just to fire back.
So what is your plan to get more families interacting out side of bars/ restaurants and non Christian concerts???

Jeff Bergosh said...

The point of my post is that we have to be tremendously careful with how we spend precious resources in pursuit of better academic achievement. If we are going to go full speed ahead with high-quality Pre-k as the vehicle to accomplish this--I'm simply stating we had better be rigorous in our data collection and follow the cohort longitudinally along with a control group. Then at 3rd grade share the results. As far as what my plan is: It is a basic strategy. #1--CONTROL DISCIPLINE IN ALL SCHOOLS remove the chronically abusive behavioral nightmare students--create level specific alternative centers (elementary, middle, H.S.) for those that do not behave and have Camelot run them--they get the job done and they do it well. #2 From grade 1-3 it is all about reading, reading, reading. Every subject and every lesson should be reading centered and other subjects infused into the reading curriculum (counting lessons with words, number lessons with letters and words, color with words and phonics, shapes lessons with words, animal flashcards with letters--etc. etc everything centered on reading because after grade three--students read to learn ) #3 Bring back the OASIS program(s) one at Pine Forest and one at Escambia. #4 Eliminate the social promotion between grades 5-6, 8-9. #5 Treat the teachers with respect and pay the ones that work at the schools that serve dysfunctional populations recurring, growing salary differentials that are significant to stem the staff chrun that runs rampant in about 12 of our schools that serve the local population that has the most generational social dysfunction # GO TO AN APPOINTED SUPERINTENDENT model to eliminate politics from the education system locally. Empower the board to do a nationwide search to find the most highly qualified individual to run the schools .... instead of who the most popular local guy is that decides to run. This is the initial framework of what needs to be done in order to give parents and the community faith in our schools once again and reverse our declining enrollments.

Anonymous said...

Smaller students to teacher ratio?

Jeff Bergosh said...

I'm not sure about that. Of course under state law we have to meet the class-size requirement, however that is extremely expensive and for traditional classrooms (minus the behavior nightmare students) I'm not convinced the benefit outweighs the costs. Other states pay better, but the 7th grade teacher might have 30-35 students instead of 22 students. The class size amendment that the Unions pushed throuh back in 2002 has severely crippled our ability to meaningfully raise teacher pay to where it ought to be. Look at other states that do not have this cap, and you will see the pay for teachers in such states is significantly higher and yes in many cases these teachers have larger student loads but also in many cases these states do as well as or better than Florida academically. So the class size cap is popular with teachers but they must be reminded often---especially around bargaining time--- that with this cap comes a significant financial burden which limits upward pay trajectory.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think one easy and quick fix would be to raise the minimum wage or lower the cost of living. When people are working two jobs and over stressed , it's hard to dedicate love and support to your family. For example, a single mother may find it difficult for down time to read and spend time with her family. You can't neglect the value of those things either. You really can't. I think that's a major problem that may make it difficult for families to cope.

We should continue to focus on education for the next generation, and the shift in higher skills in order prepare them for more advanced careers, but we need to address the fact that it is simply just too difficult for people to thrive and truly live without their most basic needs met: an income. Why is that? Part of it is because the minimum wage makes it difficult to live.

Two people working at McDonalds at minimum wage means only 2592 a month -- imagine if it's just a mom working on her own -- 1292/month. That's hardly enough to pay rent, car, car insurance, a cell phone, internet, and food. You got nothing for family vacations. Nothing for extra things you might be for your kids. And you barely have enough time to spend with family. How is anyone supposed to be happy when they work 40 hours a week yet still make pennies?

Maybe that's the question and see how much quality of life improves and how much parents begin to focus on their kids.

And really, is there really a problem of working at McDonalds? Not really. It takes hard work even if the skill level is low.

Anonymous said...

Here is a start for your school fix. It is something that is tangible and creates an established mood. Get rid of the discipline problem students. Send them home to virtual school. If they can't function in a school setting, virtual will comply with state mandates for education offered. This does two things. It gets a major distraction out of your classroom for students that want to be there. It sends a message to other students to shape up or ship out. I don't know this for a fact but rumor mill tells me that there was a mandate to lower discipline reporting and thereby making the county's report look better. This implementation has not gone unnoticed by said offenders and in the next few years will only get worse. Many teachers across the county have told me that their reporting has been made so complicated that it overwhelms their teaching duties.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Discipline and a lack of enforcement of existing board discipline policies is the largest self-inflicted wound the School District suffers from. Your information is correct--and I fought this every step of the way when I was on the school board--to no avail. In a nutshell--the SPLC and NAACP along with the ACLU threatened our district with a lawsuit a number of years back due to the high number of minority suspensions, a percentage higher than what for some could be expected given the overall minority population. Now, I always believed and I voiced this from the school board dais that this supposed anomaly could be explained by the simple fact that a large number of these students, at a higher than usual proportion, were engaging in the behavior(s) that ultimately led to these consequences--similar to what is seen in the criminal justice system in our country. My cogent explanation fell on deaf ears; When the district received a proposed "consent decree" template from the DOJ's OCR that was acceptable to the ACLU--this document was never laid on the table for board consideration and action. I patiently waited because I wanted to blow that piece of garbage item up, I was going to vote it down forcefully. Astonishingly--it was never given to the board. I only got it when I did a record request from the attorney. What the district did that I strongly disagreed with--they have essentially implemented the lion's share of the tenets of that 2013-2014 OCR consent decree without the advice and consent of the school board--because the district did not want that document debated live and publicly. They know I would have teed that off. Now, what we have, is that a student who in middle school knocks a desk over and yells "F&%K You!" to a teacher is simply given one "step" on a five step behavior card, and teachers are prevented from sending such unruly students to the office until all five steps on the card are completed in a day. This produces fewer trips to the office, and VOILA fewer suspensions. This gives administrators the "Lower Numbers" that appease the social justice organizations that sent us the consent decree--and so everyone wins in theory according to the staff that implemented this scheme. Only problem is, this grinds the teachers down when they are told to "handle it" in their classrooms and when they are chided for sending students to the office, described as not having good "classroom control." Other students suffer, too, as they are subjected to more disruptions and this lowers the amount of time teachers can teach. All of this leads to more staff turnover, higher levels of anxiety among good teachers and students, lower enrollments district-wide (as more parents chose home school, virtual, or private school options) and less administrative burden at the school sites for the deans and the principals. But, at the end of the day, this does lead to the lower numbers of suspensions and expulsions that the Superintendent and his staff crave. What they don't realize, though, is that this is destroying the schools from the inside out. This is what is going on, and it DISGUSTS me to watch it......I feel sorry for the teachers and the good students that just want to come to school and learn and not be a pawn in a political correctness chess match.

Anonymous said...

This is more of a random question. Can you share examples of how politics inflates the superintendent? I saw this as a hot topic a few years ago and need more understanding and specific examples. Thanks.