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Sunday, July 24, 2011

How my school got on the Intervene list (rough draft)

I am not allowed to say what school I work out but if you were to guess that I was at one of the schools that made the intervene list I don’t think it would be against the rules for me to nod my head yes. If you didn’t know it, the intervene schools are considered the failing schools in Florida, the bottom of the bottom and Jacksonville has more intervene schools than the rest of the state, 7 out of 27. Here we have one k-8 school and then six of the full time 17 high schools on the list; all of the schools by the way our North of Beaver Street and West of Casset.

My school hasn’t always been an intervene school, though I for years have been warning that it was coming and this is how it happened.

Five years ago despite our huge special education population we were a C school of some note. We had a well renowned physics club, a model UN team that was one of the best in the state. A Drama program that put on several performances a year and an art department that was routinely represented at shows. We also had a veteran staff that knew what it was doing and dedicated to the school’s children. Fast forward and after a few years of fluctuating between and F and a D we are on the intervene list and we have none of the above.

It started when 300 students arrived from the first round of intervene schools. The statistics show that kids on opportunity scholarships do not improve when they get to their new school and the new schools often suffer but despite that the state continues to insist districts move these kids around. My school was no exception and with the new arrivals within two years we went from a C to an F.

Thus the downfall of our school began and the next step was the micromanagement of our staff.

No longer were teachers allowed autonomy and creativity, instead the teachers had to adhere to a rigorous group of standards that stunningly had no evidence proving they worked. Word walls, complicated agendas, data notebooks and two-page lesson plans were what the state and our administrators began to look for rather than good instruction. All of these things sucked up teacher’s precious time and took them away from doing the things that were more important. Pressure began to increase and many of our teachers began to leave.

Our veteran teachers began to trickle away. There is a direct pipeline from my school to Fleming Island high school considered one of the best in the state. At last count 9 teachers had left my school for that one and they are among the dozens of others who left for greener pastures. And who can blame veteran teachers who had already proved themselves for leaving? Less work, less stress and the same pay was their reward for doing so.

Next we stopped disciplining our kids. Teachers at my school learned to put up with maladaptive behavior. If we wrote kids on referrals we would be the ones questioned and the kids wouldn’t receive consequences anyways. Why did we stop disciplining kids? Well its because referrals and suspensions play a role in determining the school and a districts grade; the more referrals and suspensions the worse the grade. It became the unofficial mandate of the district that if we weren’t going to be doing well then we would at least appear to be doing well.

About then the district raised the stakes and enhanced our graduation requirements something that state has followed suit with. Kids arrived at our school without the skills they need to be successful and with a wink and a nod we were told to pass them along no matter what and if you want evidence of this look at the districts grade recovery policies.
Grade recovery used to be for the kids that tried hard but just didn’t get it or who were sick or had a legitimate reason for missing a lot of days. Now anybody can partake in grade recovery for any reason. The kid could have been their all year long and been a holly terror too, doing nothing but disrupting class and teachers are required to allow them grade recovery. Attendance and behavior no longer matters.

Then we had a leadership vacuum. Our long term principal left and he was replaced with somebody who just wasn’t ready to run a school of our size and problems. I believe he was chosen because of his race. The district has another unwritten policy that it wants African American leaders at African American schools and after the opportunity scholarship kids arrived that is what my school became. I don’t have a problem with this if the leader is ready and capable but I think a better plan is to employ the best possible applicant regardless of race. Suddenly white teachers became implied racists if they wrote up black kids and were told they didn’t know how to deal with African American students because it was a cultural thing.

Moral sank, more teachers left and now we have a faculty, which is over half first and second year teachers. Michelle Rhee and some education deformers will have the public believe that first year teachers are just as capable as veteran ones but the reality is much different. We do have some first year teachers that hit the ground running but most take a few years to develop their craft. I don’t know any veteran teacher that thinks they were better when they first started than they are now. Now I am not saying the new teachers aren’t dedicated and hard working because they are. The thing is they don’t even know what they don’t know yet. That takes time and experience.

This was all exacerbated by the fact we got rid of all the things described in the first paragraph. Gone is the physics club, model UN, drama and art departments. You know those things that make school worth going to for so many kids.

Bad policies, bad procedures, a lack of discipline and a realistic curriculum, poor leadership and a plethora of new teachers led to our downfall. All of this led to my fairly successful school being placed on the list of one of the worst schools in the state. A perfect storm struck and once the first domino fell there was no stopping the decent.

There are some things you should know. The teachers at my school did not call for opportunity scholarships. They did not encourage the district to stop disciplining and change grade recovery nor did they rally for the enhanced graduation requirements. They didn’t agree to the wink and a nod policies about social promotions and who should lead the schools either. All they have done is shown up and despite tremendous difficulty and odds done their best.

That’s how my school became an intervene school.


  1. Soon most schools in urban areas will all be there. I saw this coming and looked to shield myself as best as possible by leaving and going to an A school. Many of my contemporaries have obtained positions at the Schultz Center or as Cadre or Nursing. I tied it for a year and missed the kids and the constant interaction. After teaching since 1983 and 1988 here in the District. I pray I can make it.

  2. Anyone who says a first year teacher performs as well as a veteran teacher knows nothing about being in the classroom. Half of the first year of teaching is figuring out what the hell you're doing. Seriously, when I think back to my first year ... wow, was I clueless! Every year I teach, I get better. This will be my 6th year, and sadly, I'm one of the more experienced teachers in my department. In fact, there are only 5 teachers (6 if you count one of the reading teachers) in my department have been there longer - much, much longer.

    But I've digressed, back to first year teachers. They may know their subject matter. They may have taken all sorts of education classes and been an intern. But none of that matters. None of it prepares you to deal with the stress, the misbehavior, the seemingly endless changes to what is expected. Veteran teachers have (for the most part) learned to balance it all and adjust on the fly. That's not something any first year teacher has. I've been in the room of first year teachers (just this past year) and I can't believe what I saw.

    Classroom management is necessary for teaching. Very few first years have any. Mix that with an unwritten policy of no referrals (or having to jump through hoops before writing one) and you have a recipe for being unsuccessful.

    I could go into my opinions regarding school choice but I'd be writing for an hour at least!

  3. My God. This is exactly what happens. Every point made is right on the money. I challenge anyone to refute one single point.

    This will keep happening until the public education system crashes.

    I just couldnt go to work every day and pretend. Make no mistake about it, pretending is what you have to do in order to keep your job. Keep doing this, my fellow teachers and you will eventually be thrown out anyway. You will get the blame, and you know what, you deserve it. Stand up for what you know is right and say no. If you really care about children.

    Do what is right. Make them fire you. Are you enjoying this? Is this really a job worth keeping anymore? Do you feel you are doing right by the kids you claim to care about?

    I know its not easy. I'm paying ovr 1K per month for health insurance using my COBRA benefits but I now have my self respect back.

    Please stop desperately trying to hang on to a job that saps your soul. Make them fire you, stand up and tell them that they are wrong. If you cant do that, and I sure as hell didnt, walk away with your dignity intact. Whatever you do, stop pretending. It kills your soul.

  4. I spoke up about much of what you talk about here....was harassed and experienced EXTREME RETALIATION (Not the school referenced here but another school)

  5. I did stand up and tell them before and after I let them fire me.

  6. Completely agree! "Bad policies, bad procedures, a lack of discipline and a realistic curriculum, poor leadership and a plethora of new teachers led to our downfall."
    Personally, most first year teachers not only lack years of practical classroon experience, but they don't/can't take into account the full-time multiple-child, varied ages family dynamic either.
    This is why we now homeschool! Back to the basics above in our home.