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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Does superintendent Pratt-Dannals lack vision? Short answer yes (rough draft)

The headline in the Times Union asked if the superintendent was the right man to lead our school district. It seems to me if we are getting to that point then the answer is probably no. After I read the article I was a bit shocked. According to the piece, the only problems the superintendent seems to be having is there isn’t enough national talent to replace the administrators he has in place now (wow I wonder how reading that made them feel) and that he hasn’t been able to share his vision with the general public.

Well as a resident of Jacksonville I am not sure how much more of his vision we can take. In fact I am not sure if he has any vision at all.

At a casual glance his vision seems to include cajoling teachers into passing kids who aren’t ready (but hey our pass rates are high). Kids don’t show up at high school and not have the skills they need to be successful. I can’t blame middle school teachers either because in high school we would hear it all the time, you can only fail this amount of kids or before you fail any kid here are a dozen hoops you have to jump through.

His vision seems to include a lot of undisciplined children (but hey our suspension rates are way down). Discipline in many of the schools is worse than ever and one of the reason is we have taken the suspension tool out of the consequence toolbox. Infractions that would have got me suspended when I was in school, disrespect, talking back, our now tolerated daily as the norm.

His vision seems to include graduating a lot of children unprepared for life (but hey our graduation rates are getting higher every year). Forget for a moment the tool that determines graduation rates was changed last year and because of it almost every districts graduation rates saw a bump, what about Florida state college reporting that seventy percent of Duval County’s grads having to take remedial courses. What about employers complaining they can’t find adequate candidates from the crops of recent graduates? What about the lack of civility we see in our stores and our roads and the fact we can’t go a few days without reading about some heinous crime perpetrated by a recent graduate.

His vision seems to include a lot of downtrodden and brow beaten teachers (but hey there are plenty of applicants right). Each year more and more is put on teaches plates and much of it has nothing to do with education. Why are teachers required to create and maintain phone book size data notebooks when all the information is available on-line? Kids don’t learn from two page lesson plans or complicated board agendas, they learn from good instruction which you are most likely going to get from teachers not over burdened with extraneous material.

Furthermore teachers are told not to write referrals or fail kids and if any teacher dares speak up or do those two things they face repercussions, which could even, include them losing their job. In many schools there is an us verses them, teacher verses administrator mentality as the later thinks it is there job to shake up the teachers. It’s all the teachers fault the district seems to think as they shuffle teachers around and treat them in a fashion that would get teaches in trouble if they were to teat their students the same way.

Then what is his plan for the intervene schools? Well it seems to be to move teachers and administrators around as if there were some allusive mix that will lead to the schools success. Well friends we could switch the staffs at Stanton and any one of the intervene schools and it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. Furthermore we can’t just blame the parents of the kids going to the schools for not disciplining them or having expectations for them when the district just pushes them along. The truth is the districts policies that have handicapped these schools and let down these children as much as anything

His bold plan to turn around the intervene schools seem to be to wait all summer and then to give the schools away at a cost of a million dollars. When did he announce this bold plan? Twelve days before school was to begin, how about we throw in the word rushed along with bold. Content area teachers haven’t been trained in CAR-PD (a fantastic reading program that could really help) and nor has the states changing of the writing portion of the FCAT test been addressed. For years the student s have been taught format writing, how to pass the test, instead of being taught how to actually write. Also nothing as far as I can tell has been done to actually assist the kids at the schools to succeed, such as changing from ninety minute periods to hour ones, reducing the amount of classes kids take at one time, adding classes the kids enjoy and stop forcing them all into the same one size fits all curriculum.

He says look (at the cost of over a million dollars) we put advanced academic programs into the schools to help out, well I say he did so because he hoped the kids attending the programs would raise the schools FCAT scores. Factor out the fifty or so kids at each of the intervene schools and then see if the schools still made any significant improvements without them. This also begs the question why do we have advanced academic magnet schools if you can get the same programs at the neighborhood schools. In one fell swoop he made Stanton and Paxon not only redundant but expensive luxuries that we cannot afford.

Then look at his much celebrated reading initiative, not only were the content area teachers not trained over the summer but some think we just provided an expensive baby sitting service. You can’t stuff lots of low readers into the same classroom and expect there to be positive outcomes, which is what I am told is what happened (but hey our numbers attending were great).

If you want more evidence of his vision look at what grade recovery has become. Grade recovery used to be for kids that that failed a nine weeks but came to school and tried hard or who missed a lot of class for legitimate reasons. Now grade recovery is to be given to any student who failed a nine weeks regardless of the reason. Attendance, effort and behavior don’t matter. Many times a kid can spend a few afternoons on a computer and make up an entire nine weeks. More than a few kids know this and play the system like virtuosos.

Everywhere I turn I see one poorly applied idea after another thrown against the wall as if it was paint hoping something sticks. If he has vision at all, I have yet to see it. The district is focused on appearing to do well instead of doing well but that’s not a vision, that is a recipe for disaster.

I also don’t care if he is an affable sort, knows about education and engages community leaders better than any superintendent in history. These things have not translated into the district improving; they have not translated into results. We just went from three to six of our high schools being in intervene status, heck there are only seventeen intervene schools statewide and six of them are Jacksonville neighborhood high schools. Even if we give him a pass (and I don’t think we should as he has had years to help these schools improve) the amount has still doubled under his watch.

When I finished reading the article I noticed no teachers were interviewed. Maybe the Times Union knows its best not to ask, as many are afraid to lose their jobs or experience repercussions. So this is what I am going to ask you the public to do, first don’t take my word about anything above, instead find a teacher and ask them how they think education in the district is going. Ask them if they think we are headed in the right direction and ask them if they think things are better now or was better a few years ago. Get your information from the people in the trenches, not school board members, members of the district staff or community leaders.

I believe once you do, you will agree with me, there isn’t much more of his vision (or lack there of) that we can take.


  1. What I posted today...

    What PD says here is very telling.....needs to spend more time on "school-based matters" NO KIDDING He has been making big bucks to go around giving speeches to different groups about lack of funding. He has been a public relations person when someone else should have been doing that.
    He will not fire his friends. They have already been trained. Why would he want to make his job harder esp. as he might be toast soon anyway. He would then be jobless and friendless.
    How can PD say things have improved on his watch. LIAR He is not honest as they say. When you have only 60 some percent of students graduating from high school???!!! A list of why this district has gone downhill. (short list)
    1. His condescending attitude towards the teachers. Always keeping them powerless and convenient for him to blame and keep focus off his bad policies. Teacher morale has been low for about 7 yrs. Remember he was in charge of instruction BEFORE becoming the Super. He has run off so many good, seasoned, teachers!!!!
    2. The Student Progressive Discipline Plan in which students are allowed to progressively get more disruptive before receiving any meaningful consequences (if at all) The district blames the teachers and tells them they need more CHAMPS training when the school goes out of control. Numerous fights everyday in many of the middle schools.
    3. The RECOVERY policy which allows students who sit and do nothing, often playing around to do a little something at the end of the quarter so they can pass and go to next grade. In this county if a student is failing it is the teacher that has to explain and worry NOT THE STUDENT (God forbid we worry the student about failing)
    4. The incessant micromanaging of the teacher so the teacher is so overwhelmed and stressed they become so less effective. He seems more concerned about the teachers keeping a folder than the students keeping one. The focus has been more about what the teacher is doing than what the students are doing. Teachers are not allowed to have even resonable requirements of the kids and have to pull all kinds of tricks to pass students so they(teachers) don't get put on a Success Plan (another reason our county going down)
    5. Too much emphasis on teachers being trained, coached ,etc. He has hired coaches to go around with clip boards to see if teachers have certain things hanging up in the room. So if people from the state come out things will LOOK good.
    6. Teachers working in hostile environments. The superintendent does not stop principals from harassing teachers and/or treating them in an unprofessional/unethical manner.
    7. Sorry but differentiated instruction does not work in disruptive schools when teachers' classes are overloaded with sometimes as many as 60 students. And it is wrong to tell parents you are teaching students at their real grade level, ability, etc. Teachers can't always individualize instruction so quit saying they are. LIAR
    8. PD is an educational bureaucrat not an educator and still operates with the good-ole boy mentality. Heard he has been working on his doctorate since becoming the super. True? Then he has his degree and experience to get out of Dodge. PUT A WEB CAM IN THE SUPER'S OFFICE


  2. ... excellent observations.....