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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Duval County School Board throws a Hail Marry

The school board supposedly broke after 89 million dollars in cuts went through the couch cushions the other day and came up with another million dollars. What did they do with it? Well they didn’t bring back the sports they cut, provide busses for magnet school children or give any art teachers their jobs back. Instead they gave it to an education management company to run our four intervene schools.

Forget they did so 12 days before kids arrive, wait that’s impossible to do. That’s right 12 days before kids come back, one day before core staff come back (English, math, social studies and science teachers) the district decides to give control of those schools away. I wonder if they gave the education management company a heads up that this might happen because they didn’t give the staffs of the schools one; staffs that may now be losing their jobs or moved around. Just exactly what does the school district think they can accomplish in 12 days? Are there no calendars at the school board building, did they not know when school was starting? Did they just realize there were issues at these schools and think, gosh we better do something or like it does to me, does this seem like it was made up on the fly to you?

Why would they hire this management company to come in at the eleventh hour? One word, cover. When those schools are in the exact same position next year that they are in now, that they were in last year and the year before, the district can raise their hands and say, well we weren’t in charge. We trusted this management organization to do the job and they failed. THEY FAILED, not us and then they are going to cross their fingers and hope the public buys it.

The truth is we didn’t have to throw this Hail Mary into quadruple coverage. The district could have done numerous things to improve the schools.

They could have had all the content area teachers CAR-PD (reading) trained before the school year began instead of planning to train a few over the course of this school year.

They could have developed a writing training for the content area teachers because all the schools writing scores are about to take a precipitous drop. For years we have taught kids format writing (how to pass the test) instead of actually teaching them how to write. The state says that is not going to fly anymore.

The district could have thrown out the leaning schedule because quite frankly its better if our kids learn a few things, rather than just be exposed to a lot of things. To help with this they could have made plans to group kids based on ability. I know this is taboo in many education circles but this way the advanced kids wouldn’t be held back (and get bored/act up) and the kids that needed extra help could get it.

We could have put discipline pods at the schools so there were real consequences for kids that acted up. We woefully lack consequences and we could have significant addition with a little bit of subtraction.

They could have changed the schedule from the ridiculous A/B block into a conventional and better suited for the kids, six period day. Ninety minutes is to long for many of kids to sit in class, we lose a lot of valuable instruction time and since a significant amount of time often passes between class meeting kids aren’t properly reinforced.

We could have taken things off teachers plates such as complicated agendas, mandatory word walls, two page lesson plans and phone book sized data notebooks and freed them up so they could do more creative planning, parent interaction and have more time to work with the kids.

The cupboard isn’t bare of ideas and none of above reinvents the wheel, breaks the bank or turns over our schools to outside organizations.

Pratt-Dannals complained about a lack of talent but before he casts stones he should look in the mirror. He has had years to turn these schools around and they haven’t and now when the doomsday clock is five minutes to midnight he gives control of the schools (and a million dollars) away. That was his plan?!? I think his real plan is to play out he string collecting his massive paychecks until he retires in December 2012, coincidently the same time his contract is up.

Friends and neighbors, our schools are in trouble and it the reason starts at the top, how much longer can our city endure? How many more kids are going to fall through the cracks or worse graduate ill prepared for life? How many more chances can we give before we realize that our leaders best ideas are no ideas at all.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

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