Solutions that don’t break the bank, reinvent the wheel or marginalize our teachers are within our grasp. We could have rigorous classes, safe and disciplined schools and treat teachers like valued colleagues rather than easily replaceable cogs, and we could do so tomorrow if we wanted. Disclaimer, this is an opinion and commentary site and should not be confused as a news site, and you should know that quite often people may disagree with the opinions posted herein.
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Sunday, November 17, 2013
Superintendent Vitti’s hits, misses and the jury is still outs.
I wrote this last summer and since the Times Union printed a report card I thought I would update it and reprint it.
Looking at the superintendent’s evaluation it seems as if the school board minus African American members Hall and Wright, and Couch, who whose scores were in the middle and the only one that got it right, had a love fest for Superintendent Vitti. Grymes and Fischer think he walks on water and Lee and Juarez think he can heal the sick. It’s unknown if they plan to start naming schools after him this week or next.
I think the super had done some nice things but he has had some misses too, so I give you his hits, misses and the jury is still outs.
His hits: the relaxation of the learning schedule. For years admins beat the drums if a teacher fell behind, which killed creativity, innovation and hey sometimes you just got to reteach. Also in his memo he said admins were no longer allowed to cajole teachers and even though most admins skipped that part it was a nice gesture.
Pulling back from the Schultz center was long overdue. The district was literally giving millions of dollars to the Schultz Center to provide training and then providing the staff to do the training, sheesh what a boondoggle that was
His realignment of the District into four areas was pure genius and will help provide continuity of program. Unfortunately I have heard varying degrees of Oh MY God what has he done, about three of the people he has chosen to be area chiefs. A big miss is replacing bullies with bullies.
His idea to have district administrators teach 5 one-hour classes to students is a great first step. Duval’s administrators have long been disconnected from what is happening in our schools. They blow in with their edicts and directives with either no realization or care about the consequences they sow. For years many teachers have considered them the enemy whose sole purpose was to hinder.
I wrote that I thought his parent academy might be dead on delivery but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it is a good idea. I just think we need to take care of things like student accountability and discipline first.
His charm offensive was a great idea. Vitti traveled the district meeting with parents and stakeholders in a fashion that hasn’t been done since; well Pratt-Dannals did it to during the artificially created budget crisis, claiming poverty while the district was sitting on over a hundred million dollars. So Vitti gets props for not lying to our faces, time will tell how sincere he was.
Then there are his misses.
There was his gaff with the teacher’s academy, which was mandatory before it wasn’t mandatory. I am not sold on the need of a teacher’s academy but I am sold that if teachers are going to give up their time off then the district should pay them for it.
There has been an apparent disconnect with what the administration is saying and what librarians are hearing. He says everything is fine where the librarians are hearing the sky is falling.
Quite frankly he has spent too much time promoting corporate reforms. He has doubled down on Teach for America, which does the exact opposite of what we know to be best practices, preferring to go with them instead of trying to put life long educators in our classrooms. And then he has sped up the march of charters in the county including attending a conference about how to attract more charter schools. I sometimes wonder does he work for the people of Jacksonville or does he work for Gary Chartrand.
It hasn't been in the papers but the district was fined 1.59 million dollars for violating the class size amendment. I know some of that was a parting gift from Ed Pratt-annals the gift that keeps giving but some of that has to fall at Vitti’s feet too.
His lack of humility, hubris filled self evaluation was a humdinger. Jesus himself wouldn’t have gotten 47 out of 48 highly effectives but somehow he felt he deserved them. There is a fine line between hubris and confidence and he obliterated it leaving a bad taste in the mouth of many of those he is supposed to be leading.
Then there are his promotions. Once again the creation of area chiefs is a brilliant idea but many of us in the trenches wish he would have hired leaders not bullies masquerading as administrators to fill the positions.
Then there his jury is still outs
Vitti said he wanted to decrease the amount of tests students are required to take which was solely needed. But when the school year began there were more tests than ever. I have heard he has admitted his mistake and said in the future there will be fewer but that doesn't change what happened. Tests tests and more tests suck the joy of learning out of school for so many. We can’t make school miserable for kids and then scratch our heads and wonder why so many are doing so poorly.
He has ignored discipline and no more is that evident by the fact the serial bully that the judge barred from going to any public schools was allowed to go to Universal Studios upon her return. I think it sends a bad message that students can beat classmates so badly that they go to the hospital and still be allowed to go on the class trip. Then again he has put in a dean, extra securit and an ISSP teacher to mixed results in our schools. So he obviously recognizes there is a problem.
There are his staff additions to schools, yes we need art teachers and music teachers but if we are being serious we need more than one in every school. Yes we need deans but wasn’t that what assistant principals and principals were supposed to be doing? Do we need a test coordinator, i.e. what used to be one of the duties that assistant principals would do if we are scaling back on tests. Graduation coordinator sounds like a fancy way of saying guidance counselor and isn’t ISSP something a paraprofessional could run? Finally a full time substitute teacher sounds like a nice luxury, unfortunately in a district with a reading problem where we are cutting librarians of half funding them assuring schools will only have part time librarians it is not a luxury we can afford.
His reorganization is a risky one. Yes we had too many administrators and yes a lot of them had risen above their ability but he now runs the risk of putting a lot of pissed off people in our schools, bumping quality school based administrators and having the whole thing blow up in our faces. There is a lot of risk reward here.
Finally, there is grade recovery which I have never been fan of but going from any kid being able to take it for any reason (including a few legit reasons) to ending the program all together is likely to have some repercussions. We have to be prepared to see more kids fail or for more admins cajoling teachers into passing kids who they shouldn’t, neither of which is good for the district.
If I were rating him, I would put him at the low end of effective, which is probably the best we should expect from somebody who has never run anything nearly as big as DCPS over his first seven months. He has had some nice ideas but note to Lee, Grymes, Fischer and Juarez he is not walking on water quite yet.