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Friday, August 27, 2010

Are you F*$%ing kidding me: The Pratt-Dannals evaluation story

If my friends heard me cursing, their jaws would drop. That’s not what I do, and one of the reasons I don't is because I don’t want my kids to curse and I think it is important to practice what you preach. So, when I read that Jacksonville’s School Superintendent had received at most a minor hit to his evaluation yet he was still considered highly effective, it was out of character for me to yell "are you f*$%ing kidding me"! Though, I admit, I have often said the Superintendent must have pictures of various school board members with either a live boy or a dead girl.
Let’s take a moment to look at what garnered Superintendent Pratt-Dannals this exemplary rating:

In the last three years, the district will have lost over two thousand children; during the same period of time, the city has seen modest growth. When I teach biology, I teach 'if it’s not growing, it’s dying'.

Enrollment in home schools and private schools has declined all throughout the state except in Jacksonville, Florida.

Less than half of our tenth graders can read or do math at grade level despite the fact that we have so many "A" elementary and middle schools sending students to high school. Furthermore, 9 out of 13 neighborhood high schools that are either failing or in a turn-around status.

Seventy percent of recent graduates have to take remedial classes once they enroll at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Pratt-Dannals recently (unnecessarily) instigated financial urgency against the teachers to show them who is boss only to ultimately give them more than they asked for so he could quickly sweep the mess under the rug.

Our graduation rate is low, our dropout rate is high and the city’s confidence in the school system is abyssmal.

While I could go on and on and on, I’ll finish by repeating what the Superintendent recently said (which should give everyone a true idea how he feels). He said "the school system is one good community away from having a good school system". If you are dumbfounded that all of the above garners an evaluation ranking him 'highly effective', then you are not the only one.

I don’t blame the Superintendent though; he’s a math teacher who worked his way up the ranks. If things were going better, he would probably be the subject of a lifetime movie of the week - "The Pratt-Dannals Story: From Equations to Destiny".

I don’t question his character; I don’t question his work ethic; I don’t question his desire, not at all. Instead, I simply question his depth, as he seems out of his.

Though, if I am being honest, I can admit it’s not his fault that he has a $275,000 salary to protect and a school board who is amazingly disconnected from the realities of what is happening in the city's schools. It’s the school board, Duval’s elected team of career politicians who have decided to use the school board and our children as as stepping-stone up or down and random people filled with hubris who only have a tenuous relationship to education, who treat the job as a part-time inconvenience that I really blame for the problems here in Jacksonville. Lets look at a snippet of the evaluations they gave the Superintendent:

(1)Board members praised Pratt-Dannals for fostering a multiple-pathway approach to graduation, creating strong community ties and rolling out accelerated academic programs to every high school. We could go with that, or we could translate that into everyday words that the citizens of Jacksonville use. He has helped create a "one-size fits all" curriculum that has gutted the district's teaching of trades, skills and the arts; he is, at a minimum, partly responsible for a community that is high in crime and unemployment and low in civility and he has reintroduced to the neighborhood schools the very programs that were taken out of them, that ruined or nearly ruined many of them.

(2)Now …there were a few rebukes sprinkled in the evaluations. Some board members expressed frustration at the slow pace of needed improvements, keying in on reading proficiency, the racial achievement gap and graduation rates. The Superintendent said he got the message.

(3)“There are some areas that we need to improve,” Pratt-Dannals said Friday night, “so I think [the evaluations were] as much as anything saying that 'we still have confidence in you, but we want to make more rapid progress'.”

He might believe that the school board has confidence in him, but many teachers and principals throughout the district, (nearly forty of whom were reassigned this past summer), have seen it severely eroded.

They also all know what it means when the Ssuperintendent says 'we need to make improvements'. You see, the Superintendent's strategies consist of forcing principals to crack the whip (because it must be the teacher's fault) and then to overburden the teachers with task after task and requirement after requirement that, at best, have only a peripheral relationship to education. Say 'hello' to complicated universal board configuration that most kids don’t even notice and 'goodbye' to teachers wearing jeans. That’s his part of his solution, stopping teachers from wearing jeans. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t plan to reinstill discipline and stop social promotions - the bare minimum of what he should be doing.

To do that would jeopardize the smoke -and- mirror "B" rating that the State (perhaps the biggest group of incompetents in the bunch) has given the district. I say "smoke-and-mirrors" because the powers-that-be here in Jacksonville seem way more interested in saying the right thing than doing the right thing, and before you get upset with that statement, think about the numbers: "sixty-five" and "less than fifty" as in our graduation rate and the number of tenth graders that read at grade level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and neighbors, I get how reasonable people can look at a problem and disagree. I get how we can have different ideas and solutions. The thing is I can’t get is imagining any reasonable person looking at the district and thinking it’s going in the right direction. I can’t imagine any person looking at the state of our schools and thinking the superintendent is doing a great job - nobody, that is, but the seven individuals who make up the city's school board.

We have serious problems and we need to tackle them quickly. How many more children are we going to sacrifice to the altar of patience because we have chosen to have a Superintendent who is more concerned with appearances, and be represented by a school board who is blind to the district's problem? How many more children are going to pay the price. How long can they and our city afford more of his highly effective leadership?

(1-3)I used part of a Times Union article above:


  1. Yeah, we can't have teachers wearing jeans...Horrors!

    Great blog, Chris, love what you have to say, just wish parents would get this message as well as the rest of the taxpayers.

  2. Anonymous number 2 again . . . So you think the movement of the teachers was Pratt-Dannals decision? If you really do, then again you haven't checked your facts. Perhaps you should talk to the new Region 2 Director representing DOE. And it's funny how teachers want people to consider them "professionals" yet so many of them dress like slobs and then complain about students who dress the same way. Teachers (and most of them do) should be setting a suitable, positive example for students.

  3. I get respect from my kids because I give it and I demand it, not because of the clothes I wear. A good teacher could teach in a sack. Also even if I agreed with you that all teachers should dress up and the movement of principals was immaterial there are so many other things that indicate we're struggling as a school syatem. Can you honestly say you think the cities schol district is heading in the right dirrection? If you can fair enough. I can't and I know a lot of people who can't either.

  4. Me again . . . Nope, I don't think the district is heading exactly in the right direction, but I do know that because of people like Thrasher in the Legislature and like Smith in the DOE's education office, there is very little flexibility left for the local Boards and the Superintendent to take advantage of. But unfortunately you keep casting the lion's share of the blame their way instead of where it ought to be cast.

  5. Now see that's something we can discuss. I just started the blog a little while okay and where it might not seem like it, I have written about the state and Thrasher numerous times.

    I think there are many bad actors that helped get us here, including the union, imcluding teachers, including parents and the community and including myself who just merrily went along with things for years even though I could see everyday how the system was hurting children.

    But at some point doesn't somebody have to stand up and say this is hurting our children and hurting our city. Our superintendant doesn't do that, he plays the game and that hurts kids. That frustrates me and I hope it would frustrate you.

  6. Get rid of the brick and mortar school buildings, ditto with the yellow government buses. Supply each child with a computer and a virtual school. Pay a dollar amount for each assignment completed or each new level reached. Children and to many parents to count do not insist on a good education. But put a money value on grades and more parents will become involved as will children. This society does not value education, not respect the teachers. So put the dollar value of learning back on the student. If a child completes his first grade academics at age five well here's your check Mom and Dad. If a child is ten and still has not completed one year of education then there is NO money. We throw so much money into a pile i.e. Public Schools without any response from parents or children. The parents are laid back, thinking the child will catch up, so the child has no fear or incentive to do well. Put the incentives on the child and the family.