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Sunday, June 12, 2011

A (bakers) dozen questions for the school board

I added more and I think these are very -cpg

1. How many students who walked across the stage at graduation didn’t
really graduate? I am not talking about the students who had the grade
point average and credits but hadn’t passed the F-CAT either. I am
talking about students whose GPA’s were to low or didn’t have the
credits but were still allowed to walk anyways. My guess is the number
is in the hundreds. Should we stop calling it a graduation ceremony
and start calling it a completion ceremony?

2. Is inclusion the right thing for both our special education and
regular education children? Two years ago I wrote a memo saying I
thought 20 or so children in my special education classes who would
benefit from regular education opportunities. What was implied was I
had about fifty who were right where they should be. Next year they
will all be in regular education classes where many will be passed
along or flounder even with accommodations and modifications.
Where it is true this is a state mandate, if it’s bad for some of our
kids is it something should we be doing?

3. Why won’t the district institute a pay for play system? I know
Pratt-Dannals says many of our poorer kids won’t be able to afford it
but this seems like an excuse. They have all summer to start saving
and doing fundraisers. Furthermore the pay for play program doesn’t
have to cover the entire cost of their participation for those that
can’t afford it but in these troubling financial times, doesn’t every
little bit help?

4. Is the superintendent paid too much? He makes almost as much as the
superintendents of Clay and St. Johns County combined and a hundred
thousand dollars more than the mayor of Jacksonville. It is true his
salary is comparable to superintendents of similar sized districts but
at the same time 270 in Jacksonville is a lot different than 270 in
Los Angeles.

5. Is the county going to sue the state over the paramount clause of
the Florida Constitution? If you didn’t know the constitution says the
paramount (top) job of the state is to provide a high quality
education for its students. Unfunded mandates, wresting local control
away from school districts and starving education of resources seem to
violate this provision. Furthermore New Jersey, which has a similar
clause just set some precedence. Several districts sued their governor
and the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered him to put 500 million back
into education.

6. Is Duval’s 5.5 million dollar reading initiative dead on arrival?
In a nutshell it wants to increase children’s reading ability in the
third grade so by the time they get to high school they have lost less
of this ability. Most of the kids in my high school can still read at
the third grade level, they didn’t lose those skills; instead they
didn’t acquire the skills they needed after third grade. Many reading
teachers think we should concentrate on what they didn’t learn as
reading in the sixth grade and tenth grade requires different skills
than reading in the third grade.

7. Will the district start providing more skill and trade based
curriculums? Despite our desire that every child go to college and
become an engineer or doctor that is not realistic. May of our kids
will never attend college either because of desire or aptitude but
they can still be productive citizens. If we have many students who
are not academically inclined aren’t we missing an opportunity to help
them become productive citizens if we keep them on an academic track?
Remember we don’t have the students the district wishes we had, we
have the students we do and isn’t it time we started planning

8. Is it time to get rid of the dedicated academic magnet schools? For
a decade the dedicated academic magnet schools had programs you could
not get at the neighborhood schools. Well now those programs are
available at the neighborhood schools. If a student can get the same
program at their home school isn’t that where they should be going and
doesn’t this make the academic magnet school an expensive and
redundant option? If not does that mean putting advanced academic
programs in neighborhood schools is just am accounting trick to get
cheap F-CAT points?

9. How can we run a school system without an attendance or tardy
policy (in high schools)? Many kids just drop by when they feel like
it. They figure if they miss too much they can make up the class
through learning recovery. Learning recovery, which used to be grade
recovery, was once for kids who missed a lot of days for legitimate
reasons or who tried hard but just didn’t get it. Now any kid is
supposed to get learning recovery for any reasons, including skipping,
lack of effort and behavior.

10. Is W.C. Gentry serious about education in Jacksonville? We know he
only ran for the school board after his senate bid failed and now it
seems like he is looking for a job elsewhere. Is Mr. Gentry serious
about our schools or is he using the school board like so many others
have done, as a stepping stone up or down for career or want-a-be

11. Is it right the school board fires satisfactory teachers without
notice or reason? If you didn’t know it, teachers can be non-reappointed at the end of their first three years without cause given and this also means they are ineligible to teach in the district for one year. This year this happened to more teachers than ever. I talked to six and all six had satisfactory evaluations and reported having no idea thier non-reappoint was coming. If a teacher gets a satisfactory evaluation and is not given a chance to improve, even if the district can do it (fire them) should they do it?

12. If three of our high schools are taken over by the state does
Pratt-Dannals lose his job? The superintendent has been in charge for
the past three and a half years and near the top for over a decade.
People don’t realize but the loss of the three high schools means
almost a fifth of all our non-magnet schools will be taken over by the state. Furthermore many of our other high schools are facing the same issues as Jackson, Ribault and Raines. He has had years to address the problems at these schools and they have not improved appreciably under his watch. Does he keep his job if we lose the schools?

13. Finally the most important question, which nobody in the media
seems to be asking but many of the citizens of Jacksonville want to know, is; how do so many children arrive at high school withoutthe skills they need to be successful? Is it they magically forget the things they learn or is it they are pushed on without the skills they need to succeed? Or is there a third option the public is unaware of.

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