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Monday, February 27, 2012

10 Questions for SB District 5 candidate Chris Guerrieri

1. You have long advocated for the removal of Superintendent Pratt-Dannals now that he has been let go what do you think?

I think this is a great first step for the district but it is just a first step. There are many of his sycophants and cronies in top positions either as district staff or principals and they like him are doing damage to our schools and they like the superintendent should be quickly shown the door. Merit not who you know should from this point on dictate who gets what job in Duval County. It will literally take us years to recover from what he has done.

2. Who would you like to see replace him?

I don’t have a specific who but I know what type of person I would like. We need a superintendent that is interested in doing the right thing even if it is the hard thing. Somebody who is committed to rigorous classes, disciplined hall ways, multiple curriculums that serve more kids needs and who realizes teachers are the districts number one resource and they must be treated with respect not like easily replaceable cogs or yoked farm animals. Teachers need to be collaborated with not dictated too because they know about the issues in the classroom and have the best ideas how to fix them. I also know who I don’t want to pick the next superintendent and that’s this school board.

3. You have also long been a critic of the school board, why is that?

I think traditionally the school board has been a place for politicians on their way up or way down to hang their hats and for people filled with narcissism to get their fix. You see everybody has gone to school so most everybody thinks they could be a teacher or fix the problems in education, when the opposite is the true. Also just look at the indefensible decisions the board has made over the last year alone. KIPP, TFA, Education directions, pleading poverty while sitting on over a hundred million dollars. I could go on and on. It is not just I by the way who should be their critic but every person who cares about our children.

4. Then there is the state and President Obama, who you have been critical of too. It seems like you point a lot of fingers.

I believe the children of Jacksonville have many enemies. There is the president and his secretary of education who don’t understand education. They have made it into a race with winners and losers. On one hand they say they don’t want teachers to teach to the test but on the other RTTT is all about teaching to the test.

There is the Florida legislature and governor who are only interested in privatizing education and putting our kid’s futures in the hands of organizations that have zero accountability and are more interested in making a buck than what happens to our children.

There is our school board who constantly turns a blind eye to what is happening in our schools preferring willful ignorance to action. They only serve the superintendent and his administration having long ago forsaken, the cities children, teachers, parents and stakeholders.

There is our superintendent who is only concerned with appearances and has gutted rigor, discipline and teacher morale so he can say, look at us we’re a B district.

There is the local media, which has acted as a good old boy network for the superintendent protecting him at the cost of our children’s futures.

There are the parents who despite the overwhelming evidence our education system is heading in the wrong direction vote the same people into office over and over.

There are the teachers who know what the problems are but sit silently and endure hoping something will change afraid for their jobs. They have forgotten the adage that for evil to triumph good people must simply do nothing. I get it though, who goes first?

Well I will go first and if somebody does something that hurts our kids then you might say I am pointing fingers but I like to say I am letting people know.

Step one is for people to wake up and be informed, which is what I have been trying to do for years now. It is my hope that when they know what is really going on then they will want to be involved and fight for their children.

5. So what are your solutions?

The solutions to turning our schools around are within our grasp and they don’t involve reinventing the wheel, breaking the bank, demonizing our teachers or outsourcing our kids education to corporations more interested in their financial bottom lines than our children’s futures.

We need rigorous classes, disciplined hallways, multiple curriculums that serve more kids needs and desires and teacher buy in, and we could have those things day one next year. That would be a good start.

6. What is the first thing you would do on the school board?

Does it just have to be one thing?

On day one I would take five million dollars and hire a hundred more para professionals for our elementary schools. Out of all the teacher groups our elementary school teachers are really put upon the most and can use the most help. I would then take seven million dollars and hire a hundred new elective teachers, drama, music and art among others. We can’t make school such drudgery for kids and then scratch our head and wonder why so many do so poorly.

Then there is grade recovery. I would end for everyone except the kids who had documentation for legitimate absences and for the kid that came to school and tried hard but just needed a little more. Gone would be the days of any kid for any reason taking it.

The district should announce that teachers with satisfactory evaluations will not be let go and teachers that are let go will be told why. Teachers can be fired in Duval County and they aren’t required to be given a reason and last year hundreds of teachers with satisfactory evaluations who were not on success plans, meaning for the most part they had no idea they were in danger of losing their jobs were fired.

The district should create an Ombudsman position that is outside the sphere of influence of the superintendent and school board. I hear stories all the time from teachers but when I ask them to go on the record for the most part they back off. They say they are afraid for their jobs or retaliation. If they had a person they could go to anonymously, who could investigate their concerns, we could eliminate many of their concerns.

The district should work with the teachers to create a teacher bill of rights. Teachers should only be asked to give one free hour a day, not the 15-20 most teachers give a week. Teachers should not be talked to in a fashion by administrators that would get them fired if they talked to students in the same way and pass fail rates and referrals written should not be used to influence evaluations. I am not saying we should ignore those things but we should delve behind the numbers to find out the causes. If it’s the teacher, then lets help them improve and if they don’t show them the door but if it’s the kids, lets give them legitimate, rigorous opportunities to improve.

The district should start suspending repeat discipline offenders indefinitely until one of their parents comes and spends the day with them. They would be allowed to return the very next day if the parent came with them, or they could stay out for the rest of the year but now the onus is on parents being parents not on schools raising kids.

The district should rescind the contract with KIPP until the first school shows improvement, you will forgive me if their word isn’t enough and with Teach for America, we have teachers and college of ed grads here who can’t find jobs, lets give them the first crack and then if we still have a few openings we can ask TFA for assistance.

I would insist the district start the process of training all our content area teachers on CARPD a wonderful reading program that would really help our kids.

Then I would help the district find the money for legitimate summer school. So many of our kids need more time to both master material and less time between school years so they don’t lose what they learned.

I think that would be a good day one but that would just be a beginning. Day 2 would be just as busy.

7. Before you were a teacher you had a bit of a checkered past with several misdemeanor arrests and since you have been a teacher you lost your house to foreclosure. What makes you think the public should trust you to make good decisions if you were on the board?

When I was a young man, I made a lot of bad choices; it is by pure luck or the grace of God that there weren’t worse consequences for others and myself. I eventually came to the realization I was either going to be a loser or I could chose to be a citizen and the last time other than the occasional ticket I was in trouble was almost 14 years ago. I have also dedicated most of my adult life to working with disabled children and have had the courage to stand up against the inequities in the school system, so I hope those things count for something.

I can’t run from those times though and they helped shaped who I am now. It’s because of those times that I feel I am able to relate to many of our students. You see I know what it means to make mistakes and feel both hopeless and angry and if maybe one kid looks at me and says, that guy turned it around and made a life for myself then I can too, then it will all have been worth it.

As for the foreclosure, I thought I did everything right. I talked to smart people. I did the research. I put twenty-five percent down but at the end of the day it turned out I paid 140 thousand dollars for an eighty thousand dollar house. After Faye blew through town it had a lot of damage and just became too expensive. I had to walk away. When I am on the school board I plan to do things the same way, talk to the teachers and the community, do the research before I make my decisions and to put resources into projects. I just hope I have better results.

8. So what’s next?

Well I am looking to get the word about my campaign out. I will meet with anybody anywhere. If you are interested in education and care about kids lets get together and hammer some things out.

9. How can people contact you?

Through my blog Education Matters, or through my email addresses, Get in touch with me and then lets have a conversation.

10. Is there any thing else you would like to say?

I think the superintendent really did the city a disservice with his everything is all right, we’re a B district mantra. We do have wonderful things going on at our schools, even our struggling schools but the truth is we’re in trouble and we are going to need all hands on deck to get out of it. I would like to ask the citizens of Jacksonville to join me on deck.

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