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Sunday, July 28, 2013

This is why people don’t trust Duval County Public Schools. (rough draft)

I worked with this lead teacher once and despite the fact the union would tell me over and over she was my colleague not my superior she lorded over me and the other teachers in the department. The main problem however was she was terrible at her job.

I used to talk with my colleagues and the consensus was if she was bad at her job but nice or great at her job but mean we could cope. The problem however was she was both mean and terrible at her job. She however had something that the rest of us didn’t have, a connected relative on the district level. So connected that her surplus lasted long enough for her to put a call in to her family member.

And that speaks to a huge problem in the district, whom you know not what you can do have often determined promotions and where one lands.

Before I continue let me say I think school grades are ridiculous, they don’t improve schools, they simply publish schools and I firmly believe there are great things going on even at the schools that don’t do well on standardized tests, the schools that tend to get the lower grades. I know there are dedicated teachers arriving with their sleeves rolled up teaching a lot of great kids who want to learn. Sadly however school grades are the beromiter that is used when determining if principals and teachers are being successful or not.

I have written about Iranetta Wright and how “the data” didn’t seem to warrant a promotion to area chief and fair enough people can disagree but what about the case of Kimberly Dennis.

She arrives to Sadie Tillis in 2010 and over the three years she was there the school grades went from a C to D to an F. In this era where many principals are often one or two and done, especially if the numbers decline, Mrs. Dennis was instead sent to Fishweir elementary, a school in a reasonably affluent neighborhood where success, school grade success anyway should be reasonably easy to achieve. 

And why did she get another year, well it couldn’t be because her husband is Larry Dennis could it? You know, new area superintendent and long time district staff person, Larry Dennis? Maybe there is something in the numbers I am missing but isn’t there a whiff of impropriety here? Doesn’t this just scream, who you know rather than what you can do?

Vitti may be the victim of the previous administration with his limited options but at the same time the whole distinct has been victimized too. I hope Mrs. Dennis is a great leader who motivates her kids and empowers her teachers but I can’t help think, because here in the county past has been prologue, this is more of the same.

School grades


  1. Thanks for writing about nepotism, Chris. How can Larry Dennis fairly supervise his own wife? And why does turning a school from a C to a D to an F merit a transfer to an A school? I wonder if she can maintain the A she's starting with. SMH.

  2. To answer your first question he won't be, the super said he took both Tillis and Fishweir and placed them under somebody elses supervision. To answer your second question, I have no idea.

  3. The last climate survey (11-12) is suspect as well. All of the teachers at her school are so happy that they even like the food! Really?

  4. Perhaps it is the late hour or the lovely glass of Chianti partially enjoyed, but I’m going to write and have a final voice.

    Spoiler Alert: You probably won’t like what I’m going to say.

    Stop blaming anyone other than ourselves. Yes, this union-belonging, experienced teacher with several certifications and a record of strong student performance with some of the most challenging students (low income, ESE, minority, non-English speakers, blah, blah) says we, educators, have no one to point the proverbial finger except at us. What? Why? How can I say such a thing? Here’s why:

    Teachers ignore what never should be ignored. When a colleague who loses favor with administration needs support, what do fellow teachers do? Why they shun that person as if they, too, will be marked.

    How many teachers put on the show for their evaluation but do we work that hard most days? Yeah, sure we do.

    Teacher education programs often offer a choice between “teacher” economics and “real” economics to avoid brain strain – same goes for many other more rigorous courses – and the busy work is endless in required education courses but it is time-consuming fluff (Maddie Hunter's lesson plans inspired by Tolstoy).

    Why is it that many education graduate programs don’t require a GRE test? And why is there a statistical parallel between college test scores and what grade level an educator teaches as the descent of score pairs with descent of grade?

    The truth, or the painful, gut-level soul searching truth is that we have let our PROFESSION down. And, Chris, stop crying around for our Media Specialists as I’m tired of hearing library ladies and gentlemen confess to burnout, how they just can’t take the classroom anymore. AND for the record, our academic coaches lament the same. Do we over-test the kiddies? Absolutely. Now stop complaining about it BECAUSE if a child can read well enough, write decently, and do a bit of thinking, he or she can pass FCAT and if that same child has learned a reasonable amount in your class, he or she will do fine on the EOC exam … in other words, do the job well and the results will be there.

    We had the chance to make our public schools the finest in the world and we avoided the challenge.

    Business or greed or politics will destroy what is left – UNLESS we get real. Vitti is just another in a long line of the same. His chosen clowns are there for entertainment because we all KNOW they don’t really do anything, so show them patience and get back to the important job we do. If we want change; if we want the United States public schools to shine again then it is up to each of us. NO EXCUSES. Support that teacher next door to you rather than gossip about whatever it is you don’t like about her. When the office queens make snide remarks about a fellow teacher, end it with whatever words or facial expression you prefer. When an administrator asks for your help or asks for a change, don’t moan and groan about it unless it really is objectionable and take that objection and turn it into a possible solution.

    Now, my glass is empty and I wish to turn my thoughts back to sleep. Tomorrow’s planning for next year continues on as I will have the best year teaching yet because for me, it has been and always will be all about the kids.

  5. Wonder what the deal is with Crystal Lewis? She took Andrew Robinson from C to D to the current F and has been rewarded with New Berlin. I am not defending Mrs. Dennis. Just saying there is a lot of "who you know" not "what you know" going on down on the River.

    1. No one understands how Crystal Lewis was rewarded to New Berlin after her failure at Andrew Robinson Elementary.

  6. If you can source this I will write about it too.

  7. I spent 25 years teaching in Duval County. It has always been who you know, what church you belong to, family, college, etc. Very seldom do those that deserve the move get it. Look at the surplus list and connect the dots. Certain teachers were not surplussed because of family.

    Keep up the good work Chris.

  8. Teachers are evaluated poorly when their students don't perform. Why not principals, who are referred to as "educational leaders."

  9. One of the appealing things about Vitti was that he was an "outsider." These moves, however, look like those of an insider. It's been asked before: Who has his ear? Obviously, it's insiders.

  10. Apparantly teachers and NOT PRINCIPALS are responsible for everything. Teachers are poorly evaluated and surplussed based on poor student learning gains, but principals are moved to better schools.

  11. Id like to know why DCPS wont employ an independent ethics officer like COJ did?

    Are they so afraid of ethics in the system they choose to ignore it altogether?

    There have been more then a few anonymous tips to Vitti that have proven true so why doesnt he get someone independent that soooo many more will be comfortable in unveiling the dark secrets.

    And if the school board had any guts they would make policy ending nepotism!