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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Duval's constant churn and burn is holding us back! That is why Duval schools never make progress from one year to the next.

By Greg Sampson

It is perhaps unfortunate that instructional reviews began in Duval County after J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We Potterphiles laughed and raged at the antics of Dolores Umbridge as she tore into the faculty of Hogwarts, but then, in a case of life imitating art, several years later instructional reviews began in our schools.

And yes, often it seemed that the spirit of Dolores channeled through the reviewers as they tore schools and the people who work there to shreds.

I won’t quickly forget last year when Fred Heid, then the Chief of Schools, told us that we should really believe that he and his reviewers were on our side, after all, “our contracts are full of bonuses based on student performance, so if your school doesn’t do well [on FCAT tests], it costs us money.”

This year we have a new approach. Of course, this is Duval County we’re talking about, every year we have a new approach. Has it ever occurred to any of the powers-that-be that when you constantly return to the starting line, when you reinvent everything every year, you always start from zero, and that is why Duval schools never make progress from one year to the next? We always start over in August.

The IR (as I will now abbreviate the review) has changed to be student centered. It is not about what the adults are doing; it is supposed to be about what the students are doing and whether they are actually learning. Also, if we think they are learning, how do we know? What data can we cite to prove it?

Furthermore, we are told in preparation that the IR is not a “gotcha.” But they say that every year. Last year, the IR team returned to schools quickly to see if they started doing what they were told to do. The lack of confidence that implied was appalling. It was very much a “gotcha.”

The IR agenda has changed. We don’t start with a presentation by school staff that the District reviewers mostly ignore, preferring to spend their time on their phones texting or on their laptops checking e-mail. (I’m not making this up. That is what they used to do. After forcing school personnel to prepare a presentation, they would ignore the people during the presentation.)

The preliminaries consist of a meeting whereby the District staff will ask questions of the school leadership (administrators, deans, academic coaches) to explain the students’ performance, what worked and what didn’t, and what strategies they will use to move the school to a higher level of achievement.

Then, teams of district and school personnel will visit classrooms for two and a half hours. That is consistent with the past. Afterward, the IR teams meet, discuss their observations, and come up with an Action Plan for the school. The change this year is that the school should not receive a twenty page plan with a plentitude of demanded actions, but the IR team will focus on three to five objectives the school should move on immediately.
The final meeting is between the IR team and school personnel. The objectives are agreed upon and the IR is over.

I will report next week how well the actual visit meets this ideal. They will be at my school Monday, September 8.

I’m somewhat frustrated at this point, though, with the preparations. I am the academic coach for mathematics and I am told that 80% or more of my time should be spent in classrooms working with teachers. But what have I been doing this week?

I spent one whole day in a meeting preparing the powerpoint non-presentation for the review. Today, I spent hours, along with others, setting up the room where the IR team will meet. I moved heavy boxes, straining my back, rather than visiting classrooms and assisting teachers. I am told what to do but they don’t let me do it!

I have had to stay late—two or more hours beyond the contract time—for preparations. (Two out of four workdays. I did not stay tonight because I refused to do it.) I am not an administrator and I am not paid like one. I am a teacher on special assignment. Academic coaches get no extra money for the extra responsibilities and hours. Forcing us to work 11 hour days (or more, I went home but others did not) is --- you supply the word.

School leadership is driven crazy. I swear, if I was a principal, I would jerk my phone out of the wall and ignore my email. I’m sorry, my phone is broken, my computer’s acting funky, somebody stole my cell.

Because District people call and email constantly. Principals are bombarded with hundreds of requests in a given day. OK, I’m on a tangent now, but my principal showed me an exchange yesterday where the District person demanded information immediately, she provided what they asked but since the information was odd, she asked to make sure she understood, and got a reply that at this point they didn’t care—they had moved on.

Back to my point. District demands have gotten so ridiculous that we cannot do the job they tell us to do.

We have been told to be transparent during the IR: admit our challenges, what we struggle to do, and where our school really is at. We have been told that District personnel will be equally transparent. They will own the barriers they have placed at the school by failing to give us the support we need. I will report how that actually turned out.

We have been told that school based personnel will not be attacked by District personnel. If that starts to happen, either the Region Chief, excuse me, they get to be called Superintendents now, the Region Superintendent or the Chief of Academic Services will shut it down. I will report how that actually turned out.

I cannot end this post without discussing food. Last year, we were strictly forbidden to provide a continental breakfast or cater lunch. Although my school’s then Region Chief, no names IW, said she wanted coffee, we were off the hook. This year’s instructions did not mention food. So we go by last year, right?

Oh no, we heard today that we should have juice and coffee in the morning, and since the provided agenda gives the IR team no time to break for lunch, we need to cater that.

Big problem. The superintendent has stripped school budgets beyond the breaking point. We don’t have the money for a free lunch. Whatever discretionary funds we can squeeze out, we would rather spend buying students pencils, paper, and notebooks because their parents can’t afford those necessities.

Well, why aren’t we generous? Why shouldn’t the employees chip in to treat the District?


If I began to talk about the conflict of interest, the quid pro quo the free lunch would set up, I would need another post. I’m already over 1000 words. So let me make it simple, you out-of-touch Prudential Drive types: the only people to get a free lunch at our school is our students who live in poverty.

1 comment:

  1. I can tell you what they are going to say:

    Positives: the learning environments are friendly and students seem to be engaged
    (the above is typically what is mentioned, at least as long as I have been at my school)

    Negatives: we need to add more rigor, there should be a 20-30 minute teacher led instruction time at the end of the period for specific students (try doing that with a class of 38), we need to differentiate more, teachers should use more higher order thinking questions, the essential question needs to be better formulated, the AP's need to be in our classes even more...

    And you are done! Congrats. It is the same thing every year. They always come in for 5 minutes to random classrooms and think they understand the dynamics of the school. Okay, right...

    These people just need something to do to justify their jobs. I guarantee you that we could do away with downtown, and nothing would change at all. The salaries, responsibilities and prestige are unjustified.

    When it comes to food, they can get what we get when we have PD days: nothing. We bring food or leave for 30 minutes and spend our own money for food.

    What kills me is that people, especially admin, freak out every year, and those of us who have been there and done that are not even phased. It will happen until I retire.

    Seriously, it is an utter waste of time. They could not come at all for years, and it would not matter when it comes to educating the students.