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Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Duval guidance counselor at a large school begs for help. The district's solution is to make things worse.

The first part of above is how the Tampa Times characterized the story of Crown Point Guidance Counselor Lou Nussbaum when he spoke at October’s school board meeting, unfortunately rather than help the district has plans to do the second part, to make the situation worse.

Last year he and seventy of his colleagues signed a letter asking the district for help that Nussbaum says went ignored. It got to the point where he felt there was no other recourse except to address the board at a school board meeting. This had to be at best a nerve wracking proposition but Mr. Nussbaum had a little more protection than most teachers and that’s he is retiring at the end of the year.  

The plight he described was not unique to Crown Point, many of our higher performing elementary schools have seen their performance slip over the last few years as the district has switched focus to the North and West sides of town and as more and more charter schools found easy pickings in the more affluent neighborhoods, siphoning away both some of the top students and resources.

Superintendent Vitti even addressed this point saying in the Times Union, “As revenues decline, our challenges are increasing ... to stretch our dollars to get to every corner and pocket of the district.” Here is the thing, he speaks so eloquently about declining revenues but at this November’s school board meeting he is going to actually endorse the loss of more.

He is recommending the district approve two more Charter Schools, as if 31 mostly low performing ones are not enough. One of those will be the River City Science academy at Mandarin.  By all accounts the River City Science academies are the right type of charter schools, innovative and successful except for one very important fact, Mandarin doesn’t need another charter school.

Charter schools as sold to Florida were supposed to rescue poor and mostly minority children from their failing public schools. Well who in Mandarin needs rescuing from all the great public schools already there? The Science Academy sees easy pickings and is just looking to take advantage of a charter friendly school board, in a charter friendly city, in a charter friendly state.

If it was going to be the Science Academy at Beaver Street or the Westside even I an opponent of charter schools could shrug my shoulders and look for the next wind mill to tilt at but it’s not and all it is going to do is to is further drain away resources from schools that are just barely making it as it is.

The other Charter school Vitti plans to recommend is an expansion of the KIPP School on the Westside of town. You may have heard about it as Vitti uses every opportunity he can to sing their praises, which is odd because the schools grades have been F, lowest grade in Northeast Florida, a miraculous B, it would have dropped to a D if the state didn’t have a schools can only drop one letter grade rule and then another B. Yo-Yos are envious of their performance and the praise really doesn’t seem warranted.    

However the problems don’t stop there.  According to the Times Union of the 88 students who started the first class at KIPP, only 64 finished, that’s about 30% who didn’t finish a program that the super, the Times Union and the city’s elite sing praises about. Doesn’t that seem to be a really high figure to you? I would probably chalk this up to kids just coming and going but KIPP has a national reputation for counseling out poor performers. They also spend about a third more per child and can require parents to be involved but I guess those things just makes them lucky.

You would think the superintendent of a public school district instead of constantly praising KIPP would say something like, they have done some nice things at KIPP but it shouldn’t be lost on anybody how their grades are up and down, they have about a third more resources per child and require parents to be active. In fact I submit that if any public school had the same resources and parental involvement as the KIPP School does there would be no yo-yoing of grades and the performance would be much, much better.  

Approving their expansion probably has as much to do with the Super and Boards cozy relation with Gary Chartrand the man who wrote a nine million dollar check to bring KIPP to town as anything. Gary Chartrand a grocer by trade is the Rick Scott appointed chair of the state board of education, and never worked in a school a day in his life, but his lack of experience and institutional knowledge is an entirely different story all together.

Chartrand and the Board of KIPP have pumped thousands of dollars into the campaigns of School Board members, Becki Couch, Jason Fischer. Ashley Smith-Juarez, Connie Hall, Martha Barrett and Fell Lee. The only person who they didn’t send money to was Paula Wright, they did however give her opponent in the recent school board race thousands and thousands of dollars including Chartrand giving five figures to a super pac, the Citizens for Florida Prosperity which basically made up things about her and her record.

Now the Board may think it is okay to take money from a millionaire and indulge his pet project, they after all are doing the same thing with Teach for America but does the public think it is okay? Should any of us be okay with it? Especially with so many questions lingering.

The truth is there may be some nice things going on at KIPP, we shouldn’t penalize them just because they have extra resources, which is something the once very successful schools in the richer parts of town are sadly learning. We don’t know however and the district and the Times Union who writes an annual puff piece about them don’t seem to be interested in finding out one way or another but either way what is the problem with waiting to let them expand until they have sustained success? History after all says this will be another down year.

This piece starter with a guidance counselor desperate for help, pleading for needed resources and with a superintendent saying they would do what they could. Unfortunately it turns out his plan boils down to siphoning even more resources out of the district to one charter school we don’t really need and another than is a vanity play for a big time donor. We have a super on one hand who says, I am here to help and on the other seems to be more than willing to exacerbate the problem.

In a way Lou Nussbaum wasn’t just speaking up for Crown Point, he was speaking for dozens of other schools that the district has allowed to erode. Schools that have been ignored and depleted of resources. Unfortunately the districts current plans will only make their problems worse.


  1. Duval Charter just opened up a school this school year in Mandarin.

    Why would Mandarin need another one?
    You are correct. There are some great schools in Mandarin.

  2. Elect Charlie Crist to the Governors Office AND KICK THE CHARTER SCHOOLS out of FLORIDA once and for all. Go cast your votes TEACHERS!!! Fight for PUBLIC EDUCATION!