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Monday, June 22, 2015

Superintendent Vitti's golden opportunity (rough draft)

I have written a lot about what has happened at First Coast high school and I believe we should all be outraged. Teacher's careers were cut short and children's educations were damaged and as Vitti said at the community meeting on the 15th he has to own that. He in effect threw a hand grenade into the middle of First Coast high which was doing well and blew it up.

It however is even worse than that because the super has known about many of the problems at First Coast since at least last Fall and I know so because I  personally told him, not that he shouldn't have also known bringing Brennan in was going to be a disaster. You see Brennan did the same thing at Forrest, now Westside high school. They too had a veteran staff that he ran/bullied off. Now some of you might say, but didn't the grade at Forrest go up and the answer is yes it did, but the reason has more to do with forty percent of the student body also leaving under his watch than anything else. Hundreds took opportunity scholarships and went to Atlantic Coast and others just left for Ed White. It was not uncommon to meet children there who said Brennan had in effect run them off.

With all that being said Superintendent Vitti now has an opportunity to do things the right way and that's to address discipline and how the district treats its teachers.

If the district wants to be successful it cannot run off it's veteran teachers and throw its rookies to the metaphorical wolves and principals that do are the ones that should be run out off.  Teachers should be respected and supported not ridiculed, marginalized and bullied. The district should treat them like valued colleagues rather than easily replaceable cogs and go to them to find out what works and what doesn't instead of ignoring them.

Now I am not saying poor performing teachers have to be kept or coddled but all to often new principals feel the need to clean house and are not above bullying teachers out the door. Not all principals do this but enough do and Vitti could look at the TNTP survey that the district paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out which principals have lost their staffs and do soemthing about it.

The problem though is when the teachers at First Coast cried out for help, only 29% said it was a good place to teach and learn, the superintendent replied that Brennan was one of the best we had. He knows morale is terrible throughout the district too and this sent shudders down the spines of many teachers. I also know many who didn't even complete the latest survey because they thought what does it matter what they say and to be honest if Vitti's reaction to such a dreadful score is to praise the principal then what does it matter.

I have written several times that forty million from a group of philanthropists is great but a respected motivated, and supported staff is priceless. We have tried to bully teachers to success and now it is time we tried supported them to success instead.

Then there is discipline. The super can try his restorative justice experiment but not at the expense of consequences for poor behavior and for a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful. Most middle and high schools already have the mechanism in place, ISSP to give meaningful consequences unfortunately most kids think the way they are run is a joke.

ISSP should be a place where kids do not want to go. Once there they should be kept apart and silent, only speaking if they raise their hand to ask for help on an assignment. They should have two bath room breaks where they go as a group and eat lunch before or after the rest of the school sitting alone at tables. Then if they act up, are absent, or don't complete their work then they get another day tacked on.    

The lets over correct some, talk back or are rude to a teacher the first time its a day but the second time it is three, tardy three times, that's two days in ISSP. If kids know its going to suck and suck for days, then they will work to avoid it.

There are however some offences that require being suspended and fighting just once not four times as the current code of conduct says is one of them. The first fight unless a kid is defending ones self should be met with at least a three day suspension, the second five and by the time the third fight rolls around alternative school. Furthermore kids that get in multiple fights or are habitually disrespectful should be forced to meet with mental health counselors or social workers to get to the root of the problem which I bet nine out of ten times will have nothing to do with school.

Then there is parental involvement which some parents need to be nudged to do. I think the district should suspend the heck out of kids but then suspend the suspensions if parents agree to shadow their child for a day. I know if  Ruthy G had to shadow me for a day that would have nipped a lot of problems in the bud. Mr and Mrs So and So we are going to suspend your student for three days unless you come to school and spend the day with them. Then it is on the parents to be parents.

If we develop rookies and support veterans, if we have disciplined schools where kids can learn and teachers can teach then we will turn this thing around. Anything short of that and we will just spin our wheels and I for one am tired of that.

The superintendent has a real opportunity here and that is to finally do things the right way. It's sad that having disciplined classes and respected and supported teachers has not been our starting point all along but it doesn't mean we have to keep doing things the wrong way.


  1. " Teachers should be respected and supported not ridiculed, marginalized and bullied. The district should treat them like valued colleagues rather than easily replaceable cogs and go to them to find out what works and what doesn't instead of ignoring them. "
    It's not going to happen until the top of the pyramid values the teachers. The first summer he came, I knew he didn't value teachers based on how he spoke about the teachers to the media (and the story online deleted his comments when people complained) and how his "Generals" spoke about the teachers (in front of teachers) at the summer institutes.

  2. Amen to this! It's not rocket science folks!

  3. Teacher bullying, marginalizing, and disrespect seem to be "business as usual" in many schools of the county. I appreciate the info about FCHS, and it sounds to be a horrific place to work. I cannot imagine what parents must feel like having to send students there each day. However, in other schools, principals are allowing parents to run things....students in these schools feel perfectly able to adjust "stories" to undermine good, competent teachers. Parents can be encouraged to complain about teachers by how the administration "resolves or handles" what used to be minor problems or situations.....Are principals really being evaluated, are climate surveys being ignored are teachers being treated fairly? Hard to think so. Nothing is being said about Fletcher Middle. Does anyone care about what is happening there? Is the school grade the only criteria for a good school? Are we loosing our minds?

  4. Duh! Only somebody (Vitti) who hasn't spent any time teaching would be enlightened by this. Remember when admins had to be in a classroom for 4 yrs, now 3, before they could be an admin? Vitti only taught for 2 yrs, so he is clueless about the basics of a good education: experienced teachers, discipline and necessary supplies. Keep saying it, Chris, and maybe someday he'll get it.

    I think we should "disengage" from the survey. I will not respond to it next yr, since they obviously don't really care what we think.

    What has the union done about Brennan?

    1. The status of the Union's efforts would be very interesting. Formal grievances where filed with the union shortly after his arrival. Those first faculty meetings were egregious. What is the status of all the complaints? Brennen pulled the new union rep real close. The rep is young, was a security guard, and now is like a pseudo- administrator (he even has his own office). He IS NOT going to push any issue, but many have gone straight to Mirta and she has all that documentation. The question is....What is the Union doing about it? They do have attorneys. There is contractual laws, workplace laws. What is the Union doing. That would make a very nice topic for your next blog.

      I pay my dues only because of what WOULD happen if no Union existed.

    2. You still have a contract, even you're not in the "most accommodating union in the country." DTU doesn't enforce the contract, so what's the difference? Also, the union has to represent you if you're in trouble whether you are a member or not.

  5. The union? There's no union in Duval for teachers. I did not and will participate in any survey.

  6. What's going on at Fletcher Middle? I've read several comments on this site alluding to problems. Can we elaborate? Chris - is there something worth investigating? I'd like to know more.