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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dear Black People kindly shut the $#%^ up, sincerely the school board. (rough draft)

The title may be bombastic but that is what the school board effectively said when they voted to cut off community discussions, many of which have not even started by January, about radically transforming schools that for the most part serve mostly poor and minority communities and it’s shameful.

During the October 6th school board member the board in a backwards fashion voted to end community debate in January and vote of the Superintendent’s proposals to radically change 17 schools. I say in a backwards fashion because only two members of the board, Scott Shine of the beach and Jason Fischer of Mandarin wanted to end community input.

Chairwoman Cheryl Grymes was absent and all the other school board members voted to involve the community as much as possible and delay deciding on the proposals for a few months. Unfortunately the school board has an obscure rule which says a change in their rules, takes five votes, and thus the vote to cut off the community prevailed 2-4.

Now let me switch gears a little and talk about the former mandarin school board representative Tommy Hazouri. I have to say I didn’t think much of his time as a school board member. He is one of those lifetime politicians that everyone complains about but enough people vote for to assure he always has a job and his time on the school board was no exception. His tenure on the board was unremarkable to say the least but he did do one think that I thought was admirable.

If the district was going to do something that affected a school he would often defer to the school board member who represented that school, point of view. Unfortunately Scott Shine and Jason Fischer don’t subscribe to this courtesy.

Why did I feel the need to mention this and Hazzouri? Because none of the proposed changes are taking place in either Shine’s of Fischer’s districts. Read that again. That means none of their constituents will be effected and those board members whose constituents are who asked for more time to inform and involve them were told no, you can’t do it.   

Shine who is a millionaire and Fischer who I would describe as upper middle class are two white men who just said “we know what’s best for the African American community and their schools.” This is a message that the power structure has regularly told the African American community in Jacksonville and it is a huge reason for why we find ourselves where we are and in case you are wondering, I am a white guy who can’t jump.

Furthermore neither Shine nor Fischer have any education experience. Shine like Hazouri looks at the school board as a line on a resume, while Fischer who has already announced he is running for the Florida House and did so almost a year ago, obviously sees the school board as little more than a stepping stone and friends before he loved education he loved soil and water because he ran for a seat there before running for the school board. It’s hubris and their personal agendas which drive their decision making not what is best for our schools and certainly not what the community thinks.  

As bad as all that is, it gets even worse.  I imagine as the vote was unfolding, Vitti was sweating bullets you see not even he believes in all his suggestions and even said as much in a September 8th Times Union story

I’m not going into this process believing everything in the recommendations needs to be done,” he said. “But my responsibility as superintendent is to be proactive regarding the short-term and long-term challenges... This is an opportunity for us to leverage our buildings, to not give them to a charter school and not sell our properties and land.”

He said, I’m not going into this process believing everything in the recommendations needs to be done.

Then what the heck is he doing? Just spit balling ideas? Throwing paint against the wall and hoping something sticks? Wouldn't it be nice to know which ideas he thinks we desperately have to see come true and which ideas he was just messing with us with? Since he isn’t even behind all of them, is it too much to ask that the communities that will be effected get the chance to find out if they can?

Almost unbelievably it gets even worse. The district through the Quality Education for All initiative has invested fifty million dollars over three years into thirty six schools on the north and west sides of town. The district is calling these schools the transformation schools.

They are using the money to put in extra resources and financing a massive merit pay scheme designed to attract the best and brightest to those schools. Now I think it’s going to end up being a waste of money and its beginning to look like the district thinks so too because most of the schools they want to fundamentally change are part of the QEA schools. The QEA is barely a year old and the district is already throwing its hands up and saying, you know what let’s try something new.

So let me sum up, we have two well off white school board members telling the north and west sides of town that their opinions about the future of their schools don’t matter supporting proposals at least some of which not even the superintendent who made them believes in while initiating the district’s second massive turnaround plan in a little over a year and a half a year and a year and a half before the first is supposed to come to a close.

We have problems here in Duval County, I can’t sugar coat them but the biggest one by far is a lack of effective leadership.


  1. They will reconsider and vote to delay when Grimes is back. Now there's a story to pursue. Why was she absent given the importance of the issues in front of the school board? But I agree with you, Shine and Fischer have put the lie to any belief that they have the empathy to be effective board members. Vitti said we should take the time we need to get the FSA, scoring, and school accountability right. He is bucking the state on that. Why doesn't he, Shine, and Fischer believe that about these radical changes? (Radical meaning at the root, fundamental changes in these schools and what they offer.)

  2. Hazouri was smart enough to know to watch Joey Wise about the finances and the flim-flam games the one-time superintendent played during his years in Delaware. Too bad Scott and Fischer are too busy building their resumes to do any useful service on the school board.