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Monday, November 30, 2015

Duval's use of Teach for America should be a civil rights violation

It's been all over the news the last few days, that the Department of Education is opening a civil rights investigation into Duval County Public Schools. Their concern is that the city's minority children are getting shortchanged.

Well one blatant way we are shortchanging our minority students is by placing Teach for America hobbyists recruits in those schools that are mostly minority.

Teach for America takes non education majors who go through a five week access course and puts them in our mostly minority and poorest schools where they are supposed to serve two years (about a fifth don't make it) to be replaced by a new set, assuring a constant revolving door of teachers. They in affect are doing the exact opposite of what we know is best for our kids, who need experienced teachers and this is a program that Duval has expanded from 50 to 200.

Friends they only go to the schools where their lack of training and experience can do the most damage. You won't find one TFAer in Mandarin or at the beach.

Why don't our minority kids deserve experienced or trained educators? This is a question the district should answer and that I hope the Department of Education asks.

To read more, click the link:

How dumb is Florida's House education Committee? Very!

Oy vey, want more proof this ill conceived program is nothing more than a giveaway to Teach for America? Well here you have it as the republican members of the committee are proposing keeping to bonus program based on teachers SAT scores.

From the Orlando Sentinel:
A new teacher bonus program that sparked controversy because it offers $10,000 to those with high college admissions scores -- even if they took the ACT or SAT decades ago -- should be continued, the Florida House's education committee thinks.
The committee on Thursday is to take up a proposed bill that would make the new Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program a permanent part of state law.
The controversial program was approved in the spring by the Florida Legislature. It provides $10,000 bonuses this school year to teachers who were rated "highly effective" and scored in the Top 20 percent on either the ACT or the SAT they year they took the exam.
Brand new teachers -- those who started teaching in August -- can be eligible, too, based solely on their test scores.
The legislature earmarked $44 million for the program, with the aim of providing the $10,000 bonuses to up to 4,402 teachers.
How long are these people going to be allowed to damage public education?

So much for Florida's historic education budget.

Governor Scott calls his proposed education budget historic. What he doesn’t mention is that historic here is no higher than 42nd in per pupil spending nationwide, even behind the states of Alabama and Georgia.  He also doesn’t mention that most of the new money is going to come from higher property taxes. Finally I don’t think it should be lost on anyone that the five hundred million in increased spending is almost dollar for dollar what is diverted away from the state coffers to pay for the sates voucher programs.

Most of that money goes to religious schools and the entire program has barely any over site or accountability. Governor Scott in effect is saying let’s try and educate our children on the cheap and raise taxes to pay for vouchers.

So in a way it is historic, it is just historically bad for the tax payers and families of Florida.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Duval County asks the impossible of its elementary school teachers.

Teachers all across the district are being told to use more IReady the district's computer program du jour as it hastens the replacement of its teachers with trained chimps who can press pay on a VCR. I kid some but the use of EngageNY has already eliminated a significant amount of creativity and innovation that teachers used to be encouraged to do.

One elementary teacher explained that since the computer lab was often used for the ad naseum testing the district claims to have scaled back that just leaves the four computers in her class and that there just isn't enough time in the day to carry out the districts new computer plan.

Other teachers lucky enough to have access to computer carts lament the loss of time it takes to get them, unpack them and set children up on them which was already substantial but is bound to increase as the district mandates they use them more.

Then everyone is concerned how this will affect ESE and ESOL learners who often need more individual and small group instruction.

Nobody is against using technology to help their kids learn but at the same time few people think it can be used to replace our teachers. The district also needs to rethink it's policy of frequently changing course in the middle of the nine weeks and requiring teachers to do more than what is possible, which are both SOP in the district..

Ultimately the district needs to decide what they want, the trained chimps from paragraph one or competent professionals practicing their craft. Unfortunately it seems like they want more of the former.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is this Melrose place or a School District?

I am not one to write about rumors or personal lives but there is one persistent rumor out there that I felt I should talk about and that’s who followed Connie Hall after the November school board meeting.

In case you don’t remember Connie Hall reported being followed after the school board meeting and was so unnerved she involved the police. The rumor on the street is it was Rachel Vitti the super’s wife who followed her and I don’t know if it was started because Hall reported it was a dark SUV and she drives one or there are reports that she was at the school board meeting and visibly upset, but either way it is ridiculous right? Even if she was annoyed that Hall led the initiative to put a letter of condemnation in Vitti’s file, she would have to know better than to follow and attempt to intimidate a school board member.

At first I pretty much ignored the story but then when the district refused to release the video footage for specious reasons my curiosity piqued.

My curiosity was furthered flamed when I was told that Mrs. Vitti couldn’t have followed Mrs. Hall because Wendy Lehockey, Vitti’s chief of staff was with her. Yeah probably like you, I too at first thought, what that’s ridiculous, the district must be covering for the super’s wife, but to be honest I don’t know if they are friends and maybe they often drive around together after school board meetings.

All of these rumors make our school district sound ridiculous and petty and they distract us from the job of educating our children. We should be debating the curriculum and discipline, pushing back against for profit charters and testing or worried about so many other issues instead of this.  The school board should release the tapes or allow representatives of the media to view them in order to put these scurrilous rumors to bed.

We shouldn’t be distracted by, to use the super’s words, adult issues.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Republicans say if it is fixed lets break it with the FRS. (rough draft)

Spoiler alert continuing to make the teaching profession undesirable even if you hate unions is going to have consequences. You think public teacher salaries are low, check out how much teachers their people make.

I get it too, a full forty percent and growing people that enter the teaching profession don’t last five years but why make things worse which is what would happen if Florida did away with the Florida retirement System for new employees.

From Florida
Florida Republicans once again are taking aim at the Florida Retirement System, arguing taxpayers can save billions of dollars by closing the huge public employee pension program to new members and offering them a 401k-style investment plan.
The proposal, which is expected to be offered by House members in the coming legislative session, would preserve line-of-duty death benefits for law enforcement officers and firefighters, a move designed to appease lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle who have opposed the idea in the past.
House Spokesman Michael Williams said a bill would be created by a committee, although House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has not decided which panel.
“We’re just not sure where it will originate,” Williams said.
The state retirement system serves 621,000 Florida schoolteachers, firefighters, sheriff’s office workers and employees across the state’s 32 executive agencies. Another 346,000 are receiving benefits in retirement, according to a Senate bill analysis performed in June.
The analysis showed the state system has about $138.6 billion to cover active and retired employees, and would need another $21.5 billion to be fully funded. Florida’s pension system is funded at about 86.6 percent, above the 80 percent level state economists have defined as a healthy fund.

Um, why, why mess with something that is working?

My bet is it because if new employees are taken out of the FRS its health will suffer and the legislature thinks they can shore that up by taking even more of public servants salary. People forget that all teachers and members of the FRS took a three percent pay cut during the great recession money that has not been made up for in better times. So be sure to thank a teacher for Florida’s budget surplus.

And for all you haters out there, things might be different if the FRS was in trouble but it’s not all this is, is the Florida Legislature trying to break something that is fixed while harming the teaching profession at the same time.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

So much for local control of education

Republicans only believe in local control when there is no money to be made. 

Since ethics in Florida means you weren't caught with a live boy or a dead girl, representative Manny Diaz out of Miami is trying to strip from local districts the power to authorize charter schools. Oh what's Diaz's day job? Managing Charter schools.

From the league of Women Voters:
According to the News Service of Florida, Representative Manny Diaz has filed a constitutional amendment that could change how charter schools are approved in Florida.
HUR 759 would allow the Department of Education to establish a statewide system for approving charter schools.  Currently, school districts authorize charter schools and the State Board of Education can over rule school board decisions.
Diaz, a strong charter school advocate, is chair of the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee.  An earlier report by WFSU stated that Representative Diaz would file a bill to standardize charter school applications and change how they were approved, expanded, or terminated.  Evidently, he decided to change the constitution instead.
The Florida legislature can place an amendment on the ballot through a joint resolution which must receive 3/5 of the vote in the legislature.  The amendment then must be approved by 60% of the voters.
Diaz has been one of the worst offenders when it comes to education and it seems as his bank account grows his chutzpah increases as well.
When will Florida say enough is enough to these con men masquerading as legislators who are only looking to enrich themselves?
To read more click the link:

Parent and teacher, the district isn't giving students enough time to learn the material.

From a reader

This is so sad. I can say without a doubt that NBE was and is a truly excellent school. My daughter had the most wonderful teachers in her 6 years there! She's now with me at the middle school where I teach. (she doesn't go to the local Oceanway MS) We are experiencing the same insanity on the middle school level. She keeps up with her assignments, studies and understands the material. I'm very involved and hands-on like this mother mentioned, but it's never enough. 

Here's just one example from her 8 classes. (Seriously! Last year they were in elementary and in MS there are 8 classes!!!!) She is really great in math and was placed in pre-algebra which is basically the standard for students a grade ahead of her. But.... her teacher has told me they have to move so fast to stay on the pacing guide. (Her math teacher is wonderful, BTW) This means that we can expect minimum of 1 hour of math per night. My daughter doesn't really mind because she loves math, but the problem is when she takes a test in that class she gets maybe a C. Strange, considering all her other math grades are A's. As a teacher, I can clearly see that they are moving so fast that they don't have time to truly MASTER and RETAIN the content before moving to the next concept. This is very frustrating!! 

This is pretty much the way it's going in all 4 of her core classes. Oh and don't get me started on the projects they expect an 11 year old to produce on their own. I'm really seeing how many of our students are set up for failure.

All of this crazy DCPS insanity was stressful enough from a teaching standpoint, but having a front row seat to what's happening with my own child is making me angry. I'm thinking of quitting to home-school her. That might be better for both of us.

So, here's a thought. What if all the veteran teachers that know how things should be just up and decided they're going to work one day to teach the material the way it should be taught? Like a non-strike unified effort to take back the system and give these kids the education they need and deserve!! Seriously, think about it.

Teacher says curriculum is way over their kids heads, district looks for quantity not quality of lessons

From a reader

As a first grade teacher, I applaud this parent and other parents who are helping their children the best that they can. It's frustrating for parents to see that their children are failing simply because the content is WAY OVER THEIR HEADS. 

I am showing my students' parents the work that they have to do in their math binders, and even sent them electronic files of all the modules we have to do because they want to catch up at home. However, because the district cares about QUANTITY instead of QUALITY, teachers are being forced to move on to the next lesson even if kids are not getting it. 

We've had several district visits and that is all that has come out of their mouths: Why aren't you on THIS lesson? And, what lessons do you need to combine in order to get to where you need to be? 

Is this the same question that our administrators are going to ask when they formally observe us???? Because surely, they cannot say a darn thing about whether students are understanding the lessons or not when our hands are tied regarding pacing and differentiating our lessons.

So the district isn't micromanaging its teachers????

From a reader:

We were just told that the district now says we have to make our Objective and Essential Question bigger, so the kids in the back can see it. 


K and 1st?? 

Even if we read it to them, they have to be able to "read" it on the common board configuration from the back of the class. So each now has to to be in separate sheets of paper. Also, they say we HAVE to do a Table of Contents for journals. We can do a large one on chart paper. 

How is this helping children??? DTU just sits by all allows this to go on.

This is just the district making shit stuff up as it goes along. So much for not micromanaging its teachers right?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dear Superintendent Vitti, please give my child a chance.

From a reader

Dr. Vitti,

While I understand that change is necessary to move forward, I am having a hard time understanding why anyone would believe this new system is moving in the right direction. My son attends New Berlin Elementary and is in the 1st Grade. He is a bright, sweet, too-busy-for-his-own-good little boy. He is an ace at Math, which he did not inherit from me, and does very well in all other subjects (aside from conduct, which we are working on). I said all of that because we have had several tests/assessments (call them what you want, the kids still know) that he has flat-out failed. He makes 100’s on almost everything, yet gets a zero on a test…because it only had 4 questions (4 QUESTIONS!!!) and they were on labeling the Body Systems…in the 1st Grade! When other teachers (friends of mine) are telling me that at least half of their class failed that test with a 50% or less, there’s a problem with the curriculum, not the teachers!! I let that one go (although I shouldn’t have), thinking that he still had time to bring his grade back up. But, yesterday he made a 62 on another test…and do you know what? Due to this new curriculum, I have no idea what he was even being tested on! By the way, he didn’t bring home anything from school related to any of the materials he was tested on, so I had NO WAY of reviewing any of that with him before his test! I go on Field Trips and help out in the classroom when needed. I help him with his homework, review any papers he brings home, sign his agenda every night, and we read books together. I also make sure he does i-Ready weekly (that is a whole other issue) so believe me, I am active in his school life and education.

With that said, where did the policy of excluding parents from their children's education come from? I really hate not knowing what my child is doing at school and not sending graded papers home only punishes the parents that want to be active in their children's education. I have no idea what his last test was even on, other than his teachers weekly newsletter referenced fables and folklore. (And before you go there, I understand I can set up a parent-teacher conference to see his graded papers, but I shouldn’t have to. If I need a P/T conference, it should be for other reasons, not to review a file!) Why are there no books or review sheets to help reinforce at home what they are learning in school? What happened to parents being the #1 educator in a child’s life? I can't even do a review with him because I have no idea what is being taught. I am extremely disappointed that the DCPS system would enact such an absurd policy! Parents deserve to know what is being taught and how it is being administered! I feel like parents are being systematically cut out of their children’s education. Maybe that is not what the policy was enacted for, but it leaves me feeling lost and like I can’t help my own child, because I have no idea what to help him with, until after the fact…and several times that has been too late. I have many friends that are teachers in Duval County, and they have all told me the same thing… the new materials are terrible and confusing to kids. The tests do not match the curriculum as it is written. Pictures and charts do not match the tests, and for a 1st grader, that is so important!

**By the way...this has nothing to do with his teacher. She is a FANTASTIC teacher, stuck with a ridiculous policy to adhere to. She sends a newsletter home and emails parents weekly to let us know what is going on. Unfortunately, she is in the same boat as us, as she isn’t provided with any resources to send home.**

Here’s a much better idea…go back to letting teachers actually teach!
Make learning fun again! What happened to hands-on learning and using imagination and creativity?
Stop micromanaging every second of the day for teachers and let education flow, not everything can be taught in a certain time-period and some ideas need to be heard and discussed for longer amounts of time!

Please take the time and really listen to your teachers and parents, and their concerns with this curriculum and policy. Unfortunately, I know for a fact that I am not the only parent that feels this way. There is a reason why so many, including teachers, are leaving our school system.

This is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone in any way. I have an immense amount of respect for teachers and our School Board, but this policy and curriculum has missed the mark and I have real concerns for my 1st grader and 2016 kindergartner. This system is failing them, but as their parent, I will not!


How fair is the Grasp Academy? Not very when compared to Twin Lakes

First I want to say that the debate shouldn't be about whether the kids at the Grasp Academy deserve extra resources or not as some people including board member Ashley Smith Juarez have framed it. The debate is about fairness.

The grasp academy has 125 kids give or take with IEPs and to assist with their needs and accommodations the district has staffed six ESE teachers there. Twin lakes on the other hand has seventy kids with IEPs and has two ESE teachers and desperately needs more.

Once gain why does the school that the superintendents child going to want for nothing while other people's kids are forced to make do or scrape by. I have been writing, pleading and begging about the IND kids at Ed White for seven years now. How come nobody cares about them?

So yes the kids at the GRASP academy deserve the extra resources but so do so many others across the district, who is advocating for them.

Apparently not the super and chairwoman Ashley Smith-Juarez.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chat with the super recap, warning its not pretty (rough draft)

First I have to say both the Times Union and the district let us down.  Originally this chat was supposed to be on the south side but at some point it was changed to off Collins Road just north of Orange Park.

After I encouraged people to go to the original location a reader informed me the location had changed. I then reached out to both the Times Union and the district to see which location was accurate and as it turned out it had been changed.  Now mind you I reached out a day before the meeting. Maybe the print copy of the Times Union was a go but the Times Union didn't even bother to change the on-line version. Furthermore as far as I can tell the district did nothing to inform the parents and teachers of the district that the Times Union had printed the wrong address despite the fact I let them knew nearly a day before the meeting.

Plans and locations change and I get it mistakes can be made too but what I teach my kids is when you do make a mistake you try and make right by it. Things fall on the ground and spill all the time, it's okay, whats not okay is to walk by like nothing happened. the district and the Times Union walked by like nothing happened.

So turn out was small which allowed the few of us there to ask several questions and follow ups. Typically in the past you just got to ask a question and then you had to be satisfied with whatever answer he gave as there were thirty other people waiting to ask questions.

My questions focused on the new curriculum and how teachers felt, marginalized and intimidated, that innovation and creativity were being sacrificed and how many felt that the curriculum was inappropriate for their children. The super tried to make two points and stuck to his guns despite my repeated follow questions and examples.

First he is not telling anybody to micromanage or intimidate teachers and what he wants is conversations about where and why teachers find themselves, if they are not lined up along with the pacing guide. If people are being told do this, by then, or else, it's not coming from him.

Next that the curriculum is new and it can be hard to learn new things but as teachers get to do it more they will feel more comfortable with it and as teachers through test scores proved they were successful the district would release them so they could be more creative and innovative.

I went at him from different angles, I mentioned the lack of creativity and innovation, how teachers feel they couldn't reteach or get deeper, how the pacing guide was unrealistic and how teachers were overworked, stressed out and at the breaking point. I even said at one point you are telling teachers it is new and hard, hurry up and get it done by three and they are letting you know they can't do it.

The superintendent however was unwavering, people just needed to give it time and they would come to like and appreciate it and he was not telling his staff to micromanage or intimate teachers.

The superintendent also gave several examples about how new teachers liked it and how kids in the classes he was visiting were dong things he had never seen comparable groups do before.

It's going to take more than me and the blog and the chats with the supe apparently to change his mind. He seems all in.

I didn't ask all of the following questions but I presented them to him and said these are the questions people are asking me to ask you.

These boundary "working meetings" are a joke! Most of the participants are spewing incorrect information and data in their own favor. Parents are encouraged to get "involved" and attend, but are not allowed to ask questions or participate in discussions. I attended one last night for the Wolfson magnet proposal was thoroughly disappointed in the entire process!

Middle school math schools are dropping. 6th graders are low, 7th graders are lower, and 8th graders are at the bottom. Why? Because we are required to blow through the curriculum so quickly. Teachers feel as though we're skipping stones across the surface and not teaching anything at depth. Students are absorbing and retaining absolutely nothing. We are losing entire years of math. Does anyone see this???

Why aren’t ESE paras required to get substitutes, they are integral to running classrooms and when they are out the classrooms suffer.

If teachers are being asked to collect data, give homework, print out CGs and assessments, why aren't they provided with printers? Schools turning to shared printers or just one in main office. They tell us to use lessons from iReady, also. But those also need to be printed off.

How can he push literacy so hard when the majority of school libraries are closed?

How come class size doesn't apply to foreign language, like Spanish? Why are there over 40 children in one class?

Why is he so concerned about enrollment dropping at certain high schools i.e. Wolfson, when that decline is due to all the charters (and magnets) he keeps bringing to the table?

The student code of conduct is ushering discipline in secondary schools into the realm of stupid. Why are class 3 referrals for fights and drug use being kicked back with instructions to recode? We have students in ISSP for fighting and for getting caught with drugs on campus.

Students need books in their hands. A first grader doesn't learn to read by listening to a read a loud and seeing a blurry pic on screen. Bring back the basal reader so all students have access to various literature but share a common story they can learn lang./reading skills needed.

Why does the emphasis on literacy not utilize the personnel who are highly trained in this area - school library media specialists?

How do you plan to retain veteran teachers who are feeling disrespected and micromanaged. The average lessons in Duval Reads are requiring between 30-60 minutes of preparation for each lesson.. teachers are only being paid until 3:10. Are you asking that teachers spend the 1.5-3 hours of their personal time, on top of grading papers, creating differentiated lessons... have you talked with any veteran teachers about the ridiculous amount of time that is being spent trying to figure out the Engage lessons, create the items needed to implement most of the lesson?

If first graders are just learning how to read, why doesn’t the new 1st grade READING INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIAL have a book for the children to hold and follow along with?

As a 1st grade parent who dislikes the new 1st grade ELA curriculum what can I do to get it changed.

I’m not comfortable that the K-2nd grade reading instructional material passed on a tie, is there anyway to have a revote on this?

You will have to use a sarcastic tone for this question. How is reading material in front of a class word for word and holding up a boring picture teaching? Can we replace teachers with minimum wage employees to save money?

What is a ziggurat?

My daughter is in 1st grade and the requirements are just way to hard, some of the home work they send home I can't even understand especially the math.. The reading requirements are outrageous and they cannot learn all they need to know in class and most parents also work and don't have 2-3 hours to sit at night helping a first grader do homework. Some changes need to be made.. It was not like this when I sent my 2 other children to the same school over 5 years ago.. These kids are being set up for failure if they don't have a parent that's able to do homework with them every night to try and help them, the worst part is watching your child struggle and they feel like a failure because they just don't get this curriculum.

Why is the district proposing so many last minute initiatives on ELA?

Why are they not shared with social studies (i.e. Achieve 3000)? Does social studies have any responsibility?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The stunning hypocrisy of John Legg

I have to think long ago he removed all the mirrors from his house, after all like a vampire I can't imagine he is capable of looking at himself in one.

Mr. Legg who presents himself as the reasonable republican introduced a bill that would stop school districts from using a loophole to get around the class size amendment. If a district declares a school a choice school they are able to average the schools class sizes instead of counting them individually and many schools despite dubious choice options have been declared choice schools.

You are probably thinking, but Chris are you not an ardent defender of the class size amendment and haven't you railed against districts using this loophole, to which my answer is yes and yes.

My problem here however is Legg owns a charter school which bathes in this loophole as all charter schools are considered schools of choice. He is saying, you know what this loophole is making me rich so I want to close it for districts most of whom don't have an extra two nickles to rub together let alone enough money to hire more teachers.

This is just another example how charters wouldn't be able to exist without special favors and rigging the game.

The answer is to stop ignoring the will of the people and to properly fund the class size amendment.

To read more about Legg's hypocrisy, click the links:

Dear Student, I am so sorry for what is happening to you, sincerely your teacher.

From a reader:

Dear Primary Elementary Student, 
I want to offer my deepest apologies for what you are experiencing this year.   I want you to know that you are entitled to a great education.   I have strived in my all my years to provide each student with that education, but I can't give it to you.  I must explain that the curriculum that is appropriate for your age and developmental level  is no longer being used.   As I try to teach you the basics, I can not take the time with you and show you the way because the district says we are behind on the curriculum guide.  I HAVE  to combine these lessons so that we stay on the mandated lessons, not the lessons that are best for you or your classmates. 
I know that your misbehavior means that you are frustrated, and I truly know what I should do.  However, the district mandate says that I have to fill out these papers and follow the proper protocol before you can get the right help for extra food, glasses, hearing aids, counseling, or any other services you may require.   The timeline on this protocol can be from 6 months to 3 years.   Please know that I spoke on your behalf, I wrote up document after document, but it was not enough to get you the help you needed because the people at the table didn't believe me.    
I am so sorry that I came back and demanded more than you could possibly give me.   I am sorry I made you cry because you didn't understand.   I will tell you the truth,  I didn't understand many of those lessons myself because I wasn't trained correctly or supported by district staff in the proper ways to help you understand the logic of the lessons.   They were too concerned about getting home on time and having too much work to do, so I had to do the best I could.   If I had enough time to properly analyze your work, I would have seen the error pattern you were making and I could have corrected it, instead I had to rely on a computer program that goes down twice a week when you try to work on it.     I know that the computer did not teach you the same strategies as I did and it was confusing.   Please forgive me for not being able to fix all those computer glitches that wasted your time and effort and made you repeat your work.   
Please know that even when I was angry and my voice was rough, I still loved you.   I still wanted the most for you.   I tried with every breadth of my soul to fix it everyday until I was ultimately defeated.   Please know that it took putting me in the hospital, sacrificing time with my own family, or even losing the job I loved so much just to protect you from all of this.  In the end, we both lost. 
Your Loving  Teacher

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Anybody have questions for Vitti?

You can ask him at the community meeting tomorrow or send them to me and I will.

Date : November 18
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Journey Church


Journey Church (Main Sanctuary) 
6225 Lake Gray Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32244

The Times Union has the meeting taking place somewhere else but above is from the district web-site.

He can't ignore us all.

Superintendent Vitti's cycle of dysfunction

Superintendent Vitti has created a cycle of dysfunction here in the city. Since he has been here he has recommended for approval 30 charter schools and where some are doing well and compliment the school system, most are either underperforming, set up in neighborhoods that don’t need them or blatant cash grabs by for profit companies.
He laments about the loss resources to these charter schools, which as a group underperform when compared to Jacksonville’s public schools yet he still recommends them for approval time and time again. At the last school board meeting Vitti recommended one that he said he had “serious reservations” about and another that he said he wouldn’t have approved if they had wanted to set up on the West and North sides of town because he didn’t think they would be successful working with economical disadvantaged kids. The grades of the six closest public schools to the new proposed school are 4As, 1B and 1 C and three are underutilized.
Now the Times Union is reporting that he is recommending the district spend up to nine million dollars to make boundary and program changes to lure kids back who would have never left in the first place had he been looking out for the districts best interests which I thought was his job.
Where is this cycle going to end? If superintendent Vitti isn’t going to look out for the best interests of the city and approving unnecessary and low performing charter schools isn’t, then it is time we found a superintendent who will.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

First year teacher not a fan of the new curriculum either

This is a response from a reader about the super's assertion that a lot of first year teachers like the new curriculum.

From a reader

I am a first year teacher. I started in the middle of the school year last year. I sure hope he's not counting me as one of the new teachers that loves the new curriculum. 

Between that and the constant micro-managing of my time, I am not enjoying my job at all. 

Love the kids, love the other teachers I work with. A district "specialist" came into my classroom and made me feel like a worthless, incompetent teacher because my students were having a hard time with the writing lesson. So I committed a district sin and took a detour from their plans. How DARE I not be using their lessons. 

I've seen more than a few veteran teachers in tears because of the curriculum and/or the time management.

When will the super listen?

Has Vitti ever met a teacher? (rough draft)

I asked the question because several times recently he has said that our new teachers first, second and even third year teachers like the new curriculum because it tells the exactly what and when to do things. I really wonder if any new teachers have really told him that or he just says it because in his mind it sounds good and makes sense.

I guess I could see some new teachers liking it, in some ways it probably is easier just to be told what to do and when to do it but I think for the most part teachers didn’t join the profession so they could regurgitate a script.

They joined to help kids something many feel this new curriculum isn’t doing and they joined because they felt they could be creative and innovative which are things that this new curriculum robs teachers of.

The superintendent was a teacher for just two years at two different schools, maybe he wanted somebody to tell him what to do and when every second of the day but I imagine the amount of teachers both veteran and new agree with him.

I sincerely believe we would have a lot more success if we trusted our teachers to do the right thing and gave our teachers the support so they could do them, rather than micromanaging them and demanding they maintain pace with a pacing guide that is ridiculous. I believe we need to let our teachers be innovative and creative and that we destroy those things to our detriment,

I also sincerely believe we would be doing a lot better if the super understood teachers and why they do the job that they do, because it has become very apparent that he doesn’t.

Just another note the superintendent is preaching patience and that eventually the district will release the pacing guide as teachers prove successful. This tells me he doesn't trust teachers not even teachers with a proven track record of success who are just as critical of the new curriculum and pacing guide. he also said that he believes in year two or three people will really like the new curriculum, which makes me wonder can we really afford to waste a year or tw as we get there? Isn't there a middle ground we could meet?

If the super understood what teachers do and why they do it then we wouldn't be having a lot of the problems we are. It is really unfortunate that he doesn't.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Vitti says it is okay to give up on certain kids if they take too much effort (rough draft)

The superintendent this past Thursday at the WJCT studios said teachers should give up on certain poor performing children. He said for the most part their outcomes are determined and they in a time of limited resources were not just worth the effort. I was flabbergasted, I thought we were always supposed to try and do the right thing even if the chances for being successfully were negligible. 

Apparently the super disagrees.

Record scratch.

Wait did I say students? Sorry I meant to say the reason the district does not fight against charter schools even ones that will most likely do a poor job and hurt children is because often the outcome of fighting against these charters with the state board of education is predetermined. That in this time of limited resources doing the right thing just isn’t financially feasible.

I get it too, it’s 2015 in Florida and the charter industry has paid for some powerful friends, unfortunately they are not going anywhere and even I don’t think they all should. If a charter provides a program that the district doesn’t then I think that charter has a place. Charters are not going anywhere but with that being said why can’t we say no to charters whose business models break the law, are blatant cash grabs, run by charlatans and mercenaries, ones that are unnecessary, would not be successful working with poor children or ones the super admits he has serious concerns about. Why can’t we say no to those?

Why are teachers supposed to do the right things by all their kids but the super doesn’t have to do right by our district?

Two more points, when the super gives the KIPP School as an example of a charter that is performing well he is being disingenuous or ignorant. The KIPP School spends about a third more per student and they have a thriving and dedicated music program and despite this their success has been mixed. I submit that if any public school had access to the same resources they would be blowing the KIPP School out of the water.

Second he talks about how parents want choice. Do you know what parents wanted choice? The parents of the acclaim academy that abruptly closed last March. The parents who sent children to the dozen other Jax charter schools that have closed and the parents who sent their kids to the 300 plus charters that have closed statewide.

Some parents do want choice but the vast majority just want a safe school where they know their kids are getting a quality education. Parents shouldn’t have to depend on the fore mentioned charlatans and mercenaries who would say anything to make a buck to get it. 

The district completely disregards teacher professionalism.

This is from a teacher at a high performing school that has a great track record on the state tests. They point out that the district is making their lives miserable too.

The English dept at my school is extremely successful, high functioning, and full of intelligent, savvy, and fantastic teachers.  And we have had control over what happens in our classrooms because our principal treats us a professionals who know what we are doing.  This year, though, the district has dictated that we, specifically the 9/10 grade teachers, must follow the gradual release model every single day, despite the fact that gradual release was meant to be applied to several class meeting.  Because we are a good dept, we were already employing this strategy because we have had success with it.  But we were told in no uncertain terms by our APC and reading coach, under the instruction of district leaders, that gradual release must be followed daily without exception.  When we pointed out that this model would ill-serve our students, we were told point blank that "this is what the district wants."

Then on our planning day, the 9/10 ELA teachers were told that we have to take 30 minutes from our classes once a week and have our students use Achieve.  No exceptions.  In a nutshell, my problem with Achieve is that the county says it is to have students learn close reading skills, something I already do on a daily basis.  When I bring this point up, I am told that Achieve also models essentially, we have to teach to the test.  I could go on in excruciating detail about my problems with Achieve, if you wish...but for now, I will stop here.

The other problem with the Achieve scenario is that it is not being applied evenly and fairly.  Some schools are allowed to have students complete their assignments at home, whereas for our school, anything a student does after 3p will not be counted.   

Either way, I choose to tune out all these dictates, and continue with what I know will make my students academically successful.

Speaking for myself, I and my vast teaching experience are being ignored.  I would go so far as to say my experience is being purposefully pushed aside for the benefit of producing data.  To speculate as to why would be conspiratorial, but I have theories, as I am sure you do too.

I do not have a problem with district initiatives and do not automatically see them as interference.  If something is good for the classroom, I have no problem with it.  But to dictate to teachers what they should be doing in their rooms, after we have established classroom routines that work for our students, completely disregards our professionalism and shows a complete lack of understanding of just what it means to be a teacher.

Unbelievable right? We are setting ourselves up for failure.

New Curriculum makes parent and teacher feel worthless (rough draft)

The super says just give it time, once teachers and students master the material they will like it. There is a couple problems with that and the first is curriculum never sticks in Duval County as we are always off to something shinier and newer. Second is we are twelve weeks in and for to many students and teachers that is a lost 12 weeks, that they will never get back. A lot of teachers and students don't have years to waste.
This was in my in-box
Just today I was in tears because of the struggle I am having with my 3 daughters in school with the new curriculum. Before they were all A and A/B honor roll students scoring 76 percentile on their FSA, but failing now. My.home is not happy because they are always on punishment or no recreation because we are always doing h.w. or studying. Both my husband and I are educators for the district and if my children are suffering how are the kids who don't have support fairing. Yes, I am public education strong but today I looked at every reputable charter school and affordable private school in the district. I realized the good charters have waiting list and paying 1500 a month for all 3 children plus after care fees is beyond my salary.
So I came home tonight depressed, feeling like a worthless parent.
Here is he thing, I don't know what to do about the math curriculum, it is unbelievable that adults think this is the way to go but the truth is we could fix the ELA curriculum. Step one chuck the pacing guide, the district has to trust its teachers and give them the flexibility to work and to do what they think is best for their kids, next allow teachers to supplement the curriculum with materials that they are comfortable and familiar with and lastly get some freaking books! Does anybody else think that it is crazy for a district with a reading problem to get rid of books? It's madness!!!
The parent and teacher who wrote me is not worthless and if we have a curriculum that makes them feel that way, then the curriculum is the problem. Sadly this parent is not alone.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Does the Times Union work for superintendent Vitti

The original title of the piece was, "Grasp Academy, Superintendent denies special needs school his children go to get special treatment."

The current title is, "Vitti says special needs school doesn't get special treatment."

There is quite a difference there. I wrote the reporter and said as long as you are changing things could you say, I asked rather than confronted the superintendent. I have yet to hear back from her but then again the Times Union doesn't work for me and I have to say sometimes it seems like they don't work for any of us.

#@%$ing Duval County administrators (rough draft)

So I went to the WJCT community thread taping last night where superintendent Vitti and others were talking about proposed changes.

It just so happened that Director of Arts Jeffrey Smith sat next to me. I only knew it was him because he spoke at the school board meeting two weeks ago and I was there.

So I took the opportunity to ask him a question and as many of my questions do I started with a story.

I told him a friend of my wife had reached out to me about Ed White high school. She was considering applying for an open art position there. I told her it was a little rough around the edges but a wonderful school with tremendous potential and she should definitely apply. I however did warn her against just taking a job and making sure that it was a good fit and that class sizes weren't going to be to huge.

She got back to me a few days later and told me she had passed on the position because the classes were fifty kids deep. Sadly not an uncommon occurrence here in Duval.

So I asked him was that to many to effectively run a class.

He kind of shrugged and he nonchalantly said (note these are not his exact words), nah not that big of a deal. I think they have the space for it.

I was flabbergasted, I expected him to say, gosh that sucks, I wish it was different, we have limited resources and we're fighting to make things better. But nope, I got, fifty isn't that big of a deal, heck it's not any kind of deal at all.

I was pissed. I wanted to ask him when was the last time he tried to teach a class of fifty, a third of who probably didn't want to be there and another third bringing their anger and angst to your desk. My bet is never, an art class at Ed White would eat this guy alive.

That however is the problem, we have all these administers shrugging their shoulders saying, just do it, stop whining, or looking at teachers cross-eyed when they dare question or bring up problems. The district has put so many teachers in a position where success isn't achievable and then looked at hem like it is their fault when they don't achieve it. These same people wouldn't last a week in most classrooms.

These suits, this jackhole are ruing teaching in Duval. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The district conspiring to keep parents in the dark about the curriculum.

This was in my inbox, 

I teach 1st grade. We were told we are not allowed to send a letter home telling parents that we are going to teach about the three major religions-Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Admin said Sonya McSwain (director of K-2 Reading) said no. 

Why are they trying to hide it before we teach it? Because they know parents won't like it! And we are not allowed to skip any stories. Half the assessment is on the Three World Religions story!
Also, we just read a story called Hatshepsut. In the story she was told she could not be pharaoh because she is not a man. "Hatshepsut simply replied, 'That is no problem. I officially declare myself a man!'" It goes on to say Hatshepsut wore a fake beard and had pictures and statues made of her dressed as a man and wearing a beard.
Students are having a hard time grasping the unreasonable objectives. They can't see the words, as they don't have books. This is all read aloud that they expect students to remember after one read!

The district should never try and keep parents in the dark even if letting them know will be uncomfortable. A friend floated the theory that the reason we are using this god-awful curriculum is to chase people to charter schools.

I don't think the district is trying to promote religion but most of what they expect first graders to learn is way above their head. For goodness sake Ziggurat was a jeopardy answer the other day.


The real problem with the Grasp Academy.

I was referenced in the Times Union’s piece about the grasp academy as being critical and where I am about the allocation of resources, the numbers to me just don’t add up, I however am not critical about the grasp program.  The bottom line is shame on us as a society for ignoring the plight of so many children with dyslexia for so long and kudos to the district for finally taking steps to help them but you know who also needs extra resources? Children who don’t have the same address as the superintendent. My question is less about money but more about why their needs are going unmet.

The superintendent’s words are very telling. He said, “It’s not just about dyslexic children, it’s about creating a learning environment that is tailored to the individual needs of children.”  That sounds great, the thing is he started with his children first and how many other people’s children aren’t having their needs tailored to let alone met? Ask around, the amount is staggering

There is one important point the piece left out that I would like to clarify. ESE students with IEPs do bring in extra money. The students at Mount Herman are profoundly disabled so they bring in a lot more money. Students with just learning disabilities on the other hand do not bring in much more than regular education students. So it is hard to know how much the ESE students at the GRASP academy are bringing and if that accounts for all the extra resources, but let me ask you this. Is the money they do bring in being spent exclusively on them or is it being spent on their regular education peers too? Quite often special education money at comprehensive schools has been funneled away from special education services because the district does sight based management. That’s once the money comes in it can be spent on whoever and whatever. 

Once again I believe the concept of the GRASP academy is noble and the district should even be lauded for implementing it. We just have to make sure we are not robbing Peter to pay Paul and if it is important that the children there have their needs tailored to, then it should be important that all our kids have their needs tailored to.

The more Scott Shine talks the worse he sounds.

Oy vey beaches really? You picked a pretty clueless guy to represent you.

In a Times Union comment about the grasp academy, he wrote, It is important to know that grasp operates at a lower cost per student than other schools for ESE/Special students on average.

Did I already say oy vey? Apparently Mr. Shine thinks all disabilities are equal and for him to compare the students at Mount Herman’s’ needs with those students at the Grasp Academy show just how ignorant he is about special education issues.   

Then at the latest school board meeting when giving specious reasons to support the new charter school in district two, Shine said, it is important to note that we generally have a near perfect record in charters that we deny who appeal to the state.

How many times do you think charter schools that have been denied since he has been on the board have appealed to the state? A half dozen? A hand full? How about once? If you guessed once then you are right, Shine makes it sound like we are always turning down charter schools and the industry knows better than to mess with us. The truth is Shine is part of a cabal of members that want to privatize our public schools and it’s quite obvious because there is no reason that this charter school should have been approved.

Listen at the 2:49 mark

Then there is his recent call in to the First Coast Connect radio program that was talking about recent problems several board members have had with the super. He called in to defend the super and said, the super is the only employee that can be let go with ninety days’ notice and implied it was much easier to fire him than any employee.

Scott, Scott, Scott, did you mean to say the super and every teacher hired since 2010 when the state ended tenure for new hires can be easily fired? Every teacher hired in the last five years can be fired for any reason or heck no reason. How do you not know this? Yes you can fire the super at any time if you had enough votes but thousands of teachers are in the same boat with him.
Unfortunately there is no link to this episode.

Geeze I thought Fischer was bad but the thing is, I think Fischer is at least smart. He knows what he wants and is going for it and the consequences for kids and schools be damned. Shine on the hand is like a bumpkin just bopping his way through life. How the heck does this guy breathe on his own or tie his shoes? Why would anybody put his in charge of decisions that affect schools and children?

Once again shame on you district 2. You had good options and you picked this guy.