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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Whose voices on the school board should you listen to? (rough draft)

Today Superintendent Vitti's evaluation came out and there were two distinct voices.

One was represented by business interests who would turn our children's futures over to vouchers and charters, Fischer, Grymes, Shine and Ashley Smith-Juarez and they despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary gave the superintendent a highly effective evaluation.

From the Times Union:

Board members Jason Fischer and Cheryl Grymes gave him 50 and 49.5 points respectively and Scott Shine gave him a 48.
A 46 is highly effective and Ashley Smith Juarez gave the super a 44
The other voice is that of teachers and lifelong educators, Hall, Wright and Couch who had a different take on what the super has done.
Also from the Times Union:
Several board members were more critical about Vitti’s and the district’s performance in the last year.
Hall gave Vitti two points for most of the 15 performance indicators. Two points is the equivalent of “needs improvement,” one level above unsatisfactory.
While she gave him low scores for problem solving using student data, fostering safety in schools, and collaborating with the school board, she gave him passing scores – “effective” – for managing district resources, expanding elective courses and extra curricular activities for students, and leveraging “stakeholder” support for the district.
Couch agreed in part, saying during the board meeting that Vitti has done an outstanding job expanding grants which benefit the district, for instance.
But in her written comments she noted that the district’s overall academic performance means it met only 18 of 29 goals or targets this past year, which is a 62.5 percent success rate.
And Duval has the highest percentage of D and F rated schools among Florida’s big districts, she noted, and the highest number of schools to turn around.
She gave Vitti low scores for gathering and using student data to solve problems and develop district improvement strategies, also for cooperation and teamwork, and for financial planning.
Look even if you like the super how can you with a straight face say he has been highly effective? The answer is you really can't if you use metrics like student achievement and yes I know graduation rates are up but they were heading up before he got here and they are up every where.
What else is up is the number of charter schools as they have increased by over 300 percent under his watch, 
I don't want to be that guy that just slams the super all the time though with discipline, curriculum, admin placements, his relationship with anti-public education businessman Gary Chartrand and teacher morale, he gives me lots of material. Like Couch mentioned this guy can write a grant and even though it was ham fisted he has brought the arts back to the district, both of those things shouldn't be overlooked.
At the end of the day however there are two voices on the board, educators and those who believe choice just for the sake of choice is the right choice. One voice that thinks the super is borderline perfect and another that thinks we have a lot of work to do Which voice are you going to listen to? 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Corruption reins supreme in Tallahassee

Here are the facts, Richard Cochran, the incoming speaker of the house's wife operates a charter school.

She will benefit from a newly passed law that allows charter schools, the lion's share of which are for profit, to access public funds for construction costs after two years rather than three.

Finally even though the public pays this money it will not own the property, nope that will remain in private hands.

Cochran with his hands in the air and saying who me, wants us to believe that this change in the law had nothing to do with benefiting his wife, nope instead its designed to slow down the big for profit charter school companies.

Hey here's an idea how about not giving public money to private companies so they can buy property that the public does not own? 

Don Gaetz all but admits the charter school corruption is rampant in Tallahassee.

From the Tampa Times

They negotiated tougher provisions on charter school capital funding during the final days of the session, including mandates that state money go only to charters owned by the public, nonprofits or groups not connected with charter operations.
Those provisions against "private enrichment" did not make the final bill (HB 7029), which passed the Legislature and awaits Gov. Rick Scott's action.
Many House members lamented the deletion of those proposed regulations. But Gaetz said they could not survive the pushback by "legislators who had personal financial interests, or their families had financial interests in these real estate transactions."

Read that again please.

It's past time we said no to charter schools.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ricky King embraces dirty tricks in the district 7 school board race.

Look I completely get it, I am naive thinking people should want to do things the right way, that being said Ricky King is lying to somebody and that makes me mad.

In the paper when asked about him hoarding opponents potential web-site names he said:

From the Florida Times Union:

King, a 26-year-old former high school teacher of government, said he is following a national example: Until recently the website was redirecting people to a Donald Trump website. Trump’s staffers have denied creating the link.
King said he believes the tactic is effective, and that his rivals would try it if they could.

“Don’t take this as a smart-aleck remark, but … they’re just unhappy that they didn’t think of it before me,” he said.

He embraces this move! I imagine he looked around the room for high fives. This is however different frm something he wrote on his web page.
On his web-page when asked by a voter about taking web sites he says: thank you for your inquiry. Ricky does not manage this page and his camp is unaware of a candidate by that name. However- if you'd like, you can email him directly at

On one hand he says, yeah I did it and the other candidates are just mad that they didn't think of it first and on the other he or his representative says, what who me, I didn't have anything to do with it?

I know it's early but is this who we want on the school board? Somebody who embraces dirty tricks?

Inline image 1

District 7 is the most important race in 25 years and I have to think we can do better than somebody who thinks these kind of tactics are okay.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is Vitti getting worse as a superintendent? He seems to think so.

In June of 2013 the superintendent gave himself 47 out of 48 highly effectives, Only Jesus, Tiger Woods and Micheal Jordan ever received more. That was after just seven months on the job.

Fast forward to today and his self evaluation is a little different, now its still what most teachers would kill for but it's not walk on water.

From the Times Union:

Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti gave himself “effective” ratings in a self-evaluation he turned in to school board members.

That puts him one step below the top rating of “highly effective” but better than the other ratings of “developing” or “needs improvement.” The board will decide March 31 whether they agree with him when each member turns in their own evaluation of the district’s top administrator.
Though if you read the piece he gives himself credit for everything short of the sun rising.
If I were evaluating Vitti I would give him needs improvement nearly across the board with the only highly effective coming in securing grants, even I am impressed with this administrations ability to do so.
Speaking honestly I feel the district has taken a major step back under his watch, mostly because as bad as things were under Pratt-Dannals we as a district weren't in danger of being privatized which is a constant threat with Vitti at the helm.
Has he done some nice things? Sure, but with teacher morale, discipline, the curriculum in elementary school and pushing back against mercenaries looking to make a buck off our children  he has been a failure. 

Funny or Die gets it wrong about common core

Take a minute and forty-eight seconds and watch Funny or Die's common Core spoof.

Now that's some funny stuff and sadly it gets it completely wrong too.

I have heard several Common Core theories which quite frankly I thought were Mel Gbson Conspiracy Theory crazy but I also heard my own superintendent say the following.

At a community meeting an exacerbated couple said they couldn't help their elementary school aged child with her math. They had hired a tutor to help her and they wondered what else they could do.

My super said that they (the district) would be setting up a math hotline to help children and hiring a tutor was great.

Problem solved right, just have a parent call the hotline and/or hire a tutor.

Except what if they can't afford to hire a tutor, or they work nights and can't call the hotline, or they don't know the hotline exists or they live in a county that doesn't have the funds to set up a hotline?. Or a child's parent's just aren't all that involved in their student's school work? Or a dozen other scenarios? What happens then?

We have disenfranchised millions of parents from helping their children do the most basic of computations and that's not funny. If a parent is unable to help their child then we have lost the battle and that's whats happening all over the country.

The cure of common core at least in math anyways is worse than the disease.

I will just throw this in too but I have also seen no evidence that the countries we are trying to catch use anything approaching common core and if they aren't then why are we?

Some early shenanigans in the district 7 race

Some early shenanigans in the district 7 race

Thus far there are six candidates in district seven and a few of them are off to poor starts.

First there is Nick Harding who wrote a Facebook post where he wrote about several to say the least controversial positions.

Then there is Greg Tison who appears to be crossing being elected off a bucket list a he is running for his third different position in four years

Now let’s add Ricky King to the list.

Stacie Dern, Lorie Hershey and Barbara Tascono are the other candidates thus far, take a moment and visit these sites.

As you can see they all take you to Ricky King’s web-page. Nothing illegal mind you but come on!
I don’t want a candidate that is going to try and use parlor tricks to get me to vote for them I want a serious candidate who is going to bring serious solutions to our serous issues.

Furthermore School Choice is always a red flag for me too as quite often that doesn’t mean more options in our schools that serve our children’s interest but privatization.

District 7 is the most important race we have had in 25 years and it’s important that unlike in 2012 we get it right and we need a candidate committed to doing things the right way and buying the names of the other opponents .com isn’t that way.

Oy vey!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Like Ben Carson? Your kids are about to learn all about him.

I know his back story and it is inspiring, rising from poverty to the top of his field helping so many children along the way. I also know some of the crazy things he has said and believes.

and I could have went on and on.

It seems our District ELA department in all its infinite wisdom has decided this is the man for our middle school kids to learn about.

Here are just a couple of the passages that our kids will be taught.

I get it too we are in the bible belt and a lot of people think these are the type of lessons that our kids should be learning but are our schools the proper place for them to be taught? Earlier this school year there was a book called the Librarian of Basra which had a Muslim character protecting books during the opening of the Iraq war and a fair amount of people lost their minds and that story barely mentioned religion at all. Here we have Carson practically ramming religion down people's throats.

Is this really the best we could come up with? Or is this the oh so brilliant idea of a district Ben Carson fan wanting to push his ideas on our kids.

I submit if you want your kid to learn about Ben Carson, then it should be done on your time not in our schools. there are far more appropriate people and subjects we can use.

Finally before someone accuse me of being anti-religion, I will say I practice religion in school all the time. I often pray that this kid or that won't show up and I will be able to teach. I often pray that the district will realize it is giving me an insane amount of work to do in not nearly enough time to do it, I pray that i will get a curriculum that works for my children and I pray that the state will start supporting our schools rather than continuing to routinely kneecap them.

We can do better than this. We should be doing better than this.

The denigration of the teaching profession

By Laura Mayberry

The teaching profession is under attack. Union thugs. Lazy, tenured teachers and their bloated pensions. It wasn’t always this way. Our profession used to be respected. Oddly enough, many of the people who label our system broken and call for major reforms were taught in this very system. This can mean one of three things: (1) Why are we listening to people who are clearly undereducated, having been brought up in such a broken system? (2) These individuals are the oh-so-rare exception to the rule - they are smart and successful despite this system and we should listen to their sage words of advice, or (3) The system isn’t really broken and these individuals have something to gain from the reform movement.

The change in attitudes towards teachers is fairly recent. While unions and their employers have always butted heads, the general public was brought into the fight after the Great Recession. Cities across the country found that they could not meet their public employee pension obligations. Never mind that the underlying cause was that many of these pension funds made investments in assets that were later found to be toxic - a fact known to the banks and investment companies pawning them off on these unsuspecting municipalities. Teachers, police, and firefighters bore the brunt of the public’s anger.

I am the daughter of a 43-year teaching veteran. When I decided to go into teaching 12 years ago, my dad didn’t try to talk me out of it. I think he was proud. I’ll never forget the moment we were walking through a store and a teenager walked by and said “Hey, Mayberry!” My dad looked confused and said “I don’t remember teaching her.” I said, “No, dad, she was talking to me.” We both laughed, and I knew that the rest of my life would be full of these encounters. In my 11 years of teaching economics, I’ve had the privilege to teach almost 3,000 students. Every time one of them tracks me down after graduation to tell me that they started an IRA or saved money on a car loan because of what they learned in my class, I know that I’ve made the right career decision. What other profession can claim this type of impact on their community? I love what I do, which makes it painful for me to hear my own students say that they want to go into this embattled profession. Some of my colleagues discourage them. Some of their parents do too. I try to remain neutral, but it gets harder each day.

When society attacks teachers, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are accused of being minions, manipulated and controlled by their union, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are given scripted lessons and reduced to little more than test monitors, what message is being sent to our students? When schools and teachers are graded on things that are not entirely under their control, what message is being sent to our students?

But schools are failing! We have to have accountability!

Are schools actually failing? Throw out all the bogus school grades, based on ever-changing factors with arbitrary cut-off scores. Throw out all the comparisons to other countries, who have drastically different education systems and criteria for which students get tested. Throw out the “bad teacher” anecdotes that have proven to be the exception, not the rule.

Let’s look at schools as a whole and our children as individuals. Are you happy with your child’s teacher? Are you happy with your child’s learning environment? The survey below says it all.

“Americans continue to believe their local schools are performing well, but that the nation's schools are performing poorly. More than three-quarters of public school parents (77%) give their child's school an "A" or "B," while 18% of all Americans grade the nation's public schools that well.”
This makes no sense. If the majority of parents are happy with their child’s education, why does the public have such a negative view of the public school system? The answer is that we are under attack. 

The education reform movement (dubbed the “deform movement” by many in education) has successfully convinced the average citizen that major changes are needed. Teachers are finally waking up and fighting back, but most of us are too overworked to deal with anything beyond our individual classrooms. We have not been good at being our own advocates, but that is slowly changing. The high-stakes testing pendulum has finally swung too far and many parents are joining the fight.

So what is this lazy, tenured, union minion advocating?

Treat us like professionals and let us do our jobs! Teachers are actually begging to be able to work harder. We want to create our own lesson plans based on our students’ needs, not read from scripted curriculums. We want to create our own classroom assessments and evaluate our own students, not take them to a lab to take another high-stakes test. Perhaps this scares people who think that testing is the only way to hold teachers accountable. Accountability rests at the local level. Parents, mentor teachers, and school-level administrators are in the best position to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Just imagine how much feedback and mentoring teachers could receive if their administrators were not so bogged down with testing and the pressures of gaming the school grade system.
So next time you are tempted to disparage an entire profession or an entire system, please consider a few things:

1.Who is telling you that we are failing and what do they have to gain from that failure?

2.Think about your favorite teachers from your school days. Would the things that made them special be able to survive in today’s high-stakes, micromanaged system?

3.How will starving our public schools of funding and forcing them to compete against charter schools make them better? When crime goes up, do we defund police departments? No. We know that the police didn’t cause the higher crime rate and areas that suffer more need more funding, not less.

4.When teachers push back against specific reforms, it does not necessarily mean that they are against change. The very nature of our profession is change. We readily embrace it when we believe that it is in our students’ best interests. We fight against it with a passion when we know that the only ones who will gain from it are those outside our classrooms.

Proud but tired public school teacher, Laura Mayberry

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When did teachers become the enemy in Clay County?

Was it when they asked for a raise after years of not receiving one  or was it thinking they should have job protections, or maybe them being upset by the fact that their benefits have gone up year after year that made them the enemy? If you think my rhetoric is a little bombastic just look what County Commissioner and mother of school board member Ashley Gilhousen, Diane Hutchings said in a facebook post.

She thanked the police for keeping them safe from a bunch of teachers, who I am told were remarkably restrained given the circumstances. She implies without the police it would have been a blood bath.

Yeah and of course you know only union teachers care about raises, health benefits and work protections. Teachers not in the union could care less about those things, Give me a break! The union isn't the problem in Clay County its the terrible leadership of the superintendent and three fifths of the school board.

Clay county what happened? You had it all and now you are in danger of losing it. Experienced teachers are in demand and if you haven't noticed people aren't flocking to the field.

Such blatant disrespect on the part of Hutchins towards the teachers of Clay county and just so she knows, you can't put kids first by continuously putting teachers last or by trying to make their representatives the enemy.

Also at the end she implies that her daughter and the clay county superintendent are little more than vindictive assholes when she says that they would have given teachers raises if only they wouldn't have gone to impasse. Well I guess she got that part right.

Clay County what happened, you used to be the place Duval teachers dreamed about escaping too but now I imagine it's the other way around.

District 7 gets a new candidate interested in checking off a line on his bucket list

Have I mentioned that Jason Fischer ran for the Soil and Water board and lost before he ran for the school board? Well say hello to Greg Tison who ran for the same in 2012. Oh what's he been up to since then? How about running for the city council.

He probably would have run for dog catcher had he been able to by now.

From his candidate statement,  Among Greg’s top priorities for Duval Schools: expand “student choice” within local education, recruit and retain highly effective educators, and constructively deal with the problem of our aging school infrastructure.

Expanding student choice is usually a euphemism for privatization and that has been a disaster for district 7 and gosh darn it if only we had some good teachers we wouldn't be in the boat we are. Ugh!

District 7 is the most important school board race in the last 25 years. It can tilt the board back from people who want to blow up our district and replace it with a privatized paradise to a board that wants to roll up our sleeves and improve it.

From what I can tell district 7 already has some solid choices and that's what we need, not some guy looking to check being elected off his bucket list.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Teachers are professionals it's time we started treating them that way.

Best and Brightest by the numbers

Duval has 8,284 teachers of which 110 teachers who got the scholarship. 35 of them were first year teachers.

Clay has, 2,700 teachers of which 168 of them got the scholarships and only 4 were first year teachers.

St. Johns has 2,428 teachers, 99 of which got the scholarship of which 13 were first year teachers.

One of the reasons Duval had so few is because the county gives out very few highly effective evaluations. Only something like 14 percent of the county’s teachers received it compared to 35 percent state wide.

I also suspect that the reason Duval had so many first year teachers get it has something to do with Teach for America but to be honest it may have something do with our turnover rates, something like 1 in 8 of our teachers are brand new.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The tangled web that Jason Fischer weaves

Jason Fischer shortly after the end of his second year on the board announced he was running for the state house and in doing so he has amassed quite the war chest.

I would also like to remind everyone that Mr. Fischer had a love for soil and water before he had a love of education, he just lost in that election bid.

Back to his war chest, Fischer has taken tens of thousands of dollars from charter school interests including Ralph Azra (through the Azra consulting group). 

That name should sound familiar as Azra is the former disgraced legislator who has close ties with  his cousin Robert Fernandez, the Miami Lawyer who is the one behind the email and records request that targeted school board members Couch, Wright and Hall, that dug up Hall's, controversial quote, which was released at the same time school grades came out, which I believe distracted the city from our performance.,14234

So Fischer is taking money from the cousin of the lobbyist/lawyer that outted a political rival and who thus far has refused weeks of requests asking why he asked for the emails and texts in the first place.

This was undoubtedly payback for Hall, Wright and Couch voting against a new Charter Schools USA school but what if its more than even just that.

Vitti wasn't going to recommend the new charter schools USA school until he had a meeting with CUSA officials where they supposedly said, we will hold off on opening the school for a year and we will hire an overseerer for all the local CUSA schools, something they have not done yet. It was then that Vitti changed his mind.

What if instead of just saying that CUSA said, we'll also sick our attack dog cousins Ralph Azra/Robert Fernandez on your political rivals too. If Couch, Wright and Hall have any dirt we'll find it and you can use it when needed.

I am not saying that is what happened, but the reality is this is what happened. Vitti said no to CUSA, they had a meeting, Vitti said yes, and dirt on a school board member who routinely opposes Vitti's plans was released by CUSA's close ally who and it shouldn't be lost on anybody, gave money to Jason Fischer.

Friends, charter schools are big business in Florida with millions and millions of dollars on the line. People are getting obscenely rich off them. Charter school money is also building political careers like Fischer and trying to end them like Halls. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Best and Brightest, worst and dullest

Just a quick refresher, the best and brightest scholarships were to be given to veteran teachers who were both highly effective and who whose SAT scores were in the top twenty percent of their class and first year teachers who likewise had high SAT scores. In case you are wondering there is no correlation between SAT scores and teaching and even the people at the SAT think this use of their scores is dumb.

In Duval County 110 teachers received the bonus. Of those 110, thirty-five were first year teachers, that’s right, they were only in their third month of teaching when they had to get the application in.

I have asked how many of those 35 were Teach for America teachers but the district has yet to get back to me.

A third of those that received the bonus had never taught before.

Teachers overwhelmingly rejected the program and the NEA even filed a law suit against it. And not only did the legislature reauthorize the program but now they are planning to spend 45 million dollars.

I am all for teachers getting paid more and had I been eligible I would have applied as well, but this is a terrible and insulting program, that I believe is here to enrich friends of powerful legislators and education figures.

It's really despicable how poorly Florida treats its teachers.

More on this to come.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Scandal plagued executive confirmed to the state board of eductaion

It didn’t make the front page of your paper and in fact there is a good chance it didn’t make your paper at all but something very important happened in Tallahassee this week and that’s scandal prone insurance executive Tom Grady was confirmed to the state board of education.

Tom Grady is a former state law maker, intern president of Citizen’s Insurance and a close personal friend of Governor Rick Scott but do you know what he is not? He is not an educator.  

He joins an orange grower, a cable television executive, a grocer and a consultant. In fact only one member of the current board has any teaching experience, Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey, and that was over a decade ago in New York City for two years as a Teach for America teacher.

Our public schools get a lot of flak but look who is running them? What other industry is run by people who have no experience doing it and would you call a grocer to fix your plumbing? Yet Rick Scott and Tallahassee think we can be successful this way and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the accountability system has unraveled and the terrible common core have been enacted under this groups watch.

It’s past time our schools were run by professional educators who put our schools and our children above business interests. I guarantee you many of the problems we are experiencing would be solved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Superintendent Vitti can’t complain about charter schools while approving them hand over fist.

As usual I will let his own words do the talking for him.

From the Times Union:

He said all Florida districts saw a 213 percent increase in D and F schools during the past four years and Duval saw a 128 percent increase because state leaders made multiple changes to grade measurements and test score calculations, even before the state switched to new exams in the 2014-15 school year.
Add to that, Duval’s rapid increase in the number of charter schools, including failing charter schools, and it can be hard to show school district progress, he said.
“The reality is, of those 59 D and F schools (in Duval), 11 are charter schools,” Vitti said.

When Vitti arrived there weren’t many more than 11 charter schools and since he has arrived the amount has increased by over 300 percent.

How can he complain about low performing charter schools when he undoubtedly recommended most of them?  

Isn’t that the definition of hypocrisy?

The Times Union knows this too but gives him pass after pass. The next tough question they ask him may be their first.

This weekend I will look and find out which charter schools are failing and when they were approved something the local media should have already done.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How Vitti outsourced the district to a bunch of acronyms

First there is T.F.A. short for Teach for America and you are right if you were thinking their arrival predated the super because it did. However nobody has been a fiercer defender of them than the super and just so you know they take non education majors put them through a six week boot camp and then in our most needy schools where they are supposed to serve two years though only a little over a fifth make it there. This assures an ever revolving door of novice teachers for our neediest children.

Then there is J.P.E.F. short for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund what the Times Union ridiculously refers to as an education think tank. They like the super and T.F.A. above and the K.I.P.P. school were brought to town by Gary Chartrand and have been a huge proponent of privatization while at the same time managing several of the districts functions, the annual pep rally and even our teacher of the year ceremony. They also manage the Q.E.A money.

What’s the Q.E.A.? Well that stands for Quality Education for All. It was a bunch of millionaires working behind the scenes to initiate corporate reforms like merit pay and the use of T.F.A. in our schools. I personally don’t think all their ideas were a disaster though there is no doubt the entire process circumnavigated democracy.

Next there is T.N.T.P.  That stands for the New Teacher Project whose overriding philosophy is you can fire teachers to success. Their board is made up of charter school enthusiasts and the person responsible for the Parent Trigger a mechanism that allows for the takeover of schools by charters. It failed to pass twice here in Florida. They conduct the districts surveys and I am told are in charge of more and more human resources functions.

Let’s throw in Charters like K.I.P.P and CUSA too because under Vitti the amount of charters has gone up by over 300 percent.  

I also don’t think it is a coincidence that Gary Chartrand the anti-public education state board member is involved with TFA, KIPP, JPEF and the QEA.

Superintendent Vitti has outsourced the district to corporate reformers and privatizers.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hypocrisy and excuses from the face of JPEF, Trey Csar

I have tried to be polite and even acknowledge some of the decent things that JPEF does but when you strip away all the niceties there is one incontrovertible fact and that’s JPEF fate is completely linked to that of the Superintendent and for that reason only is Trey Csar is attempting to give the super cover for his performance.

I will let his own words do the talking for him.

From the Times Union:

Charter schools muddy the waters of district progress, said Trey Csar, president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund think tank, adding that it’s wrong that the state factors charter grades into school district grades.
“We’ve got to make a judgment about where the responsibility about performance lies,” he said. “The superintendent and school board have no control over what happens in charter schools day to day.”…

Just a few weeks ago JPEF advertised for a symposium about the viability of charter schools where their founder spoke, they have a white paper which says charters under-perform, we need more charters and a half dozen of their board members have charters.

First why would the Times Union go to Csar, he exists solely to give the super cover and second why would they let him get away with this stunning hypocrisy?

Oh I know, it’s because despite the title of today’s article, the Times Union is in the cover for the superintendent business too.

The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, concerned about Vitti's boundary change proposals.

By Felicia Gaines

A letter to the school board.

Greetings to the Honorable Duval County School Board,

It has come to our attention some of the boundary changes recommended by Superintendent Vitti differed from those of the commissioned working groups. Particularly, the recommendations of the working groups that were rejected for Jackson High, S.P Livingston Elementary, and West Jax elementary scenarios. Please continue reading to see our multiple issues with the Superintendent's recommendations. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but we sincerely ask that you please give us an opportunity to relay our thoughts and feelings regarding this matter.

The current recommendations do not align with what was stated to communities at the beginning of Supt. Vitti's tenure here in Duval County. At that time, we were told there would be a plan to strengthen the feeder patterns, which could potentially make neighborhood schools stronger. Therefore, helping schools keep students within there attendance zones, making them more marketable.  It is well known the high schools are the cornerstone for each feeder pattern. High school is where the Duval County Public School System ends its work with children and releases them into adulthood. Thus, it can be concluded that negative impacts to high schools can destroy the entire feeder pattern. Please note in the recommended scenarios we have two high schools involved, that being Jackson and Raines High Schools.

For Jackson High, the situation is quite simple...making it a dedicated magnet means it is no longer a neighborhood school, which negatively impacts the immediate community. In essence, Jackson High School will be closed and the preservation of its rich history will be lost. The school will be reopened with a new name and number and the heritage of Andrew Jackson High School will no longer exist. In our communities, high schools are so embedded into the identity of the neighborhood, that by removing the connection to the neighborhood by disconnecting its students will lead to a devastating gap in community, its members and the school. Though, we as a community understand that more students are needed to fill the school to optimize the space, it must be considered that the investment that has taken place in other high schools in the District did not happen for Jackson until last year. My point, under Pratt- Dannals all neighborhood high schools received accelerated programs, with the exception of Jackson. When Honorable Wright was elected, she attempted to fix this slight; however, the IB program did not last a year at Jackson. In the school year 2014-15, Jackson received an early high school program. Nevertheless, the program hasn't had time to be marketed properly to sustain students in Jackson's feeder program. It should also be noted the size of Jackson's attendance zone, is the smallest in the district. This zone is the only high school in DTO that hasn't been added onto in 25+ years. (Raines and Ribault received students when Paxon was converted to a dedicated magnet, and Jackson lost students when First Coast was opened). If the main concern for this boundary change is to increase enrollment, it would seem most logical to extend Jackson's boundary to gain the suspected overcrowding from First Coast, which originally negatively impacted Jackson's enrollment. Finally, Jackson's program offerings needed revamping 10 years ago, but up until recently this is just being done and I'm sure if given time the programs being considered will become viable options creating unique opportunities for the students living within Jackson's attendance zones and countywide. As a recommendation, please consider extending the boundaries to regain the students lost to First Coast years ago and the whole school magnet option for Jackson, as was done with Ed White.

The Raines High situation is quite different. We feel as though Raines is being torn down at its foundation. Last year, with the conversion of Butler to a dedicated magnet, Raines was left with Northwestern being its only middle school in the feeder pattern. (So, making Northwestern dedicated as well will be disastrous to our community). Now it seems that elementary schools in the feeder pattern are now being re-purposed in the case of West Jax and SP Livingston. We could understand consolidating two elementary schools, but re-purposing them both so that one is not serving the community and the other feeding some of its 3-5 grades to Central Riverside will be a great disservice to those living in the Raines attendance zone. The recommendations as they stand would create a large hole in the Raines feeder pattern that will possibly be too large to overcome. We feel the working group recommendations were fair and a great compromise for both scenarios.

Throughout this boundary process we have been informed if something was not done then our schools will be restructured by the state due to them not meeting state standards. Conversely, we also hear that our schools are doing better and we are headed in the right direction. So, it brings into question ....are we doing so bad that we don't have time to see the QEA plan through? And, if this is the case, then why are we not being told the real story of what is taking place? It seems that mixed messages are being given, which leads to confusion, then to mistrust. What are we to believe? Is it that boundary changes are the ONLY way to achieve the turnaround that is needed? Is the turnaround so urgent that previously carefully developed plans do not have time to be implemented? If so, that would be extremely sad and very hard to believe.

We are asking for patience to see if the plans in place will turnaround the accountability scores, which means the schools will receive higher grades making them more attractive to students living within their attendance zones. Yes, we realize that turnaround work is not easy. Please know that you have students and teachers working hard daily with the plan that is in place and was created by the current team. To make some of the recommended changes now, seems to disregard and not acknowledge the current work of the schools and appears the schools are being considered defeated. Superintendent Vitti has repeatedly asked for time for himself and we are doing the same. Please give us the opportunity to get the work needed done. Last year was the first year for the FSA and we believe progress will be made in these schools this year if given the proper attention and time. We believe in the students and staff at all our schools in Northwest Jacksonville and fully stand with them.

Whatever is decided by DCSB pertaining to these boundary changes will need to be supported by everyone. We will need to get to work the very next day to ensure the success of the children that will be affected. Still, we ask that you make working together easier by listening to the people. The working groups, made up of volunteers for Jackson, SP Livingston, and West Jax, voices have already been disregarded. Personally, as a member of the Jackson working group, I can speak to the students, faculty, alumni, and community members that repeatedly told us they do not want to be a dedicated magnet. They informed us this was the first time they had been informed of an enrollment problem, and they let us know they were committed to doing what they could to increase enrollment. Now, you are requesting participants to voice the same position once more, only this time to Board Members. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc. is prepared to continue work diligently with the District to ensure academic progress in these schools. Hopefully, everyone can come to an agreement/compromise as we prepare to work to make the education process better for our children.

For some, boundary changes are considered a quick fix to overcome accountability requirements. There is usually a cost associated with the convenience of a quick fix. The questions we pose to you today, is at what cost are we prepared to make these changes, and who is ultimately paying the price? It seems to us the price is too high, as the results of this gamble could potentially put us in a far worse position. Take Butler for example, who is seeing its lowest enrollment ever after being converted to a dedicated magnet. Please do not misunderstand me, I believe that given time the Leadership Academies will grow. However, that growth will take time, which we have been told in the scenarios given that no such luxury exists. Then, we would have even more schools being underutilized while waiting for a newly developed program to grow roots, then sprout up, and multiply....POSSIBLY. As to who is paying the price... the children, their parents, and the community these schools serve. In the case of SP Livingston, according to Superintendent Vitti's  recommendation, the children will leave this elementary school after second grade and begin school at a new elementary school. It is our understanding that the basis of K-8 is to decrease the number of transitions a student has to a make, which is suppose to be better for the child and easier for the parent. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc., as lifelong community members, respectfully ask that you do not gamble with the lives of our children or the life of our schools and communities.

Again, our apologies for the length of this message, but we feel our concerns were worth the read and time as we can't force you to see reason but we cannot stand idly by and watch this become dangerous for our children and communities. Please know we invite further discussions on this matter, either individually or collectively. We sincerely thank you for taking the time to listen (read).

Felicia Gaines
Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc

A new Florida law wants to end the practice of charters counseling out poor academic performers. WTF!!!!

You should read that again. The legislature admits it’s a problem and such a big problem that they are going to pass a law preventing it.

From Redefined and House bill 7209

 Create new rules for charter school facilities funding, aimed at outlawing “private enrichment” and creating financial incentives for charters to serve large numbers of low-income and special needs students.

Enact other charter school reforms, like barring them from counseling out students for low academic achievement.

Public schools don’t council out poor performers, instead the roll up their sleeves and do the best they can.

 Then despite that and the fact over 300 charter schools have failed, tens of millions of dollars have been wasted, as a group they don’t perform better than public schools and that was before the legislature was going to make it against the law to counsel them out poor academic performers, despite all this failure and dubious practices Tallahassee is also seeking to make them easier to open and to have local districts share their local property tax money with them, taxes that since they are exempt from, charters don't pay.

What am I missing here? When is enough, enough? 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Commissioner Stewart jumps the shark

I will just let her words do the talking for her.

“We all know there have been questions about opt out and that there were situations where this occurred last year. Section 1008.22, F.S., regarding statewide, standardized assessments, states clearly that participation is mandatory for all districts and all students attending public schools. My belief is that students who do not want to test should not be sitting in public schools, as it is mandatory and required for students seeking a standard high school diploma. Statewide, standardized assessments are part of [the] requirement to attend school, like immunization records. That is our message and what we send to you to be shared with your staff.”

Pam Stewart is the commissioner of education in Florida where every republican legislator is bananas over school choice and says parents know what’s best for their children.

That is…

Unless they want to opt them out of the state’s high stakes test.

Unless they want them to be able to have daily recess.

Unless they want to send them to a school that is adequately funded.

And increasingly as the state works around the class size amendment, unless they want to send them to a school with reasonably sized classes.

If parents want any of those things I guess it is time for them to hit the road. 

I am really starting to believe that the main purpose of the high stakes test is not to assess children but to chase children out of our public schools an assertion that Pam Stewart’s own words seem to back up.

Fear and loathing in Duval County

See if any of these things sound familiar.

Many teachers are afraid to speak up about the real reason their colleagues are leaving Lee County classrooms in record numbers.  As a veteran high school teacher, I am painfully aware of how increasingly frustrated teachers are with our jobs.

Orange County school employees are often afraid to speak or post on social media sites about public education matters, leaders for the teachers union said Thursday during a press conference at the union's office in College Park. 

Sadly it’s not just Jacksonville where teachers feel afraid.

I get it too. If I was on a one year contract and could be fired for any or no reason I would be scared to speak up too. It’s also not much better for veteran teachers with continuing contracts who can be messed with in many number of ways.

Please don’t think I don’t feel the pressure either. A school board member in the press recently called me a liar and boasted that the district was going to put the blog out of business. A week later I learned I was also under investigation by the Duval office of professional practices for something I allegedly said on a Facebook thread a move which I consider to be nothing but harassment.  

All that being said, I truly believe if more people knew they would want better, heck they would demand better. They would demand that we had disciplined schools staffed by professional, respected and valued teachers, we would stop testing kids to death and we would let kids be kids too. Nothing I or most teachers want is unrealistic or undoable.

I want nothing more than for this district to succeed and reach its potential and there have been some positive signs recently, the rejection of uniforms and of an expansion of Engage NY to middle school but that being said we have a long way to go and we’re not going to get there by being silent.

There is nothing wrong with being afraid, sometimes I am, but I refuse to be paralyzed by it.