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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Teachers explain the damage that Vitti and Brennan committed

Vitti had to know Brennan was wrecking First Coast, the exodus of teachers is proof but instead of standing up for the districts teachers and replacing him, he said Brennan was one of the best. A couple of teachers explain how that was far from true.

I am one of the veteran teachers who, after 23 years at my beloved First Coast, left because I could no longer take it.

Many of my good friends left before or soon after me for similar reasons. The toll it took on m
e was so great, I retired much earlier than I had planned.

Your post validates what many of us went through. So unfair & completely unnecessary.

Tim Simmons, the new principal is a wonderful person. I loved working with him. I know he will be loved by students, parents & teachers. I only wish he had been chosen as principal when we lost Mr. Hall.


I personally feel after witnessing what has happened to so many friends who were teachers and staff at First Coast HS, there surely must be enough evidence for a class action law suit against the school board, Vitti, and Brennan. 

The fact that teachers left their chosen profession due to the onslaught of continued demeaning treatment and intimidation by Brennan on a daily basis is ludicrous to accept as normal attrition.

These teachers and staff suffered physically, mentally and professionally at his hands and Viti had full knowledge and allowed this to continue.

I say to all of the awesome, talented, intelligent teachers and staff - stand up and stand out!
Take this to the next level! Think of the complete cost you all have sustained in the wake of this horrible situation.

My prayers are sent out to all of you and my thanks to those wonderful teachers that were there for my children when they attended FCHS.

Finally I would like to point out that these teacchers went through a lot and they both finished their comments with nothing but hope for First Coast's future. That's spirit, spirit that Vitti allowed Brennan to chase away.

How about just a little teacher appreciation

By Greg Sampson

May 2 – 6 (2016) is Teacher Appreciation Week. One grumpy, old teacher has some ideas as to how he could be shown appreciation.

1    1.      STOP turning the lights out every 10 minutes. My classroom is equipped with a motion detector, which means after 10 minutes of no movement, the lights go out. This not a problem when I have classes, as normal student fidgetiness and teacher circulation to groups keeps the lights on. But when I am on my planning period, sitting at my desk, answering parent email or returning their phone calls, writing new lesson plans, reviewing and grading student work, or doing other paperwork my employer demands, the lights go out. I have to get up and walk through the room, even though I am doing the work required of me. That is particularly egregious in the predawn hours (yes, I get to school one hour or more before my contract time) and there is no light to see by. Why do I have to stumble into furniture and wrack my knees to get the lights back on?

2    2.  Let me decide whether I want ONE-sided or TWO-sided printing when I need to print out lesson plans, student rosters, Department of Ed downloads, and other necessary documents. To force a default to two-sided printing … and when I try to make it one-sided, you separate the first page as one-sided and do the rest of the printing as a separate two-sided request. Micromanaging teachers to this level is ridiculous, my dear employer. But the joke’s on you. I now print out two copies of everything. Not only have you not saved  paper, you have extra expenses for toner, electricity, and machine maintenance.

3    3. Give me the supplies I need so I can carry out your requests. Every professional development session I go to, we work in groups and chart our responses. But when I want to do this in my classroom, my supply request for chart paper is denied. Really? But getting teenagers to work in groups, chart their work, and report to the class is deemed “best practices.” But you won’t buy me $30 worth of chart paper for the year even though your budget totals $1.7 BILLION. Not feeling the love.

4    4. Pay my money on time. If you bargain with my union and agree to pay salary supplements, it is not a discretionary expense you can do any old time you feel like it. Why should I wait until late February to receive the money you promised for teaching a hard-to-staff course? Pay me throughout the year, every paycheck, like a reasonable person would. Then you wouldn’t hold to your announced paydate because you said not every principal turned in a list of who was eligble. Really? But as a fellow teacher said, you know what we teach when it comes to sending out the threats of termination for being out-of-field, but you don’t know what we teach when it comes to honoring our contract supplements.

5    5. Stop pushing your great online platforms. I tried to use your testing platform, ran into problems, and was told pointblank by your staff that the Unify platform was NOT for teachers to use. Only test coordinators and administrators should be using it. I tried to give my students the test you pushed, but couldn’t make the online calculator available to them. As a mere teacher, a peon, I am not allowed those privileges. The word you need to find is EMPOWERMENT.

6    6. Treat me like the professional I am. Communicate with me once or twice a month. LEAD, dammit. When I ask a question of district staff, I should receive a direct reply, not a response that came through channels that I cannot talk to them. Your rigid hierarchy is condemning the district to grinding mediocrity. (Not to mention the arrogant egos too many people inflate through such nonsense.) I have good ideas about curriculum. Act like you want to hear from me.  After all, I am the pro in the classroom and can tell you how well a curriculum design is going. Get your noses out of data. It is one source, but not the only source of knowledge about student learning.

7    7. When I tell you the textbook is terrible, you need to believe me. Until you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the classroom, you don’t have the experience I do. You want to raise test scores? LISTEN when I tell you the book is ineffective and the online resources do not help.

I have no illusions I will receive this kind of appreciation. Maybe I’ll get a free lunch one day or a monogrammed pen in my mailbox. That’s all teacher appreciation means these days. But even a grumpy, old teacher still hopes . . .

Monday, April 25, 2016

Clay Superintendent Van Zant thinks the people of Clay County are dumb.

Oy vey from the you can't make this up file and the Times Union:

Van Zant, who is running for re-election to his second four-year term, said in an email to the newspaper that he hadn’t spoken to Gottshalk about his candidacy.
“I’ve never spoken with Mr. Gottshalk or any of the other candidates about why they are running, therefore, I can’t speak to their motivations to run. As Americans, we enjoy the freedom to self-govern. And each of us has as much right as the next candidate in the race to participate in the process,” Van Zant wrote.
The Republican primary for school superintendent already was closed before Gottshalk filed as a candidate. It was closed because Democrat and non-partisan candidates also are running in the general election for that office, county Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless said.
However, Chambless said Gottshalk’s candidacy would close the GOP primary for superintendent if the Democrat and non-partisan candidates withdraw or fail to qualify and nobody replaces them on the ballot. The deadline for candidates to qualify is noon June 24, according to state election regulations.
In 2012, Gottshalk entered the superintendent almost at the last minute as a write-in candidate – closing the Republican primary to at least 58,000 Democrat and independent voters.
Gottshalk introduced himself as a “sham candidate” at a School Board meeting and elsewhere. He also contributed $50 to Van Zant’s campaign as well as displayed his campaign signs. In addition, Gottshalk was among the first to congratulate Van Zant – describing him as a friend as well as an election opponent – when Van Zant subsequently was sworn in as superintendent.
Um, what the beep?!? Even if you like ths guy don't you have to feel insulted that he is A. trying the same trick again, B. doing it with the same guy again C. He thinks people are dumb enough to not think he is involved and D thinks its okay to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.
Van Zant went on to say:
“There are liberal groups out there that are motivated to remove me from office,” Van Zant wrote in the email. “I’m certain that there are those who will continue to misrepresent my conservative values and refuse to recognize the great things happening in our schools.”
 By liberal does he mean people who care about the schools in clay county and think all eligible voters should receive a say? By recognize great things does he mean hiring cronies, a demoralized teaching force, and a debt crisis? By conservative values does he mean that dirty tricks are acceptable? What does he mean?
Van Zant's been a disaster and he all but just said he thinks you're dumb, please show him you're not and vote this guy out.

Let’s talk about discipline in Duval. (rough draft)

I believe it is entirely possible that for years Duval suspended too many kids when alternative punishments were available and I also believe it is possible that too many kids have been arrested when civil citations or alternative punishments could have been enforced as well.

That being said what I know for a fact is that way too many children haven't received anything approaching a consequence for thier poor behavior; now to be fair this was a problem the district had before Superintendent Vitti arrived, he just exasperated it.

If I have heard it once I have heard it a hundred times and that’s teachers have just given up writing referrals because either nothing happens or the situation gets worse as the child returns feeling both angry and entitled because that is what happens when they get away with poor behavior. Likewise this has led to poor behavior in kids who otherwise wouldn’t even think about acting up. When they see their peers get away with it then think they can as well.

In today’s Times Union, they have printed the annual “discipline is better than ever” piece and you know you want to believe it, you really do, I do. I think we all hope that the district is being forthright and honest, and things are heading in the right direction unfortunately it’s hard to believe the district and I think one key sentence is why.  

From the Times Union:

“It’s not by chance (the improvement of discipline), that’s for sure,” Vitti said. “I remember being a dean of discipline in New York City and a principal, always in tough schools. Students are going to make mistakes, and when it comes to your office, you have to make a decision: How are you going to handle it?”

Good gosh reading that sentence pumps me up, finally we have a super in place who has been battle tested and he knows his stuff, with him as a leader its full speed ahead and nothing can stop us right! Right! Right?!?

Sigh except I can read a resume too and this is Vitti’s.

He was the dean for one year at the Fordham Leadership Academy a very small high school in the Bronx. I can’t speak to its enrolment in 03-05 when Vitti was there but right now it’s 371. Look I don’t want to discount Vitti’s service and I bet there were challenging kids there as well, but come on this was not the school that Principal Joe Clark cleaned up.

Now the middle school he worked at as Dean, Joseph Wade middle school, was bigger, 586 kids and I bet tougher too (middle school kids be crazy), but he was only there one year.

Then he wasn’t a principal till he arrived in Miami after first spending one year as an intern to the super and another as the knowledge Information officer in Miami Dade because you know those two positions prepare you to be a principal. He served one year as principal at Homestead Middle. Now think about this, he was a teacher for two, a dean for two more and then he skipped being an assistant principal and after two tears at the district office went right to running a school. Um what am I missing here?  Plus he only stayed there one year! Again I don’t want to discount him being there but to me his one and done speaks volumes.

Oy vey, so yeah he’s right he was a dean in New York for two years and a principal in Miami for one but when you look at the details of his resume, I wonder how he even got those gigs.
I also don’t feel so gung ho that he actually knows what he is talking about.

I feel like he oversold his resume there and resumes are where everybody knows you are already overselling. You may disagree, but that’s typical of how he does everything. Anything that can be spun as positive is the best thing since sliced bread and anything that is negative well, that’s the state’s fault (or our librarians, math teachers, principals and assistant principals). He’s got no control over those things.

Here are a few more statement from the Times Union that are telling”

Though arrests for 2015-16 are down, the 2014-15 year marked the most on-campus arrests in recent years. There were 343 arrests — 82 more than the previous year.
Vitti said 2014-15 saw a lot of community violence and crime spilling over into the schools, citing numerous instances of weapons on campus.
But, he said, there were also examples where school employees could have done a better job in opting to use the code of conduct instead of arrest.
See like I said, last year it was the community and some school employees that should have done a better job. Good things that happen are the result of his leadership and experience, bad things, well ya can’t depend on the community or some of the district’s employees to get it right.

So according to the district arrests and serious infractions are down, but I have serious reservations whether it is because arrestable and serious infractions are happening less frequency or we’re doing a better job at just enduring them.

The truth is we all know that we are in trouble and that things are not nearly as rosy as the super would have you believe. The truth is we really need the truth not flowery statements and massaged statistics if we are truly interested in improving.

Finally if you think i am wrong and you feel like discipline really is improving, please let me know. I would love to be wrong about this one.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Is Van Zant trying to steal another election?

It's common knowledge that Van Zant using one of his church minions stole the Clay County school superintendent election four years ago. His sycophant filed to run as a right in candidate and since Van Zant and Ben Wortham were both running as republicans and only one would advance past the primary if there were any other candidates, this move disenfranchised all of Clay's independent and democrat votes.

This alone should disqualified Van Zant from seeking election not that his ideas and policies haven't been horrendous as well.

Despite there being no need he recommended the creation of Clay's first Charter School, the Clay Charter Academy, which is just a blatant cash grab by Charter Schools USA, and then Van Zant is perhaps best known for hiring his cronies and injecting religion into Clay's day to day. Finally lets not forget how he has been constantly dismissive and disrespectful to the the city's teachers too.

Now word has come down that he is going to try his election stealing tricks again.

from Renna Lee

 Fred Gottshalk – Charlie Van Zants minion has filed to run for Superintendent of School in Clay County. If you do not know who he is, please go and view the tape from last night’s School Board Meeting. He is the older gentleman who has the Big Bible in his hand as he spoke to the School Board. He is the same gentleman that was put up to close the Election last time that got Charlie elected by 1400 votes. You are probably asking why is he doing it again. Obviously, they do not think that Keith Nichols or Rebekah Shivey can get enough petitions signed to qualify as Candidates. If they do not qualify and there is no “Write-in” Candidate, the Election would be an “Open” August Primary and Democrats and Independents could vote! Mr. Van Zant would have nothing to do with that in 2012 and he certainly did not want to take that chance this year. So, as soon as Fred enters the Race almost 70,000 people (Democrats and Independents) are disenfranchised again. (They cannot vote).  

Remember Charlie Van Zant has the church and the bully pulpit. He is a force to be reckoned with. We were forced here, I never intended to be here. We need every Teacher, Support Professional, Parent, Friends and Neighbors to get behind us. Please spread the word! Use Facebook, write letters to the Editor and tell your stories. This rule that allows a Sham Candidate to Close a Primary is not illegal but is it ethical??? You be the judge. 

Friends in Clay County you have to do better than Van Zant, you have to. Don't let him steal another election and continue to drive the county into a ditch.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Alvin Brennan is proof positive the district doesn't care about its teachers.

As news of Alvin Brennan leaving First Coast high school circulates around the district, I can’t help but think about all the teacher whose lives he negatively impacted and wonder who cares for them.

I first heard the name Alvin Brennan in 2010 when he became principal of what was then Forrest high school. He would come into staff meetings belligerent and threatening. He would pick on and harass teachers threatening their jobs, especially ones, mostly women, that he considered weak. There was no sense of comrade and one friend who survived to year two of his reign of terror there said it was a teacher bloodbath.  

When Superintendent Vitti brought him back to the district two and a half years ago to First Coast high school, a successful school with a veteran staff for Brennan had changed little. I remember meeting one teacher at European Street where she told me about how intimidating he was and how the stress was leading to health problems.

In Brennan’s two and a half years there nearly a hundred teachers left, many veterans and some left the profession entirely. They had their lives turned upside down by a man who had known business being a principal in the first place.

I can’t help but think about how many hundreds of teachers and their children who were negatively affected by this tyrant in a tie over the years. Who cares about them and what they had to go through?

A principal like a good coach is supposed to make their staff, their team better, and this isn’t to say they can’t kick the occasional ass, but their number one job is that of a cheerleader. Alvin Brennan was the opposite of this, he ran his schools with an iron glove, and fear and intimidation where the two tools in his tool box, and for the last two and a half years the district has been okay with that as he ran First Coast into the ground.

Now is every principal as bad as Brennan?  Absolutely not but how many train wrecks, or car accidents, or tyrants is an acceptable number? How many teachers run out of the profession or made miserable is acceptable too?

If anybody has any doubt if the district cares about its teachers or not then all they have to do is look to First Coast and see that they don’t.  

So good riddance Alvin Brennan you won’t be missed by many but shame on you Duval County Public schools for putting him in a positin where he could needlessly disrupt so many lives.

Alvin Brennan leaves First Coast

It’s unfortunate to me that he isn’t being escorted out by security but him leaving by any means is good news for First Coast and the community.

As euphoric as people are I don’t think people should forget it was Superintendent Vitti who placed him there and despite overwhelming evidence and a community in revolt, said Brennan was one of the district’s best principals and wouldn’t be going anywhere.  

Brennan either had pictures of somebody or knows where the bodies are buried because there is no way he should have been hired let alone retained.

If you need a reminder about how bad he was, here are some posts to refresh your memory.

I could go on and on.

We should all be glad that he is leaving but we should not forget the poor judgment of the superintendent’s part that both put him there and kept him there. The teachers, students and parents of First Coast deserved a lot better, hopefully now they will get it. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's not just the schools on the North-side that are underutilized.

By Bradford Hall

We hear all the time about how the schools on the North side of town are underutilized and because of that radical changes have to be made.

However, if you look at the Master Planning File you will see that many of our schools are underutilized all throughout the city and many others are heading that way. Saying that we must do something in "neglected" neighborhoods are not inclusive of the entire problem we face in Duval County.

About 80% of the district's schools within three years will fall to less than 85% utilization. In fact, Atlantic Coast is set to hit 70% utilization by the 2018-19 school year. Ribault High School currently holds a 74% utilization, which has drastically improved from 52% over the past seven years. The enrollment at Ribault has continued to rise for seven consecutive years. Sure there are schools that struggle worse than others but the district constitutes safe enrollment as anywhere between 85% and 105% utilization.

Every area in this city within three years will face underutilization. Even with the district knowing this, they have concentrated all changes in one community. The federal government should be here stopping this travesty. Taking away black schools will not stop the mass exodus of students.

I have sat in rotary meetings where elite businessmen, judges and lawyers have told the Superintendent that St. John's County has become more attractive than Stanton and Paxon. Let's face the truth. The real reason Dr. Vitti is making changes is because he has failed to continue effectively managing the learning environment. If you don’t believe me call other large urban districts in Florida and listen to them tell you how nothing impressive is happening here in Duval County.

I think Vitti has done some great things but student achievement is struggling. I'm more worried about student achievement than anything else! We need to become better informed about what is really happening in our schools.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Education Reform in Jacksonville is Millionaires telling poor black folks what they need. (rough draft)

The schools on the Northside of town were long neglected, now do I think that continues? To be honest no, though at the same time I do feel problems there are being addressed both begrudgingly and poorly.

Let’s start with the KIPP School that millionaire Gary Chartrand paid nine million dollars to bring to town to save our struggling African American youth. Here is the thing about the KIPP school, Gary Chartrand wouldn’t send his children to it and nor would any affluent white neighborhood accept it.

It’s no excuses kill and drill philosophy would drive parents and their children away but hey you poor black folk should line up and beg to get your kids in.

Now the superintendent and school board well a majority of the school board two of which are millionaires and all four are republicans fully entrenched in the city’s power structure want to fix the neighborhood schools on the Northside of town by converting several of them to magnets, a repeat of the Paxon and Stanton structure which admittedly gave us two of the finest schools in the country just at the expense of every other high school in the city.

It gets even worse because Superintendent Vitti who hasn’t really been in town that long and the four school board members, Grymes, Smith-Juarez, Shine and Fischer are also ignoring the parents of those communities and their representatives, you know because they know better. Coincidently these are also the four board members that really don’t have any true education experience, and before you bombard me with Smith-Juarez was a teacher, I don’t believe a few semesters at the Bolles school counts.

From the Times Union:

Three board members voiced reluctance about converting another neighborhood school into a magnet school after already making similar decisions for other schools in recent months.
Board members Becki Couch, Constance Hall and Paula Wright said the district should keep R. V. Daniels and Susie Tolbert as they are and instead bolster the programs and academics of the neighborhood schools.
“We can’t magnetize our way into a quality education at every school,” Hall said.
The debate really boils down to two camps, the teachers on the board that represent those communities want to save the schools and bolster their programs and staffs. The non-teachers on the board, the millionaires and representatives of the republican elite in the city, and don’t get mad at me my republican readers, Paula Dockery and John King are and were champions of education, want to destroy those schools and want to dictate to those communities what they should take.
These board members fail to acknowledge that a lot of the problems caused on the North side of town and in these schools is because of them and their ilk. Instead of dictating to those communities, they should be listening to them. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Does Superintendent Vitti routinely violate the code of ethics?

I attended a community learning summit this past weekend whose theme was changing organizations that are resistant to change, does that sound familiar to anyone?

At the summit there were numerous DCPS teachers and they all had a story to tell, and in all their stories kids and teachers were paying the price for the districts policies.

When I said, lets get this out there, lets let people know, they all had the same answer I would love to but I am afraid the district will come after me, a sentiment I have heard many times.

I also received this note today about a blog on guidance counselors that I put up yesterday.

Hi Chris, thank you for your blog post about school counselors! I tried to post a comment on it but I think I may have accidentally posted it with my name attached to it rather than anonymously. I don't think it went through, but in the event that it did I am asking you to please not post a comment with my name attached to it. That could get me in some serious trouble. thank you!

This teacher was living in fear that there name would be attached to a comment.

In the Fall I went to several community meetings, at one a teacher wore a hoodie and a hat in order not to be recognized and at another a teacher presented them-self as a parent not a teacher in order to ask questions.

Teachers are afraid in the environment that Superintendent Vitti has created and I have to say I believe it may have reached the point of ethical violations.

(1a) The educator values the worth and dignity of every person, the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, acquisition of knowledge, and the nurture of democratic citizenship. Essential to the achievement of these standards are the freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal opportunity for all.

I have documented many of the degrading remarks the super has made about teachers and furthermore his squashing freedom of speech is contrary to supporting the nature of democratic citizenship. Many teachers don't feel as if they have any freedom to truly teach as well and all they are is easily replaceable cogs forced to regurgitate the districts failed curriculum.

(1c) Aware of the importance of maintaining the respect and confidence of one’s colleagues, of students, of parents, and of other members of the community, the educator strives to achieve and sustain the highest degree of ethical conduct.

Raise your hand if you have confidence in the super's policies and how he is running the district. If you respect his choices to denigrate and go after teachers and cause a culture of fear. Okay put your hand down if you're a millionaire who owns or supports charter schools or you are an editor for the Times Union. If you envision the vast majority of teachers and a significant amount of the community still have their hands up then you are not the only one.


4. Shall not engage in harassment or discriminatory conduct which unreasonably interferes with an individual’s performance of professional or work responsibilities or with the orderly processes of education or which creates a hostile, intimidating, abusive, offensive, or oppressive environment; and, further, shall make reasonable effort to assure that each individual is protected from such harassment or discrimination.

Ask the hundreds of teachers who have left First Coast high school is they felt free from harassment. The districts main tenant seems to be intimidate teachers. I could go on and on.

Teachers should not be intimidated and harassed or forced to work in fear.

Something has to give and the super seems to be saying it won't be me, well it won't be me either.

Superintendent Vitti says the district doesn't have enough resources to protect children but has plenty to go after teachers.

Recently on the First Coast Connect radio program when asked why the district, unlike other districts isn't pushing back against charter schools which have more than doubled under Vitti's watch and as a group don't perform as well as the city's public schools, he said it boiled down to resources, and do you want to spend the resources fighting those battles.

Well it seems like he doesn't mind spending those resources when it comes to fighting court decisions that over turn district decision to fire teachers.

Once again an appeals court has overturned a district decision to fire a teacher.

This isn't the first time to Vitti has ordered his lawyers not to give an inch to teachers who have fought against their firings and the courts have ordered the teachers reinstated either.

When it comes to teachers there is no quarter given but when it comes to charter schools he shrugs his shoulders and says, what can we do?

I don't want to make any judgements about individual cases, because if a teacher needs to be fired they need to be fired but I also think the contract needs to be followed because if not why have one anyways. The judge in this case says the district didn't and now the super is weighing whether to keep fighting. I just wish he cared as much about our kids to fight just as hard for them. 

The district has a poor reputation when it comes to how it treats its teachers a reputation that Superintendent Vitti routinely reinforces when it loses these cases.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Duval's guidance counselors have it rough too.

I have covered the plight of our guidance counselors before but just recently a few readers chimed in too.

From a pair of readers:

It's not just teachers that are afraid, school counselors are afraid too! Did you know that three years ago Vitti decided that every high school would have a 12 month counselor? So, almost across the board, the low man on the totem pole at every school was forced to move to 12 month or lose their job. Most of them are annual contract so they have no recourse. You either move to 12 month or you're relieved of your duties. It's so unfair! And no one cares! Not one peep from the union or anyone else to back us up. Counselors are on the exact same contract as a teacher. Can you imagine if they try to make a teacher at every school moved to 12 month? 

And guess who's fault it is if the kid doesn't graduate? You got it! Must be the counselor! Never mind that the kid never comes to school, or if he does come to school he never picks up a pencil. There is a tremendous amount of pressure and browbeating that is going on around the district for counselors to drive the graduation rate and post secondary readiness rates. The reality is that we have very little control over these things. 

It's a very sad time to be a school counselor in Duval county.

I couldn't agree more. High school counselors will have to answer to district leadership at the end of the year about why Johnny didn't graduate. They will ask the counselor what he/she did to help the student graduate. Whatever we say, it won't be enough. It'll be our fault, not the student or parent. The student had no responsibility in the process. Don't get me started on the amount of time I've spent maintaining a spreadsheet with all kinds of data points instead of actually working with the actual student. Very sad. The students deserve better and the school counselors deserve district support instead of the bullying and fear that is coming out of Prudential Drive..

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cheryl Grymes takes thousands of dollars from for profit charter school operator

The fix is in. Who wants to bet if she is reelected we'll get a wave of Academia McCharter schools moving in.

Cheryl Grymes just took two thousand dollars from Ignacio Zulueta and his Sunset development. This draws a direct line from her to the Academia charter chain.

District 1 it's time to wake up. Whatever noble intentions she may have had years ago they have been perverted by her getting a seat at the table/ Hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Rummel, Wayne Weaver, Gary Chartrand and all the charter school money  have trumped doing whats right for kids.

She makes me nostalgic for Martha Barrett.

Check out who has given her money. It's a rouges gallery of privatizers and blame teacher types.

When did teachers become so afraid?

As we head back to school I would like teacher's to seriously consider something. It's not reviewing the latest scholarly article or their pedology.

When did teachers become so afraid?

When did we decide being micromanaged, marginalized and disrespected was better than the alternative?

When did we decide testing our kids to death, or forcing a curriculum on them that we know is developmentally inappropriate or doesn't address their needs is okay as long as we have a steady pay check?

When did we decide that our silence was required and our opinions no longer mattered?

When did we decide it was okay to sacrifice times with our family and friends so we can work for free because the system gives us more than we can possibly do while at work?

When dd we become so afraid and all this became okay and is it all really better than the alternative?

I'm not saying we should throw up our hands and quit. Instead I am saying that if we stopped being afraid then we can make things better. The crazy thing is right now teachers have the power. Florida recently declared a critical shortage in just about every teaching position.

We need to stop working for free, from the first bell to quitting time give an honest effort but after that leave it at work. If enough teachers did that then this alone would send a big enough signal that things need to change.

Then we need to write letters to the editor and op eds, we have to let people know and I sincerely believe if they did that would demand better.

It's also past time that people who were never in the classroom or were in it a long time ago dictated to professionals and that instead the people that know what is best for their kids ran the show.

To do that we have to elect school board members and state legislators that understand what it is to be a teacher and what our kids need and we have to understand that often these are the people who are going to get the least in donations and news coverage. We can keep electing people with the biggest bank accounts who often blame teachers and who would dismantle our schools.

Then we have to stop being afraid. The life many teachers are leading is not better than the alternative.

I will be honest there may be consequences for doing and saying the right things but if enough of us do it then there will be rewards as well. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Duval's HR director Sonnita Young, shrugs her shoulders at the district losing good teachers.

At a hastily called meeting to explain why some teachers were told they were getting the QEA bonus one day and then not the next, most of the teachers were upset at the answers that the district was giving them.

The very first thing the attendees were told was that nothing would change (later it was implied that it was their own fault for where they found themselves).

One teacher very frustrated said, you know what I can find another job in another district.

Sonnita Young the district's director of human resources matter-of-factly replied, well we lose good teachers all the time.

I wonder if it took restraint from her not to say, well don't let the door hit you where the good lord split ya.

I hope you don't think I am making light of her remarks. These teachers were recruited to transfer or begged to stay at some of our more challenging schools; schools were gains and job security are often in short supply. Just the year before the teacher above was considered one of the best the district has and now at a hastily called meeting they were being told, go ahead and take off we'll get by without you.

These teachers were justifiably and understandably upset at the fact they were told they were getting a bonus one day and then not the next. This frustration was compounded by the district blaming many of them for not checking their my accountability report and saying that mistakes could no longer be fixed. You know because the district has a deadline for fixing mistakes.

Mrs. Young's dismissal of these teachers frustration and her shrugging her shoulders at the possibility of one of our best teachers leaving is indicative of the administration. They don't value nor do they appreciate teachers. All we are to Mrs, Young and the district is easily replaceable cogs.

Mrs. Young is right, we do lose good teachers all the time and she is part of the reason why.

How Duval County sets teachers up to fail. (rough draft)

As you read below I want you to think to yourself, is this any way to run a district?      

Teachers have this thing called My Accountability where they can check their class lists. If you are in the union they encouraged all their members to make sure their class lists were correct as an incorrect list can have far reaching repercussions. It can effect VAM scores which can effect employment and pay.

When teachers went to a hastily called meeting to learn why they were told they were getting the QEA bonus one day and nothing the next many discovered that their My Accountability lists were incorrect. Some teachers had kids on their list they shouldn’t while others didn’t have kids that they should. They asked if these mistakes could have led to them not getting the bonus, and the district shrugged their shoulders saying it didn’t matter because any chance to appeal ended in February.

Appeal?!? The district basically said that teachers had to appeal mistakes that the district was making.

Some might argue that teachers should have checked My Accountability to make sure their classes were right, you know because teachers don’t have anything better to do. As I said the union sent out an email a while back telling teachers that they should. The thing is what if you aren’t in the union, have a million other things going on or the union email was sent to your clutter folder which they said was a common problem you might have missed the message. Heck you might have trusted the district to get it right too.

I just for grins and giggles checked my accountability and sure enough there was a student who had never been in one of my classes on my list a name I myself had reported earlier in the year. I’ll cross my fingers and hope that he’s doing okay.

Also only in Duval is there a deadline in getting things right. Who cares that it’s mid-April now. A mistake is a mistake right and if the district has the ability  to fix it then instead of blaming teachers and saying it’s too bad you didn’t get the bonus, then they should fix it.

Now think about the question I asked you to ask.

The answer should be a resounding no. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

District lets hundreds of QEA teachers down. (rough draft)

Some of the other titles I considered were, District supposed to give teachers bonuses gives them the shaft instead and District tells teachers one thing and delivers another.

One of the teacher’s I spoke with told me their principal apologized to the staff on behalf of the district all but admitting the district had done them wrong.

What was the problem? The QEA bonuses promised to hundreds of teachers working in 36 of our traditionally low performing schools weren’t delivered.

This is the story that I am being told by teacher after teacher. They were told that their scores would be compared to just other schools in the DTO (Duval Transformative Office) not against schools throughout the district. However when it came time to pay out the district changed its tune and is now going to compare these teachers of children who often show up years behind their peers, against the district as a whole.

The District’s justification seems to hang on three letters. MOU.

MOU stands for memorandum of understanding and its agreement that the district negotiated with the union.

Let me stop right there.
Teacher’s looking to transfer to the DTO schools had to jump through some serious hoops.
1) Teachers were  approached via email in  like febish maybe march 2014 based on the previous year's test scores so that would have been 12/13 scores...highly effective 
2) once you turned in your transfer papers and showed you were interested in the dto schools an observation occurred.
3) Teachers were then interviewed by a panel, including a dtu rep.
4) once those three pieces were looked at you were deemed: highly qualified, qualified or unqualified.

Then it’s amazing that after all that there was practically zero interaction between the district staff and the DTO teachers. Practically all interaction and I am told there wasn’t much after teachers signed on the dotted line occurred by e-mail, very little face to face contact actually occurred. When the superintendent announced he planned to give tens of millions of dollars to some of our best teachers to either stay at or go to the DTO schools, I imagined him or a highly select staff following up with and making sure they were being successful but sadly it turns out the process turned out to be little more than a clearinghouse sweepstakes style email which said, you may be a winner.       

Then when teachers at the DTO schools were being recruited to stay several have said they were given the hard sell to quickly sign on the dotted line. Being at a used car lot with an overly aggressive salesman came to mind as I listened to these teachers stories. Sign now and we’ll figure the rest out later seemed to be the sentiment.

Okay back to the MOU

This is from the contract teacher’s were to sign.
Performance Criteria
Performance Amount
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the silo average by 25%
100% of
Retention/Recruitment incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the silo average by 11-24%
50% of
Retention/Recruitment incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the silo average by 1-10%
25% of
Retention/Recruitment incentive

This is from the MOU
Performance Criteria
Performance Amount
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo average by 25%
100% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo average by 11-24%
50% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo average by 1-10%
25% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive

Notice the change, what teachers were sent says silo average, the MOU however says district average.

Why the change?

Now do I think the district baited and switched a bunch of teachers? Where I wouldn’t put it past them the truth is no, I think this colossal foul up was the result of a series of communication glitches and if you have been in the district for longer than a cup of coffee you know information being passed around or getting to the right person has had its difficulties.

In fact one veteran teacher in her second year of the QEA who has received the top bonus each year told me she has received no follow up from the district, no check in to see how they were doing, no kudos to you message, nothing.

Now maybe the district all along had intended to compare student scores in the DTO schools to the district average, an almost impossible standard if you ask me but the teachers I am talking to universally have said that’s not the case and furthermore this caught more than a few principals flat footed too as they thought their teachers would be compared to DTO schools as well only and thus get the bonuses.

Maybe you can shrug your shoulders if a couple teachers say they were told one thing, I am sure some people would chalk it up to sour grapes, but not when principals also believe the same thing.

That being said, there may be a reason that the district did indeed change course in mid-stream and that’s because they bit off more than they could chew.

This is from an October 6th article in the Times Union:

The QEA fund pays up to $17,000 to recruit and up to $20,000 to retain high performing teachers to the schools.
For instance, this year 834 Duval County teachers were considered high-quality and so eligible for the incentive payments if they chose to work in transformation schools. Although they all were invited, only 41 expressed an interest and eight ultimately transferred into the school, she said.
Last year 38 teachers were recruited to the schools and received the $17,000 and 92 teachers were retained and received $20,000. After release of additional testing data, 46 more teachers received the extra pay.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when 273 teachers were first told they were getting the bonus and then were later told they weren’t.
The bonuses were for high-performing teachers at low-performing schools, funded through the Quality Education for All initiative, according to school officials.
Teachers get paid extra depending on how much improvement their students showed based on the value-added model or student-growth score. On Thursday 273 teachers were told they’d receive the bonus based on scores above the district average, from 1 to 10 percent, but were later told their scores didn't meet the minimum performance threshold.

I don’t want to seem like a math major but 273 seems like a lot more than 176 (the Times Unions total of QEA teachers). According to these numbers this year nobody should have received a bonus.
Except at least some teachers did. Apparently the district has been on a recruiting spree, even trying to sign up teachers brand new to the district not the veterans the program originally promised. One person told me there were now 700 teachers in the QEA a nearly 400 percent increase from the first year.
Did the district go on a recruiting spree and then go, hmm how are we going to pay for all this, I know, we better change what silos we are comparing the scores too?
The truth is I don’t know and that is partly because the district won’t answer any of my questions.
I have asked how many QEA teachers there are and how many got the bonuses and at what percentage, fairly straight forward and you would think easy to answer questions but the district thus far has remained silent. 
The district has been squirrely in another way too. When 273 teachers are told they are going to be paid one day and then a few days later the district says, opps, teachers are going to have questions. So this is what the district did. On Friday afternoon they sent out an email for a Monday afternoon meeting. Not the next Monday so they could make sure teachers had a chance to see the email and make plans to come but the very next Monday.
When the district does stuff like that they are trying to bury the problem. They don’t really want to answer questions and I am told at the meeting the few people that were able to attend didn’t get their questions answered.
Sonnita Young kept saying VAM scores as a catch all, even though k-2 teachers use student growth scores and third grade teachers kids are measured by their proficiency. Furthermore this year’s VAM scores haven’t come out yet. Now they could have used last year’s VAM scores but what do VAM scores have to do with the district silos and if your brain is spinning you know how the teachers who were at the meeting felt as none of their questions received anything approaching a satisfying answer. Nobody left the meeting thinking, oh I get it, it was a simple mistake if anything they felt more betrayed, more let down, and more upset.
I hope you are sitting friends as it gets even more confusing. The union told me that this year’s bonuses were based on last year’s 15-16 FSA tests (I guess except for all those subjects that weren’t covered by it) scores.
You know last year’s FSA test which was universally dismissed as being unreliable and had more issues than Time magazine, you know the same test that was so panned that the school board said it would hold people harmless based on the scores it generated. I mean unless you are a QEA teacher then for hundreds of you it cost you thousands of dollars.
Then what about teachers who are in the first year of the QEA this year and yes now there are some teachers in their first year and second (and yes we should all be wondering who is going to pay when year 4 rolls around and the QEA funds run out), did they get paid for just signing up or were they paid based on the 14-15 school year scores?
Then once again I can’t make the numbers work. In year one there were 176 QEA teachers and now in year two there are nearly 700 of which 273, more than the original class held, who didn't get the bonus. Only second year QEA teachers should have been ineligible for the bonus right, but as you can see more people didn’t get it than who were in the program in year one? Um what?!?
Whether by hook (accident/lack of communication) or crook (on purpose/they bit off more than they can chew or are making things up as they go along) the district has let hundreds of teachers down and that’s not good for their schools or the children they teach and it further undermines the district’s credibility.  We have to do better than this.

Two last things, this is a developing story, I hope to talk to several more teachers about their experience with the QEA.

And the district finally got back to me, they said they would have me something by Thursday, if what they get me clears up any of the questions above, I will let you know.