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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cheryl Grimes campaign contributions explained, she is rolling around in charter school cash.

By RBirds

A recent Education Matters post listed the contributors to Cheryl Grymes District 1 School Board race. The post noted the extraordinary number of contributions from people and businesses outside of Jacksonville.  Half of the $18,000 the candidate has raised for her campaign came from contributors outside of Jacksonville, one from outside of Florida.

 Why would someone in Nashville be interested in the District 1 candidate for the school board? For that matter, why would someone in Orlando, Cooper City, Winter Park or Miami be so interested that they donate $1,000 to Cheryl Grymes’ campaign?  Can you, dear reader, even name a school board member in another Florida city or know how many school board districts other cities have? If you are like me than the answer is no, of course not.

 But there is a very good reason why these individuals and companies want to lay out their hard-earned cash for this campaign and it all revolves around pecuniary interest – it all revolves around money. Let me be a bit more specific – money diverted from traditional public schools to charter schools.

 When you think of public schools you imagine a classroom full of students doing their school work, led by a modestly compensated teacher. The same image arises when we think of charter schools. But it isn’t the individual teacher or the single classroom full of students where money can be made. 

Rather it is in the volume. For instance, currently around 10,000 Duval County students are enrolled in 32 charter schools in Duval County, diverting around $54 millions of your tax dollars from traditional public schools to charter schools. Each year a few more charter schools open in the county, expanding the stream of dollars flowing to charter schools.

 In this expanding opportunity to generate tax dollars that the relevance of Cheryl Grymes’ list of contributors comes into focus.  Those odd-sounding companies and strange names a part of a network of  management companies, vendors, leasing companies and advocacy groups all working to expand charter schools and divert ever more millions of dollars to fund the services they provide. Here is a current list of charter school-related donations to the Grymes campaign:

 Miami-based S.M.A.R.T. Management, on the books for a $1,000 donation, will open BridgePrep Academy in Duval County soon and begin that tax dollar revenue stream for themselves.

 School Development HC Finance donated $1,000 to the Grymes campaign, loans money to charter school operations and is owned by the Zulueta family that owns the Academica education management organization. Academica, in turn, operates several Somerset Academy charter schools in Duval County. These two schools generated over $3 million in per pupil funding last school year. Ignacio Zulueta also donated $1,000 in his own name to the campaign.

 Charter Schools USA  ($1,000 contribution) operates seven charter schools in Jacksonville, taking in more than $31 million last school year.  Contributing to her campaign seems to be an exercise in sensible self-interest

 ALS Education Inc donated $500 to the Grymes campaign as well a number of ALS execs donating in their own name: Greg Engemen , Angela Whitford, and Randle Richardson. Their contributions totaled $2,000 – 10% of all the campaign contributions collected in 2016. ALS Education operates Lone Star and Biscayne High Schools that were given almost $4 million last school year. According to the Florida Auditor General, ALS takes 97% of all per pupil funding to teach students, maintain the physical plant, lease the building, etc.

 MG3 Developer Group out of Hollywood, on the books for a $1,000 contribution, seems an odd company to donate to a district school board race. But they build charter schools in Florida and goodness knows we will see more charter schools built in Duval. It should be noted this company has a lobbyist registered at the Jacksonville city hall.

 Mountain Moving Strategies first appeared to be a household moving company but that made no sense. Actually they are a consulting company out of Lake Worth providing unspecified services to charter schools. The company is owned by Eris Arza, spouse of Ralph Arza. Ralph was a South Florida legislator that, according to the Miami Herald, was criticized a decade ago for not revealing his paid consulting work with a charter school management organization (Academica) while sponsoring a handful of bills benefiting charter school management organizations. Arza was forced to resign from the Florida Legislature, according to the Herald, for allegedly leaving racist-laced messages on a colleagues answering machine.

 Of course, none of this demonstrates bad conduct or the promise of future bad conduct by this school board member. However, when over half of a candidate’s campaign donations come from a single interest group – charter schools – it is worth taking notice. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Superintendent Vitti should be let go over Picturegate

Some people think he should be let go because teacher morale has plummeted, communication is terrible, discipline is out of control and our district performance have all gotten worse under Vitti.

A few people might mention his wife stalking a sitting school board member as a reason for being let go as well.

I think it is picture gate that should be the final nail in his coffin.

If you missed it, many of our poorer schools went without school pictures this year, the reason being that the picture taking companies didn't feel as if they were making enough money doing so. The districts response, sure, that's okay with us.

That's right the district shrugged its shoulders and said, its not us making the call so its okay.

from Action News Jax which has been absolutely killing it recently.

Students in many of Jacksonville’s impoverished neighborhoods are getting excluded from a school tradition – picture day.
A parent reached out to Action News Jax about the issue, and our investigation revealed 26 public schools in the Duval school district do not offer picture day for students.
Sandra Taylor’s son goes to John Love Elementary, one of the schools that doesn’t offer school pictures.
She said she is angry but more than that she's disappointed.
"These are memories that you can't get back,” said Taylor.
She said she was hurt when she got pictures of her grandson in Nassau County and found out there wouldn’t be any of her son.
Action News Jax asked the Duval County school district for a list of public schools that offer picture days.
It took 3 weeks to compile all the information. When the information was placed on a map, it showed almost all of the schools that don’t offer pictures are in Jacksonville’s urban core.
Action News Jax asked the district why students in Jacksonville's low income neighborhoods are getting excluded from picture day and was told it's not the district’s decision.
Individual photography companies decide who they serve, according to DCPS.
Officials said: 

While the majority of our schools are able to secure a vendor for school picture day, several experience difficulty attracting interest from a photographer because of the size of the school and/or the low percentage of parents ordering pictures. This unfortunately has been a concern over the years for many public schools throughout the country.
The school district said if schools can’t find a vendor it encourages stakeholders in the community, such as businesses, photography clubs, parent associations and the media, to help fill the gap.
Duval County Public Schools released another statement:

We understand many parents and caregivers look forward to school picture day to capture a historical snapshot of their child. When a school principal experiences difficulty in securing a photography vendor, we certainly encourage community stakeholders to partner and collaborate with school leadership to identify vendor alternatives. Alternative sources to provide picture day services may include yearbook and newspaper sponsors/staff, community and school photography clubs, parent-teacher associations, and local media outlets offering in-kind support

Vitti passes the buck like my Italian grandmother passed the meatballs and that is often. You see its not his fault its the schools faults for being poor. Sucks to be them, there is nothing the district can do, oy vey. Some leadership there right? But its an example how he leads all the time, throw an idea against the wall like paint to see if it sticks and if something goes wrong blame his subordinates, teachers, the state or in this case our poorest children .

I for one am tired of it and believe it is time for a change. Our teachers, children and schools can no longer afford this ineffective leadership.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Teachers in Florida

Becki Couch, we're a 4-3 board

I will be honest Becki Couch's first term was very frustrating. She basically sat on her hands for four years. However since her reelection she has been a fighter. Unfortunately for her and our schools she is in the three camp of a 4-3 board.

Listen at the 1:48 mark, to hear how she puts it.

This is a board not firing on all cylinders. Three members of the board, Couch, Wright and Hll, who were actual educators by the way want to fix our schools while four other members, Shine, Grimes, Smith-Juarez and Fischer, who were not educators with a superintendent who is in way over his head want to dismantle them, try gimmicks or throw paint against the wall and hope something sticks. .

Its worse though because the constituents that Couch, Hall and Wright represent don't want the changes that the district is forcing down their throats and their representatives because they are outnumbered are powerless to stop them, a point Becki Couch makes.

Also listen to Grimes about 1:40, why aren't we a team she bemoans, the gist behind that is if only Couch and the other would let her help privatize our schools then they could all meet at TGIFridays after the board meetings. 

Some more random hypocrisy from Jason Fischer

District 7 last time around you had two other candidates who i believe would have done a good job. Sadly you went with an ideologue who was only interested in advancing himself and his bank account.  You have to do better this time around.

That being said here is some more random hypocrisy from school board member Jason Fischer.

Remember 4 years ago when Jason Fischer campaigned on keeping transsexual students in segregated bath rooms? 

Remember all the times he brought up proposals to keep trans children of which there are only a handful separated?

You don't? 

It's because he never did either of those things though now he is all over the media expressing his faux outrage in an effort to protect our children from transsexuals.

As you read below just remember that Duval County has had the same policy concerning transsexual children in restrooms and bathrooms since 2008 and it only became an issue for Fischer when he thoughy he could score some cheap political tricks.

Below is a quote from Fischer from multiple sources.

“This intrusion by Obama and Washington liberals is exactly everything that's wrong with the DC education bureaucracy, How we teach our kids is best left to families and local representatives who can be held accountable for results."

Oy vey, where do I start. 

Um, but he is okay with testing and common core, admittedly double downed on by the Obama administration but initiated by the "conservative" Bush administration and who did Fischer brag he received support from? That would be Jeb Bush the number one proponent of both high stakes testing and common core.  

Also what is a conservative value? Could it be taking tens of thousands of dollars from for profit charter schools because he can check that off his list? As for local representation, he has to be #$%ing me, the republican government in Tallahassee, which he is currently trying to join, has tried to erode local control at every turn.

If this guy actually believes the things he says, he is an idiot, if he says them without believing them then he is worse. 

Jason Fischer has never cared about our kids, its all about self advancement for him and don't think differently for a second.

District 7 you made a tremendous mistake when you elected him 4 years ago. You have to do better this time around.

Finally lets put this transgender bathroom issue to bed, it was a solution without a problem, and a despicable solution at that.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Some Clay county administrators feel pressured to remain quiet and even donate to Van Zant's campaign

By Laura Mayberry

 It’s no surprise that many teachers in Clay County are frustrated with current Superintendent Charlie Van Zant. We have blogged about it, posted on Facebook, spoken at school board meetings, and written letters to the newspaper. Most of the teachers who are speaking up have professional services contracts. No, that doesn’t mean tenure. No, that doesn’t mean a job for life. It means we have due process. We cannot be arbitrarily let go at the end of the school year. Although any teacher, regardless of contract status, should feel comfortable voicing their concerns and opinions, annual contract teachers live in fear of being told they are “not a good fit” and their contract is not being renewed.

With all of this anger and frustration towards the superintendent and some school board members, why aren’t we hearing from school and district level administrators? Their silence this election cycle is deafening. Many people don’t realize that they are on annual contract too. They fear being transferred or losing their job at the end of each year. As much as the Van Zant campaign likes to use catchy phrases about not bringing Duval policies to Clay (as a slight against his opposition, Addison Davis), the constant shuffling of administrators is a trademark Duval tactic that we have seen a lot of in the last few years.

Clay County administrators have been virtually silent about our current situation, which is a shame. Their insight into district policies and how they have affected teacher morale would shed more light on what is going on in our schools.

Despite their lack of gusto in supporting Van Zant for reelection, there is one critical way that they have shown their “support” for our current superintendent – with their wallets. A quick trip to the Clay County Supervisor of Elections website will show you that the campaign contributions have been rolling in. While I wasn’t there to see those checks being written, one can only assume that for many administrators it was with gritted teeth and after much moral wrangling. I’m willing to bet some of them have never donated to a political campaign in their life. I take that back. Some of them did donate once before – to Van Zant’s 2012 campaign. Interestingly, the donations from administrators were still pouring in even after he defeated Ben Wortham in the primary election. There was zero chance of his losing the general election, yet the money kept coming. Draw your own conclusions there.

I participated in the legislative committee meeting where CCEA vetted Addison Davis. The subject of campaign contributions came up and he stated that he would not seek out contributions from Duval County administrators because it wasn’t right to put them in that position. I wish our superintendent had done the same. Sending district level administrators into schools to encourage donations is ethically questionable. Using any means, stated or implied, to pressure your employees to fund your reelection campaign is wrong. It amounts to extortion. Pay-to-play doesn’t seem like a traditional family value to me. The right thing to do would have been to announce that he would decline all donations from his employees to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

One of the worst parts about these donations is that they are causing rifts at the school level. Many teachers have become disheartened after finding out that one of their administrators has made a donation. While we understand the pressure that they are under and sympathize with them, it still stings. Teachers have been putting their jobs on the line to stand up for their students and their working conditions, only to have their bosses unwittingly help the very man whom many of us view as just a politician climbing his way up the ladder, not an education practitioner looking out for the best interests of all students.

*Upon further reflection, I want to make it clear that the intent of this post is not to “out” specific administrators for their donations. I actually feel sorry for them. I know why they did what they did. They have a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed just like teachers do. They know on which side their bread is buttered. It is a shame that they are put in this difficult position. It’s too bad they don’t have a union that would protect them against this unfair labor practice. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Duval County overriding teachers and pushing through promotions.

First let me say I have never thought it good policy to retain a child based how they did on a high stakes test, which sadly has been SOP for third graders in Florida for years now.  

That being said I have no problem with a child being retained if they don’t master the material they are supposed to have.

Now some may point to statistics that say retained children are at a higher risk of dropping out or entering the school to prison pipeline as reasons not to hold them back.

To which I would counter, pushing kids through just starts a cycle where they fall further and further behind and never catch up only to be eventually graduated out without the ability to do much.

I also believe kids that are retained should get the extra help they need, which may include wrap around services to catch them up.

Finally I am also a big fan of summer school because some children need a longer school year to master the material and less time in between grades so they don’t lose what they have learned.

Okay I have rambled on enough, let’s get to it.

If a teacher wants to retain a student they must now fill out a teacher retention form and get their decision approved by the district, you know, because we need to micromanage teachers more.  

Furthermore retained children can automatically appeal.

This might not be a problem except I spoke with one teacher at an elementary school who said last year every appeal but one was granted by the district. Only one out of dozens was denied. I hear all the time about how teachers are pressured to pass children even if they don't deserve it or haven't mastered the material.

We can’t continue to push kids along and wonder why they are not successful and we can’t continue to blame teachers for poor results when their hands are tied, their decisions overridden and they and the children are put in positions where success is unlikely.

We have to start doing things the right way, even if it is a little harder and takes a little longer. Our teachers and children deserve it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Need a school board member in your pocket? Cheryl Grymes is for sale!

On the heels of taking thousands of dollars from for profit charter schools looking to make in roads in Duval. Mrs. Grymes has taken in thousands more from for profit school management companies.

This past cycle she took in 7,500 dollars of which only 500 came from Jacksonville and friends I can't make this up.

Notice who is not supporting her? Teachers and parents, that's who.

District 1 is there nobody that cares about the schools living there? Is nobody willing to step up and say, we won't let our schools be given to for profit companies who care first about profits and then about educating our children somewhere further down the list. Come on district 1 you can do a lot better than Cheryl "I'll rubber stamp anything the super says" Grymes.

14/2/2016S.M.A.R.T. Management LLC
7990 SW 117 Avenue
Suite 210
Miami, FL 33183
24/2/2016Business Charter Schools USA Inc.
800 Corporate Drive
Suite 214
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334
34/8/2016MG3 Developer Group
1915 Harrison Street
Hollywood, FL 33020
44/15/2016Taylor Smith
6670 Epping Forest Way N
Jacksonville, FL 32217
54/15/2016Richardson Randle
236 Elm Hill Pike
Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37214
64/18/2016Angela Whitford
4451 Gwyndale Ct.
Orlando , FL 32837
74/20/2016Greg Engeman
1302 Golfside Drive
Winter Park, FL 32792
84/25/2016ALS Education, Inc.
2636 Elm Hill Pike
Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37214
94/3/2016Dass Raymond
9710 Stirling Road
Cooper City, FL 33024
IndividualTest PrepCheck$1,000.00
104/17/2016Mountain Moving Strategies, In
7367 Water Dance Way
Lake Worth, FL 3346i7

Charlie van Zant says discrimination is one of his family values. (rough draft)

I personally think the transgender bathroom ban has been a solution without a problem. Transgender children have been using the bathroom they identify with for years now.

I also think president Obama made a mistake with his edict, I think he should have just let the courts handle it because this plays into the far rights irrational fears about executive over reach. When republicans do it, hey who cares but when a democrat does it, then he is taking away our rights and now I have to listen to all the ridiculous, you think its okay for a man to go to the bathroom with little girls nonsense.

All that being said, Van Zant once again proves what a zealot he is and that he has no business running a school district.

This is a direct quote from him speech. "Make no mistake we will not disregard the traditional family values in our community to accommodate the demands of a very small majority."

This makes me angry because traditional family values in the Van Zant home  say it is okay to allow a sycophant to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, which is what he did when he ran for superintendent in 2012 and is trying to do again this year.

Furthermore, this debate was not started by the transgender community. Instead it was created by those who would sow hatred and bigotry, apparently two more of his family values.

Finally, it's not okay that the majority get what it wants at the expense of a minority. That's discrimination, it's that kind of thinking that said slavery was okay, it's all right to round up Jews and and that any group that is smaller or weaker can expect to be persecuted, marginalized and have their rights trampled upon. Van Zant may try to cloak himself in family values but what he is really doing is embracing the discrimination of a group he either doesn't understand, loathes or both.

Clay County hasn't this guy done enough damage? Time and time again he has proved incapable of doing the job.

The district is charging for information

I recently did a piece on Dinsmore elementary using nearly 12 thousand dollars of title I funds on a field trip. I heard from readers that it was happening at other schools too.  So I asked the district to let me know how many field trips had occurred this year that had cost ten thousand dollars or more and were paid for with title I funds.

This is what the district told me:

Your request has required extensive clerical support, supervisory assistance or extensive use of information technology resources and/or costs to copy the requested documents. To produce the request, it will require 30 hours to create, collect or redact these records at a base hourly rate of $17.60.

Please note that we are estimating the number of hours to research and create the requested report. If you wish us to proceed forward at this time with the current information we have gathered, a payment of $528.00 is required in advance of commencing work; therefore, please remit your check payable to:

They also pointed out that charging me was perfectly legal. Pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07(4)(d), the District, as custodian of the records, may charge fees to cover any extensive clerical support, supervisory assistance, extensive use of information technology resources and/or costs to copy the requested documents.

I get it in a way too. We don't want the district to have to go on time consuming fishing expeditions or be forced to research minutia.

That being said, I thought I asked a legitimate question that the city deserves to know the answer to.

I will also say the district is usually fairly good with answering my initial question but often initial questions lead to follow up questions and its there where I am stopped in my tracks.

It makes me wonder how many stories are out there right now that we will never hear about that the district has insulated or protected itself from by charging a fee and a steep fee at that?

The statute says they can charge, it doesn't mean that they have to.

If the media and no I don't include myself in that category or ordinary citizens have to pay to have questions answered then transparency is destroyed and our schools cease to be truly public. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

San Francisco drops Teach for America. It's time Duval did too.

Teach for America takes non education majors, puts them through a five week access course and then sends then to our neediest schools where they are supposed to serve a two year stint assuring our neediest students have an ever revolving door of novice teachers. They aren't cheap either when you factor in the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spend annually on finders fee and all the training that we give that we have to just repeat when they leave and are replaced.  The QEA budgeted 5 million for them over three years and that's not for salaries or benefits folks that for other costs.

Well friends San Francisco has given u on this boondoggle and so should we. 

from Cloaking Inequality:

Someone put this in CA BATs from United Educators of SF:
SFUSD Suspends Teach For America for the 16/17 School Year
This week we learned that the SFUSD Board of Education has pulled support for the Teach for America (TFA) program for the 16/17 school year. While we celebrate and respect TFA teachers who commit themselves to our schools, the reality is that the program has a retention rate of just 17%. With the teachers often placed in high needs schools, TFA essentially institutionalizes turnover in these schools, robbing our school communities of the stability and continuity that we desperately need.
We commend the Board for their decision and look forward to working with them to build more successful and sustainable programs to bring new teachers into the district, including the nationally recognized Teacher Residency program and the expanding para-to-teacher program.
Hear from TFA alums and teachers… binge listen to the entire Truth For America podcast series on YouTube here or iTunes here.
Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below and/or reblog to share this discussion with others.
Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button on the home page.

Using fear and intimidation are apparently Vitti family traits

First let me say I have met the superintendent numerous times and generally he has taken the time to answer my questions, as critical as I am that can’t be easy and he deserves kudos for it. I also don’t want to be that guy who hates puppies just because he likes them. The parent academy is genius, him bringing back the arts though ham-fisted was the right move and this administration can write a grant better than just about anybody.

All that being said I think the district is worse off since he arrived and perhaps the biggest problems is that he runs the district through fear and intimidation and please don’t take my word for it ask a teacher or an admin. I have heard time and time again, please keep my name out of it because I don’t want to be fired or messed with when teachers have come to me with stories. Sometimes it’s over mundane stuff but other times it’s over things that negatively affect children. I am sitting on stories I can’t tell because after people came to me they asked me not to write about them because they are afraid they will lose their jobs. The bottom line is a lot of the district work in fear of speaking up because they are afraid the super or one of his minions will make them pay for it.

Apparently with the revelation that his wife Rachel Vitti followed school board member Connie Hall after a school board meeting where she introduced a letter to be put in his file because of what she and at least two other school board members deemed inappropriate to them, demeanor, using fear and intimidation are apparently common Vitti family traits.

Nobody I have talked to with one notable exception (and if you PM I will tell you who) buys for a second that Rachel Vitti and Wendy LeHockey, Vitti’s chief of staff, parked across from Hall’s car waited, moved to the back of the parking lot and waited and waited and then just by coincidence followed Hall out.

The entire story is kind of crazy too. Vitti, took LeHockey’s car home, because Rachel and her wanted to talk and apparently she doesn’t drive in the rain and they may have taken some of the same streets but they can’t say for sure it was Hall was in front of them or not? Oy vey.

I can’t be completely sure what was going on in Vitti and LeHockey’s heads (and how does LeHockey still have a job, if a teacher or another employee did the same, followed a school board member home then they would have been fired) but I believe she was mad and wanted to put a scare into Hall, as in don’t you dare mess with my man kind of scare.

Look, I don’t believe what Rachel Vitti did is anything approaching criminal, though if Hall felt intimidated or scared that could be considered assault, I think she just exercised in a moment of anger, bad judgement. Just like the superintendent does when he daily treats teachers like easily replaceable cogs, and refuses to value their input.     

We have problems in the district and they aren’t going to fixed as long as we have a teacher corps, that feels marginalized and intimidated.

To see the tapes of Vitti and LeHockey waiting for Hall and then following her out, click the link.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Dinsmore elementary spends nearly 12 thousand in title I dollars on a field trip.

On Saturday night I put up a piece that said they were spending 150 thousand dollars on a field trip and that was obviously wrong and for that I apologize.

When I got the tip I reached out to the district and thought they had confirmed above. I was so blown away I asked them to confirm it a second time, but what they actually confirmed was Dinsmore had received 150k in title I funds and was using some of that money on a field trip.

It wasn't till the third time I asked and to their credit the district kept answering, that we got on the same page. Then today they let me know that the school was spending a little less than 12 thousand dollars on the trip.

So again let me apologize, It is never my intent to get things wrong and if I do or anybody thinks I have something wrong, I hope theywill point it out. That being said, I don't feel a whole lot better about them spending just 12 thousand dollars.

I struggled with writing this because I believe these kids deserve a trip like this, especially our poorer kids who rarely if ever get to experience something like this. I just don't think that title I funds should be used in this manner. I believe the money should be used on things that will have a lasting benefit.

Going on a trip is great but you know what the kids really need even though it doesn't sound as fun? Reliable printers with ink and teachers with access to printer paper. Classroom libraries, or a tutor. I think there are so many more things, more important and long lasting, that we could spend the money on. Though I get it, a trip to Lego Land sounds like a blast but we shouldn't think for a second that this is academic enrichment which is what title I funds are supposed to pay for.

This is the type of trip that the school should spend a year fundraising for, going to its business partners, involving the PTA or what the QEA should be paying for rather than Teach for America or an expensive and doomed to fail merit pay scam.  

It's not just Dinsmore either, I hear Southside Estates, Pinedale and numerous other schools are taking title I funds and using them to pay for trips too and where its perfectly legal for them to do so, again I believe there is a better use of our limited funds.

Feel free to disagree.

Clay County faux superintendent candidate and Van Zant sycophant, Fred Gottshalk bad mouths teachers

Let me let his words do the talking for him.

The problem that Gottshalk and his ilk don't understand is that most teachers love what they do because to them teaching is not a job its a calling. It's not their "job" that they don't like, but the imbeciles way the people in charge are doing their jobs.

He makes it sound like all teachers care about is pay and if they wanted more all they would have to do is take a few classes to get it.  That's ridiculous and teachers know they aren't going to be rich but it's Clay county's shame that many have to take a second job, haven't had raises in years and allowed to be treated so shoddily by their administrator and ignorant citizens like Gottshalk.

This Van Zant sycophant is despicable but so is Van Zant himself. He could say to his supporter, disenfranchising tens of thousands of people many of who are parents is not right even if it would give me an advantage and that Gottshalk should drop out. Do you think he will? Of course not because all Van Zant is, is an opportunist looking for personal advancement.

Clay county you have something special there, don't ruin it by continuing to allow Van Zant to drive the district into a ditch and then change the election rules so people like Gottshalk have no recourse but to slink back in their troll caves where they belong.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

There is something wrong with the way the nation treats teachers

The Immorality of Algebra 1A

From an educator

Let me start by saying that I hate writing anonymously. Unfortunately, my concern is that this post could be somehow held against me. I love my job. I love the people I work with and the students we serve. I just can’t do anything that might jeopardize what I feel is my life’s calling. I come from a long line of public educators. We work at every level…in the classroom, as interventionists, coaches, regular ed, special ed, administrators, and as district coordinators. My children go to a public school in Duval. We make them ride the bus. It’s good for them. It’s one of the thousand ways we are “public education strong.”    

I’ve taught students from Fletcher to Westside, even downtown, from sixth grade to twelve. Under old and new evaluation systems I’ve been measured highly effective. I’m not a malcontent. I don’t spend time complaining in the teacher’s lounge. I’ve survived this long by knowing that what I dislike in public education is usually gone in a few years. So I keep my head down, stay positive and do my best for kids. But now, something has reared its head that I can’t stay quiet about. Its the new DCPS scheduling guidelines that place high school students in a middle school course called “Algebra 1A.”

            Historically, the latest a student will take Algebra 1 for the first time is 9th grade. On January 19th, as an administrator for a large math department, I received an email from Addison Davis. It laid out guidelines to move any student that was at risk of failing Algebra 1 into what is traditionally a middle school course called Algebra 1A. Here’s an excerpt from that email:

“In analyzing the Algebra 1 /Algebra II mid-year performance, there is a need to change a number of student schedules to Algebra IA/LAM II for the second semester.  This will allow our students to strengthen their understanding and confidence in Algebra in order to complete high school graduation requirements.

All recommended schedule changes will be based on student’s performance data on the mid-year scrimmage state assessment exam (below 25% percent of questions answered correctly) and their current academic status in Algebra 1/Algebra II  (“D” or “F” in the class).”

There were several problems with the above guidelines and reasoning. The first major problem is that the district average score on the “mid-year scrimmage” was 23.7% (session 1) and 35.8% (session 2)! Out of the 6969 DCPS students who took Session 1 of the Algebra mid-year scrimmage, only 13 scored proficient. 13!!! I don’t flaunt my Master’s degree in Education, but I know enough to know that the scrimmage was not a valid test. It should not be used for decision-making. The second problem was that the students moved to Algebra 1A were really not moved at all. No, they were left in their same Algebra 1 classes. Same teacher, no additional support, no added technology or resources. On the surface, nothing was different. It was just an electronic scheduling change that added an “A” behind Algebra 1.

The third problem was that the only explanation the district gave to students and parents was a simple “opt-out” letter. A parent could “opt out” of the move if they contacted the school. The letter advocated the benefits of moving the student to Algebra 1A, but left out the one serious implication. Any student moved into Algebra 1A would not receive an Algebra 1 credit. The student would have to repeat Algebra 1 the next year. Many on our school board champion “choice.” It’s become quite the buzzword. Where was the parent or student given a real choice here? They weren’t.  There were more than 800 students and parents that were affected by this change. Not a single parent asked us in January to “opt out.”

Then last week, a mother called my office and confirmed my own guilt and fear. She wanted to know why her daughter wasn’t taking the Algebra 1 FSA. I explained to her that her daughter wasn’t taking the test because she was moved into Algebra 1A. The mother’s reaction? “When did that happen?” She never received the letter. I serve primarily at-risk students. Regardless, any educator knows that most students who receive letters to take home, just don’t do it. Shoot, my children don’t even bring home their report cards without a fight and they get A’s! The conversation with the mom hit home for me. How many of these parents realize that their student was essentially retained mid-year without them being allowed a voice in that decision?

I had hoped that this would all go away, but our new Master Schedule guidelines make it clear that Algebra 1A is here to stay. In fact, it’s about to get worse and is why I finally decided to write this. The guidelines for which students should be placed in Algebra 1A state: “Successfully completed Pre-Algebra in 8th grade and scored Levels 1 and 2 on the 8th Grade Math FSA.” Historically, more than 50% of the students that take this 8th grade test will score a Level 1 or 2. Let’s put that in perspective. That means that next year, as many as 3000 students will be placed in Algebra 1A at the high school level. 3000!!!

Again, it’s a middle school course. An “acceleration course.” An elective. It doesn’t meet graduation requirements. It means that a student doesn’t even take Algebra 1 for the first time until 10th grade. It means that the results of 1 test in the 8th grade will determine whether or not a student will likely take an advanced math course above Algebra 2. These courses are solid predictor of whether a not a student goes to college and has success there.

Even if they had straight A’s in Pre-Algebra we have to place them in 1A. What if the student had a bad day? What if they had problems at home? What if they forgot their glasses? What if they weren’t feeling well? What if they had an ineffective teacher or permanent sub? The district is essentially deciding the fate of a student. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back to tracking kids. We know which groups will be overrepresented in these Algebra 1A courses. It won’t be kids going to Stanton. It will be kids in our Title 1 schools.

There will be no “opt-out” letter this time. Parents will NOT be given a choice. No, instead we will be creating an entire group of students who were just retained 1 year without knowing it. Why? Who is behind this? It’s not your teachers or administrators. I don’t know one who supports the decision and I’ve asked many. It’s not District HS math. They have made it very clear that it wasn’t their idea. So why? It’s simple. It’s about artificially boosting FSA test passing proficiencies. It means that DCPS leadership can almost remove the lowest 25% from testing on the Algebra 1 FSA each year. It’s about numbers on a spreadsheet, school grades and gold stars on DCPS leadership’s resume. It’s not about kids. That’s what makes it immoral.

If it were about helping kids be more successful in Algebra 1, the district would have ensured that a High school student has Algebra 1 every day, not every other day due to block scheduling. Most of the kids that don’t pass the Algebra 1 FSA ever pass it. Instead they earn a comparative score on tests like PERT. So please don’t say its about helping boost student’s confidence and making them better prepared. It’s not. None of us who actually work with these students believe that.

Let me finish by saying thanks for reading. Maybe I will write again about what they did/are doing with Algebra 2. For now, please, please help me do something about this. I don’t know what that might be. Email your school board member? Make sure your school counseling office calls the parent of any student who might be placed in Algebra 1A and help them realize why this is a bad thing? Go to a school board meeting and say something? Email Dr. Vitti’s office? Demand that Algebra 1A stay in Middle School where it belongs? I wish I could do those things. I’ve voiced my dissent in January and again with the new guidelines but it is apparent that our dissent doesn’t matter. And I love my job. Unfortunately, I can only push so far without being fearful of repercussions.


Math Admin

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

If the district got the amount of guns in our schools wrong what else are they wrong about?

Channel 12 is reporting the district is under reporting the amount of gun incidents in our schools. sigh...

You know because sometimes there are challenges. I don't think it should be lost on anybody that this report came out just a few days after the district reported discipline is better than ever.

The thing is if they are wrong about guns. then what else are they reporting that they are wrong about?

My bet is it is a lot.

How the district tried to suspend me or maybe you should be part of the union too. (rough draft)

First let me say I have been critical of the union when I felt they deserved it. I have long said I think DTU has done as good as job as anybody with pay and benefits but I thought we have missed the boat with being accommodating to the district and it hasn’t done enough to protect rank and file teachers from poor working conditions and bullies masquerading as administrators. All that being said they really came through for me.

Sometime in late February I was called into the office of professional practices to discuss an investigation. Initially they wouldn’t even tell me if I was the subject of the investigation or not so I refused saying, no thanks. I was then told it was the expectation that I cooperate. I contacted the union and they agreed to send one of their lawyers with me.

Up until a day or two before the meeting I was convinced it had something to do with school board member Scott Shine calling me a liar in a state wide publication.

I guess him doing so is okay. It turns out however it was about a supposed Facebook exchange that somebody reported.

I wracked my brain and remembered commenting on a news site and somebody coming back calling me an idiot or something to that effect and whether I was particularly outraged or maybe just bored we had an exchange that could only make 12 year old boys proud. At one point he said, Ha I am going to cut and paste this and send it to the district to get you in trouble to which I replied go for it, thinking who does stuff like that and if they did nothing I said warranted any kind of punishment and would be summarily dismissed. Boy was I wrong.

Mind you I had no idea what the exchange was about, what was said, who it was with or when it happened. Basically I remembered a spirited exchange, them saying, I am going to get you in trouble and me saying, go for it.

So when I was called in I was shown a cut and pasted Facebook exchange. I repeated what I wrote above to the investigator, told them I didn’t think I said anything like what was sitting in front of me and asked them to show it to me on-line so I could see what they were talking about. They said they couldn’t. Friends I have to say I immediately lost interest right there and thought the matter was over as did the lawyer. So you can’t show it to me I asked? No the investigator responded. Did any of my parents, colleagues or students complain? No again said the investigator. What a complete waste of time I thought.

That was until late March when the superintendent recommended a five day suspension for me, saying I had two ethics violation. The lawyer and I were both stunned. So I said lets fight it, this has nothing to do with evidence or facts, this is the super and admin taking an opportunity to punish a teacher that they don’t care for.

The lawyer agreed and was quite confident that it would be overturned by an appeals judge but the nature of the process is such that you take the suspension and later when it is overturned you are reimbursed.

It was at this point I learned who had leveled the charges against me and please forgive me while I put on my Mel Gibson Conspiracy Theory hat. The person’s name is Rick Hoefield and his Facebook page would make your cray cray uncle Jimmy blush.

It is full of borderline misogynistic, homophobic, and racist memes. Furthermore he hadn’t posted anything for years on his page until a day or two before our interaction and hasn’t posted anything since my suspension was handed down. Those are some big coincidences and to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if he was Scott Shine’s squash partner.  Where I have no evidence of that I have seen other comments he made where he attacks and calls people names. This was the districts star witness and a cut and paste face book exchange was the evidence and together were what the district was going to use to suspend me.  

When I discussed what was going on with friends I would use the word, surreal. Let me segue now.

Also some of you might be aware at this time a citizen spoke at a school board meeting bout the superintendent having an affair and shipping his mistress and a love child off.

This is a pretty persistent rumor that I have heard over and over again from many different sources but never found it to have enough merit to comment on. Now however I wondered if the school board was going to punish the superintendent for this accusation not that I think he should be punished but because the level of proof was about the same level that was going to get me a five day suspension. In short, because somebody said so.  

The district came dangerously close to French Revolution standards of evidence for teachers where a mere accusation was enough for somebody to be punished but again only for teachers.

Dangerously close until the union told the district, we’re going to fight this one and the district will in all likelihood lose and a few days later the district came back and said, okay we’ll rescind the suspension and just put a letter in my file.

I am not happy about the letter but I am happy that the district didn’t lower the bar to the point where anything approaching proof wasn’t need in order to punish teachers. I am also thankful that the union was there for me.

Finally when I started the blog some years back, I wanted it to be a place where people, mostly teachers and parents could come together and discuss problems and find solutions. Where I have had dozens and dozens of contributors it hasn’t worked out quite that way and I have done the lion’s share of posting but I never wanted the story to be about me.

The sad truth friends is I just don’t see things getting better in fact I see them getting worse as super after super and board member after board member has come and gone and the problems get worse and worse. I think because of that I have become jaded and a bit snarky which probably isn’t a good combination when you write about people who I honestly believe some may be decent but who are either in over their heads, thin skinned and are there to serve only their hubris.  I recognize that the blog has become a little more biting than it needs to be and that’s on me and that’s something I will work on.

I hope at the same time the district realizes that they can’t just push people around and there is a right and wrong way of doing things, what they tried to do to me falls into the plain wrong camp. 

We me included can and should be doing better.