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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The headlines about yesterdays meeting don't quite say it all about our school board

Just an FYI, I have been called to professional practices next week because I am under investigation, I believe it is either about Cheryl Grymes accusing me of libel, or Scott Shine accusing me of sowing the seeds of dissent.  

This is the thing, if the board sets the bar for what is acceptable how is anything I have written or said approaching inappropriate conduct. 

Look at these headlines.

From Action News Jax
Duval School Board meeting gets heated after a week of tension

From Florida Politics
Broken Duval County School Board, castigates media, each other in contentious conclave.

From First Coast News, 
Division Dissent overtake meeting on Vitti's future

What was in the pieces was even worse. Here are some highlights.

“We are broken” Cheryl Grymes said, in support of a motion by School Board Member Scott Shine seeking to hire a board mediator.

Becki Couch accused Shine of having an “emotionally charged, knee-jerk reaction” to news of the meeting, adding, “Unlike my colleague and the superintendent I have not gone to the media with my concerns.”
Shine forcefully defended speaking to the media. “When I heard this school district is in jeopardy, I will contact the media,” Shine said. “I will never withhold I information from the public about what is going on in this board room.”
He noted that the media attention had filled the chamber with interested community members. Among those in attendance – at least at the start of the 3-hour meeting
Smith Juarez has been unhappy with student achievement, particularly widening gaps between white, black and Hispanic students in some areas .
And she isn’t alone in her concerns. Board member Connie Hall addressed the data.  
“As we as a board received the achievement gap information, I know personally my mouth flew open,” Hall said. “I was in a state of shock and had to sit there and collect myself.”
Shine told reporters Sunday Smith Juarez planned to call for a vote on terminating Vitti’s contract after she scheduled a Friday board meeting for “governance and administration.”
Smith Juarez asked Vitti to better relay information to board members so they aren’t finding out information from news articles. Board member Becki Couch said the same should go for board members.
“(So) that we respect each other enough to not go out and make accusations and give opinions on other board members to the press,” Couch said.
Tension clearly exists between Grymes and Smith Juarez
Throughout that often emotional and tense meeting (if scripted, the treatment would have been penned by the late Edward Albee), it was clear the board has deep, unresolved fissures; one member said outright that the board was “broken.”
As well, there was plenty of scorn and lamentation offered by a few board members for the “media,” which seemingly subverted the board by reporting on its internal drama.
“My question would be, how did we get to this point? The process was very flawed. I’m looking for some reassurance so this doesn’t happen again,” Grimes said, adding that “some of [Smith-Juarez’s] actions” created an impasse.
Smith-Juarez was defensive in response, saying that the previous meeting was ended “without a clear path forward,” saying it was “urgent” to discern that path.
“Our children can’t wait for two more weeks until we have a scheduled workshop,” Smith-Juarez said.
Board member Paula Wright, voice quavering, said that a “spirit of collaboration and teamwork” is not evident.
“It feels a little to me like [the chair] is under attack,” Wright said.
“I’m uncomfortable,” Wright said, attempting to move the conversation from the personal to the policy.
Grimes noted her take: the board is “broken.”
“I’ve heard the community saying ‘get it together’ … we’re not solving the problem,” an emotional Grimes said.
Connie Hall was in a “state of shock” at “achievement gap information,” she said.
“Today’s conversation … was very enlightening and hopeful,” Hall said, saying that it revealed, “what the work is and what needs to happen.”
“As a board, we’re sidetracked with adult issues and not focused on student achievement. I’m so glad that people can’t read my mind, because if they could, we’d need more than a mediator,” Hall said.
Becki Couch, as emotional as many of the other board members, decried an “emotionally-charged, knee-jerk reaction” from some members to the meeting between Smith-Juarez and Vitti.
Couch wondered if the discussion of emotionalism would be applied to a male board chair, adding that she did not go to the “media” with her concerns, and bemoaning the people who pay taxes getting information through “headlines.”
Couch noted that Vitti promised “dramatic growth” in achievement in 18 months, and it’s been three years.
“It’s easy to go to the media and cry foul,” Couch said, adding that she is “starting to lose faith” in the superintendent.
Paula Wright likewise noted she had not had conversations with and through the press, urging talks “with respect” and not in the headlines so that the board can focus on “subgroup data” related to vulnerable populations.
Wright noted that an article that appeared Monday related to this meeting “shut down” communication, undermining the authority of the chairwoman.
“I hear a lot of I-I-I-I,” Grimes countered, “but I’m not sure what the purpose of today’s meeting was” and, “I think it’s very unfair to have us sit here for as long as you want us to sit here … this meeting was noticed for an hour.”
“I can’t do this anymore … I have other obligations,” Grimes said, before leaving.
“I don’t know how we move the conversation to the next point,” Vitti added.
The board will meet Monday to discuss steps forward. And Smith-Juarez urged that Vitti “communicate with the board” as opposed as “through the media.”
Vitti allowed that early in his tenure, he had communicated through the media, qualifying that by saying it hadn’t happened recently; he vowed to speak with the board, before speaking with the press, going forward.
Couch chimed in, saying that she wanted board members not to make accusations through the press.
Shine got heated; he then spoke up, vowing to go to the media if he feels the district is in danger.
Which ever side you fall on, Vitti should stay or Vitti should go you should be disappointed in yesterdays meeting.
The problem as I see it, is do you want to work to improve the district or do you want to tear it down and replace it. Unfortunately the tear it down camp seems to be winning.


  1. I am sorry you have to go through that and sit and listen to the "investigators" ask stupid questions. That just set you up for confusion. Remember less is best. Even when you are on the side of right these people work for Vitti. If he wants you to look bad the report will make you look guilty.

  2. The perfect defense is to tell the truth. You cannot in good conscience idly sit by and remain silent while our schools are besieged by special interests & run by incompetents. Thanks Scott Shine!

  3. I would say nothing in front of the investigators. Exercise your 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Make sure you have a lawyer with you. Let the lawyer do all the talking.

  4. My comments from News4Jax: Vitti forgets he's a political appointee. The fact that he's never has had even a framework of any actual plan since he took the job is almost secondary. He doesn't have the political or social skills for the job of dealing with a board and a public that is tired of his excuses and throwing things at the wall to see if they stick. He goes from one showboat PR stunt to another, Open enrollment, extra hours, uniforms etc.. none of it adds up to anything but more ink for his ongoing publicity campaign to keep his job. The public ate up the farcical "parade of millionaires" when the board stupidly renewed his contract 10 months early and the second the ink was dry Vitti went right back to the abusive bully he really always was. Sadly they are not the only ones who have to suffer for that, every child in DCPS will be effected by his constant reaching for the quick fix statue of liberty play on every first down. It's the only play he's ever had in his book and hopefully this episode marks the beginning of his end as Superintendent. The sooner the better.