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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Testing right before vacation, the DCPS way.

I get it we are in the age of testing and the district wanting to end the first semester before winter break is an idea even I can get behind, though why do all the other local districts already out for vacation seem to be playing chess while we are playing checkers?

All that being said, isn't testing the last few days before a long break a recipe for disaster? A lot of kids are going to miss and even more have checked out thinking of a fat man in a red suit bring merriment and joy.

I ask because of the following note I received. I edited it to take out all possible identifiers. the teacher in question did not want to get a lump of coal from the district.

   Holiday cheer comes in all shapes and sizes!  I teach XXX grade XXX.  Was told, earlier this month, I was not doing mid year PMAs.  TODAY, at 3:10 I was told the District IS REQUIRING xxx grade to do this assessment and the window is only open through Dec. 22.  Tomorrow, Dec. 21 is our school wide Holiday Celebration Day...hmmm...should we cancel that for xxx grade?  Or maybe, let's test kids on Dec 22 the last day before our break...those are sure to be accurate results. Well, maybe we can just wait to test on Jan. 5th or 6th our make-up hurricane dates.  Those dates will be MUCH BETTER because all of our students will be back and "ready to roll."   SURE!

I AM CRAZED by the lack of concern for classroom functions and the impact these kinds of decisions have on kids.  Really, I am living in a state of disbelief, daily.  Since December 1st our xxx graders have already had 320 minutes of testing.  Well, that isn't that much you might say.  The problem is, when kids are absent or testing schedules are "jostled" all over the day to accommodate IEPs...320 minutes means kids are effected for 2 weeks...that is not an exaggeration. are going to add another 80 minutes on the two days before break.  SPEECHLESS does not begin to describe how I feel. 

I have not taught ALL of my students at their scheduled class time for ALL of December.  I HAVE BEEN MANAGING rather than teaching.  It has been RIDICULOUS!  

Ridiculous is right, sometimes don't you feel like we are being set up to fail?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Iranetta Wright becomes the number 2 in DCPS

I have to say, I have heard nothing good about her and her incredible rise. I imagine she has fans and supporters and at least one person, the super must be impressed (insert where she must know where the bodies are buried or have pictures joke here) and I guess in this day and age that is all that counts.

I still occasionally hear stories about her brow beating and ridiculing staff but hey we wouldn't be Duval County if that didn't happen from time to time.

In honor of her promotion I will republish some of the stories that have appeared on Education Matters over the years.

Like with most things in DCPS I will just have to hope the damage is minimal.

Being a teacher is easy

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

What frustrates teachers in Duval

There was an article the other day about a curriculum audit.

The article is kind of non-descript. The only thing I found really interesting was that Education Directions has scored yet another contract from the district (where are the bodies buried education directions?). A few years back they were contracted to turn some of our high schools around and all they really did was make teachers miserable and tell them what they already knew while collecting a hefty pay check.

A few hours later though I received a note from another teacher and they told me that the curriculum review wasn't anything that the district couldn't have done itself and for a lot cheaper than hiring these education mercenaries.

From the Times Union:

 The audit explored only the English Language Arts for elementary schools in Duval County, and is being completed in a three-phase process.

The first phase examined instructional materials, datasets, curriculum guides and products used within Duval County, while the second phase will see how those items are implemented throughout the district.

Call me silly but don't we already have people, and a lot of them that are already supposed to be doing that?

Look I get it, we want to do right by our kids, but shouldn't we know if we are doing that before we start doing what we are doing? What would have happened if they came back and said, geeze Louise Duval the curriculum is a disaster? I mean it is December and the year is half over.

And see that's the thing, it is a disaster, and the district just refuses to ask the right questions. Does it align with the standards, yeah I bet it does, but it is a good curriculum for a district with a reading problem, teaching with a bunch of copied hand outs?

The vast majority of teachers I have spoken with say no and even hate EngageNY, they think it is inappropriate for our kids and doesn't come close to serving their needs, but the admin can now go, hey, it aligns with the standards wink, wink, it must be good.

We're spending thousands and thousands of dollars on lip service and that's dreadful.

My teacher friend also pointed out that they "...have to pay for the copies because my school can no longer afford to do so, there is no ELA high school curriculum and we're basically required to work hours and hours of unpaid overtime  but hey lets spend money on something we should already know to get the answer the administration wants. What a waste."

Welcome to Duval County.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Vitti refuses to name names

So in the paper the other day the super said, I'm not gonna name names or anything but a while back a whole bunch of teachers didn't think poor and mostly minority children could make it. So we transferred them to richer mostly white schools, you know the ones without poor kids. 

From the I can't make this up file and the Times Union:

“Principals are owning what is happening with instruction,” he said. “They’re retaining high-performing teachers, and they’re having the difficult conversations with those who don’t meet expectations. They’re problem-solving with teachers.”
For instance, Vitti said without naming names, some teachers who held low expectations for their students from poor families were transferred from the schools, all six of which are high-poverty schools.
The faculty in the schools now are aware and make adjustments for students who need them to be more explicit or to “break down” lessons, Vitti said.
“They get out of that tradition that says, ‘I’ve taught it, now I’m moving on,’” he said. “Now they might have to reteach it.”

Deep breaths, deep breaths, now I don't want to be that guy who hates puppies because the super likes them, you know who is just anti-whatever the super says and does, just today in the paper he talked about the need for additional mental health resources something I have been writing about for nearly a decade because so often why a kid acts up or does poorly in school has nothing to do with school, so if the super recognizes that and can marshal more resources to dealing with the problem, then kudos to him and we will be better as a district for it, but that being said there is a lot to unpack in that Times Union passage.

First principals are just as often retaining new teachers who don't know they can say no and can be brow beaten into working eighty hours a week, while running off veterans. Good luck keeping them around for long.   

Then the super refuses to name names. Um does he have a list of teachers that think poor and mostly minority teachers can't make it? Was there a survey I missed and that was a question? At a meting did Mister and Miss so and so go you know what Superintendent Vitti, I'm not giving my all because have you noticed that my students are poor? Where is this list of names coming from? 

But say he has this list, he is at the same time saying, I'm gonna just shift them to more affluent schools because they will make more of an effort there. It is just the poor kids that they go through the motions with. does that sound rational to anyone? Maybe to a super who approved a charter school in an affluent area of town that he said he wouldn't let near poor kids, but I think to most of us that sounds pretty ridiculous. Also I have found that a lot of veteran teachers at our poorer schools think of it like a badge of honor, they aren't just collecting a check with their feet up on the table.   

Thank God we got rid of those crappy teachers right? 

UGH!!!! Are you kidding me? 

Why did those schools improve? Maybe it's city year, that is making a difference, or the QEA which pays veteran teachers a kings ransom to go to our neediest schools, and yes I am a critic of the QEA, but not of having veteran teachers work with our neediest students just the system we are using to do it. Maybe it's just one year and we got lucky, or maybe its the new test which the super has railed against which led to the gains at the schools that had all those crappy teachers who didn't believe in poor kids.

I have no doubt that there are great things going on at those schools just like there are at all our schools and for the most part I believe it is happening in spite of not because of the district and I believe I can use the last part of the TU passage as proof of that.

The super says, “They get out of that tradition that says, ‘I’ve taught it, now I’m moving on,’” he said. “Now they might have to reteach it.”

Um, what tradition is that? That's not a tradition I have ever heard of and I have been in the classroom for sixteen years, as for teachers reteaching, most I know lament that they can't because the pacing guide is to be so strictly enforced that any deviation is met with frowns and veiled threats. Is he talking about another district there or is he making up things out of whole cloth like he did with he won't name names thing?

Some of you might be thinking I am being to critical and that the schools and to some degree Superintendent Vitti deserve a victory lap and I agree on the lap. I just wish our super wold say something like, there is a lot of hard work going on at those schools and it paid off. That after all is really what happened.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Superintendent Vitti receives a communication award, um what?!?

This is the same man when talking about recess and the pacing guide has publicly bemoaned that what he tells his top aides does not get to the the district's staff. Many people, including the school board and myself believe communication or lack of it has been one of the district's biggest problems.

After I cleaned up the milk I spit out of my mouth upon reading he won a communication award I did some research.

From the district's press release: 

Dr. Vitti was recognized yesterday at an awards luncheon during the 2016 Annual Joint Conference for school boards and superintendents held in Tampa. Dr. Vitti’s communication outreach included hosting community based “Chat with the Supe” meetings, launching “The Parent Academy” to increase engagement, expanding the use of digital platforms and broadcast programming, and collaborating with schools to develop internal marketing plans to strengthen brand equity. The award recognizes the superintendent’s vision to use traditional forms of engagement, such as frequent town hall meetings and focus groups, but also nontraditional mediums, such as social media and podcasts.

I attended most of the chats with the supe and if he would have actually listened to people I probably wouldn't be writing this blog right now or many blogs for that matter and I think his parent academy is a great idea though to be honest I do wonder how effective it has been. He has also had schools sell their brand, ugh, writing that made me a bit ill, but the reason they have had to sell their brands is because of the proliferation of charter schools under his watch and seemingly one scandal after another since hes been here, his wife following a school board member, baker acting instead of arresting children, the ESE investigation, the department of justice investigation, etc.

As for the other points, are they talking about our dog mascot? What's his name  Mr. Dumbestideaever?

I then looked into the organization which gave him the award. The Sunshine State School Public Relations Association.

It didn't start well as the first thing I saw was a McAfee security warning, suggesting I not go to the site.  Not a good start.

It turns out the organization is 40 years old which is about 39 years older than I thought it would be but at the same time it is sponsored by for profit companies looking to make inroads into our schools. Furthermore I couldn't find out who their members are because you had to be a member to go to the section.

Let's just say I have my doubts about the veracity of both the award and the organization. I will leave it to you to be the judge.

Communication award, wow.

Charter schools that Vitti recommended are closing over Christmas break

Did he approve them because he believed in them or did he approve them because a member of Gary Chartrand's Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Cleve Warren, was the driving force behind them? JPEF if you have been following has both pushed charter schools and partnered with the district to run the QEA funds as well as other programs. These relationships should not be discounted especially as children pay the price.

These schools also managed just Ds and Fs during their short existence will now end up leaving hundreds of families in the lurch and wasting millions of dollars.

I don't believe these are the last of Vitti's charter schools to fail either.

From the Times Union:

Combined the four Virtue and Valor schools took in $4.5 million in revenues last year, most from state and federal sources, but also including donations.
Valor opened its doors in Northwest Jacksonville in August 2014 and Virtue opened in fall 2015. Both middle schools received D’s on state report cards and the high schools received F’s.
This is just shameful and I believe should fall directly in Vitti's lap.

Duval's charter schools share two things in common, as a group they under perform and they have been allowed to thrive under his watch.

I was told by the district that Valor was recommended by the prior superintendent. Sorry for any confusion, to avoid this in the future i have asked the district which superintendents approved which charters,