Superintendent Pratt Dannals gave the Florida Legislature a failing grade for funding. Well friends they aren’t the only ones who should receive a failing grade.
The superintendent has been in charge for over three years now and before that spent a decade near the top of the districts organization chart. During this time he was directly in charge the district have gone through massive budget cuts (nearly 150 million) and at the same time dismissed potential remedies. Years ago when the economy was good I called upon him to propose a one-cent Better Jacksonville plan style sales tax for children and educational issues, similar to what several south Florida cities have done and he ignored the suggestion. He again ignored it last year when I brought it up again at a budget meeting. You would think a superintendent facing such a crisis would be trying everything short of going through the couch cushions in teacher’s lounges.
Now he also seems to be steering the district away from suing the Florida government to uphold the provision in the state constitution, which makes providing a high quality education the paramount duty of the state. New Jersey has a similar clause in their constitution and after some school districts sued their supreme court directed its government to add five hundred million dollars to its education system. Where is our lawsuit Mr. Superintendent? The legislature doesn’t seem to have any desire to do what is right on their own.
Then look at the current issue we are having with cutting sports. Imagine if he would have initiated a pay-for-play program when he first became superintendent? Imagine if the district had charged a modest twenty dollars per sport and put that money in a rainy day account where we would be. I will tell you, fifteen thousand students a year at 20 dollars a pop would have put almost a million dollars away for athletic issues. We could have then used this money to pay for the sports now on the chopping block.
It’s not just the superintendent’s lack of bold moves or foresight that is holding the district back but it is also his vision. The district is all about appearances not about doing what is right for the district and its children.
He touts that all the neighborhood schools now have advanced academic programs well doesn’t this make the need for advanced academic magnet schools redundant? Plus we all know that one for the reasons the neighborhood schools have these programs is because it gives the schools cheap points towards their overall grade. Kids’ taking Advanced Placement tests not passing them is what the state looks for. Finally to show you how ridiculous this is, there are kids at schools all through the district that go from their intensive reading class (remedial reading) to their Advanced Placement classes.
He likes to talk about how discipline is better but what really is better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and toxic learning environments. What would have gotten me suspended for three days at the high school I went to which is also the high school I teach at is all but ignored now. Kids all the time say, write me up, nothing is going to happen; and you know what? For the most part they are right.
Social promotions are also the policy of the day as the onus for failing a class has been switched from the student to the teacher. You want proof of social promotions just look at the numbers of kids that get to high school and can’t read or do math at grade level or the amount of kids who get to Florida State College and have to take remedial classes, which is about seventy percent in case you are wondering. I had a kid ask me what an elk was the other day.
Then there is the relationship that the district has with teachers and how it has deteriorated. It wasn’t that long ago that teachers and the district worked hand in hand but now the district seems to think that teachers are faceless cogs to be cajoled into passing kids and ignoring bad behavior and to be replaced at a whim. Principals are told to go into schools and shake teachers up and if you have read Pratt-Dannals remarks throughout the years, at least in print, a notable distain for teachers can be detected. Administrators and teachers should be working together not driven apart by those at 1701 Prudential Drive, who reflectively blame teachers for the problems in the district.
On his watch we are about to lose one school, North Shore’s FCAT scores dropped and we might be about to lose more. The superintendent has been at or near the top for over a decade and suddenly those schools became a priority to him? He allowed and encouraged a brain drain through the creation of more magnet schools and he ignored the problems they were having namely students walking in on day one without a wok ethic or the basic knowledge they need to be successful. I don’t blame the children for this either. They know what they know because it is what the district taught them and sadly they don’t know much and that is because for about five years now all we have taught them is how to pass the F-CAT.
Furthermore how about the drive to place African American principals and teachers in schools that have large African American student populations? I know some people want black boys to have black mentors but quite frankly and I realize this may be unpopular with some we shouldn’t care if a principal or a teacher is back, white, blue or green. We should be striving to put the best and brightest in our schools regardless of skin color. I know veteran teachers throughout the district who have been told they can’t relate to children of color because they are the wrong color. Subtle racism is alive and well in Duval County and it is being cultivated by the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive.
He also speaks about all the cuts being made: well sir what about your salary, the equivalent of almost sixteen paraprofessional’s salaries. I know after years of cuts you finally gave up your cell phone and car allowances but do you realize you make a hundred thousand more than the mayor and basically the same amount as the superintendents of both Clay and St. Johns counties (considered two of the best districts in the state). Why not take a pay cut so the district doesn’t have to cut its girls tennis teams.
And finally a lack of understanding that not every child is going to college, a disregard for the importance of teaching trades and skills are other problems he doesn’t seem to understand.
A lack of bold leadership and vision and an emphasis on appearing to do well not actually doing well has marked the Superintendents term in office. He is absolutely right though when he gives Tallahassee an F for funding though it might have been nice if he mentioned how the state has badly treated teachers and sped up the privatization of our public schools through vouchers and charter and virtual schools too. I guess those issues weren’t important enough to mention
The thing is I wonder what would have happened had we not had a budget crisis. What would have happened if the state had given us more money than we knew what to do with? I sadly suspect that if we had the same leadership we do now we would be in the same position we are in now. I will let you decide for yourself what position you think that is.
Yes the state for its shortsighted and hurtful cuts on education does get an F, however they are not the only ones who deserve a failing grade.