Best and Brightest by the numbers

Duval has 8,284 teachers of which 110 teachers who got the
scholarship. 35 of them were first year teachers.
Clay has, 2,700 teachers of which 168 of them got the scholarships
and only 4 were first year teachers.
St. Johns has 2,428 teachers, 99 of which got the
scholarship of which 13 were first year teachers.
One of the reasons Duval had so few is because the county
gives out very few highly effective evaluations. Only something like 14 percent
of the county’s teachers received it compared to 35 percent state wide.

I also suspect that the reason Duval had so many first year
teachers get it has something to do with Teach for America but to be honest it
may have something do with our turnover rates, something like 1 in 8 of our
teachers are brand new.

The tangled web that Jason Fischer weaves

Jason Fischer shortly after the end of his second year on the board announced he was running for the state house and in doing so he has amassed quite the war chest.

I would also like to remind everyone that Mr. Fischer had a love for soil and water before he had a love of education, he just lost in that election bid.

Back to his war chest, Fischer has taken tens of thousands of dollars from charter school interests including Ralph Azra (through the Azra consulting group). 

That name should sound familiar as Azra is the former disgraced legislator who has close ties with  his cousin Robert Fernandez, the Miami Lawyer who is the one behind the email and records request that targeted school board members Couch, Wright and Hall, that dug up Hall’s, controversial quote, which was released at the same time school grades came out, which I believe distracted the city from our performance.,14234

So Fischer is taking money from the cousin of the lobbyist/lawyer that outted a political rival and who thus far has refused weeks of requests asking why he asked for the emails and texts in the first place.

This was undoubtedly payback for Hall, Wright and Couch voting against a new Charter Schools USA school but what if its more than even just that.

Vitti wasn’t going to recommend the new charter schools USA school until he had a meeting with CUSA officials where they supposedly said, we will hold off on opening the school for a year and we will hire an overseerer for all the local CUSA schools, something they have not done yet. It was then that Vitti changed his mind.

What if instead of just saying that CUSA said, we’ll also sick our attack dog cousins Ralph Azra/Robert Fernandez on your political rivals too. If Couch, Wright and Hall have any dirt we’ll find it and you can use it when needed.

I am not saying that is what happened, but the reality is this is what happened. Vitti said no to CUSA, they had a meeting, Vitti said yes, and dirt on a school board member who routinely opposes Vitti’s plans was released by CUSA’s close ally who and it shouldn’t be lost on anybody, gave money to Jason Fischer.

Friends, charter schools are big business in Florida with millions and millions of dollars on the line. People are getting obscenely rich off them. Charter school money is also building political careers like Fischer and trying to end them like Halls. 

Best and Brightest, worst and dullest

Just a quick refresher, the best and brightest scholarships were
to be given to veteran teachers who were both highly effective and who whose
SAT scores were in the top twenty percent of their class and first year
teachers who likewise had high SAT scores. In case you are wondering there is no
correlation between SAT scores and teaching and even the people at the SAT think
this use of their scores is dumb.
In Duval County 110 teachers received the bonus. Of those
110, thirty-five were first year teachers, that’s right, they were only in their
third month of teaching when they had to get the application in.

I have asked how many of those 35 were Teach for America
teachers but the district has yet to get back to me.
A third of those that received the bonus had never taught before.
Teachers overwhelmingly rejected the program and the NEA
even filed a law suit against it. And not only did the legislature reauthorize the program but
now they are planning to spend 45 million dollars.

I am all for teachers getting paid more and had I been
eligible I would have applied as well, but this is a terrible and insulting program,
that I believe is here to enrich friends of powerful legislators and education

It’s really despicable how poorly Florida treats its teachers.

More on this to come.

Scandal plagued executive confirmed to the state board of eductaion

It didn’t make the front page of your paper and in fact
there is a good chance it didn’t make your paper at all but something very
important happened in Tallahassee this week and that’s scandal prone insurance executive Tom Grady
was confirmed to the state board of education.
Tom Grady is a former state law maker, intern president of
Citizen’s Insurance and a close personal friend of Governor Rick Scott but do
you know what he is not? He is not an educator.  
He joins an orange grower, a cable television executive, a
grocer and a consultant. In fact only one member of the current board has any
teaching experience, Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey, and that was over a decade ago in
New York City for two years as a Teach for America teacher.
Our public schools get a lot of flak but look who is running
them? What other industry is run by people who have no experience doing it and would
you call a grocer to fix your plumbing? Yet Rick Scott and Tallahassee think we
can be successful this way and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the
accountability system has unraveled and the terrible common core have been enacted under this groups watch.

It’s past time our schools were run by professional
educators who put our schools and our children above business interests. I guarantee
you many of the problems we are experiencing would be solved.

Superintendent Vitti can’t complain about charter schools while approving them hand over fist.

As usual I will let his own words do the talking for him.
From the Times Union:
He said all Florida districts saw a 213
percent increase in D and F schools during the past four years and Duval saw a
128 percent increase because state leaders made multiple changes to grade
measurements and test score calculations, even before the state switched to new
exams in the 2014-15 school year.
Add to that, Duval’s rapid increase in
the number of charter schools, including failing charter schools, and it can be
hard to show school district progress, he said.
“The reality is, of those 59 D and F
schools (in Duval), 11 are charter schools,” Vitti said.
When Vitti arrived there weren’t many more than 11 charter
schools and since he has arrived the amount has increased by over 300 percent.
How can he complain about low performing charter schools
when he undoubtedly recommended most of them?  
Isn’t that the definition of hypocrisy?
The Times Union knows this too but gives him pass after pass. The next tough question they ask him may be their first.

This weekend I will look and find out which charter schools
are failing and when they were approved something the local media should have already done.

How Vitti outsourced the district to a bunch of acronyms

First there is T.F.A. short for Teach for America and you
are right if you were thinking their arrival predated the super because it did.
However nobody has been a fiercer defender of them than the super and just so
you know they take non education majors put them through a six week boot camp and
then in our most needy schools where they are supposed to serve two years
though only a little over a fifth make it there. This assures an ever revolving
door of novice teachers for our neediest children.
Then there is J.P.E.F. short for the Jacksonville Public
Education Fund what the Times Union ridiculously refers to as an education
think tank. They like the super and T.F.A. above and the K.I.P.P. school were
brought to town by Gary Chartrand and have been a huge proponent of privatization
while at the same time managing several of the districts functions, the annual pep
rally and even our teacher of the year ceremony. They also manage the Q.E.A
What’s the Q.E.A.? Well that stands for Quality Education
for All. It was a bunch of millionaires working behind the scenes to initiate
corporate reforms like merit pay and the use of T.F.A. in our schools. I personally
don’t think all their ideas were a disaster though there is no doubt the entire
process circumnavigated democracy.
Next there is T.N.T.P.  That stands for the New Teacher Project whose
overriding philosophy is you can fire teachers to success. Their board is made
up of charter school enthusiasts and the person responsible for the Parent Trigger
a mechanism that allows for the takeover of schools by charters. It failed to
pass twice here in Florida. They conduct the districts surveys and I am told
are in charge of more and more human resources functions.
Let’s throw in Charters like K.I.P.P and CUSA too because
under Vitti the amount of charters has gone up by over 300 percent.  
I also don’t think it is a coincidence that Gary Chartrand
the anti-public education state board member is involved with TFA, KIPP, JPEF
and the QEA.

Superintendent Vitti has outsourced the district to
corporate reformers and privatizers.

Hypocrisy and excuses from the face of JPEF, Trey Csar

I have tried to be polite and even acknowledge some of the decent
things that JPEF does but when you strip away all the niceties there is one incontrovertible
fact and that’s JPEF fate is completely linked to that of the Superintendent
and for that reason only is Trey Csar is attempting to give the super
cover for his performance.
I will let his own words do the talking for him.
From the Times Union:

Charter schools muddy the waters of
district progress, said Trey Csar, president of the Jacksonville Public
Education Fund think tank, adding that it’s wrong that the state factors
charter grades into school district grades.
“We’ve got to make a judgment
about where the responsibility about performance lies,” he said. “The
superintendent and school board have no control over what happens in charter
schools day to day.”…
Just a few weeks ago
JPEF advertised for a symposium about the viability of charter schools where their founder spoke, they have a white paper
which says charters under-perform, we need more charters and a half dozen
of their board members have charters.
First why would the Times Union go
to Csar, he exists solely to give the super cover and second why would they let
him get away with this stunning hypocrisy?
Oh I know, it’s because despite
the title of today’s article, the Times Union is in the cover for the superintendent
business too.

The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, concerned about Vitti’s boundary change proposals.

By Felicia Gaines

A letter to the school board.

Greetings to the Honorable Duval County School Board,

It has come to our attention some of the boundary changes recommended by Superintendent Vitti differed from those of the commissioned working groups. Particularly, the recommendations of the working groups that were rejected for Jackson High, S.P Livingston Elementary, and West Jax elementary scenarios. Please continue reading to see our multiple issues with the Superintendent’s recommendations. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but we sincerely ask that you please give us an opportunity to relay our thoughts and feelings regarding this matter.

The current recommendations do not align with what was stated to communities at the beginning of Supt. Vitti’s tenure here in Duval County. At that time, we were told there would be a plan to strengthen the feeder patterns, which could potentially make neighborhood schools stronger. Therefore, helping schools keep students within there attendance zones, making them more marketable.  It is well known the high schools are the cornerstone for each feeder pattern. High school is where the Duval County Public School System ends its work with children and releases them into adulthood. Thus, it can be concluded that negative impacts to high schools can destroy the entire feeder pattern. Please note in the recommended scenarios we have two high schools involved, that being Jackson and Raines High Schools.

For Jackson High, the situation is quite simple…making it a dedicated magnet means it is no longer a neighborhood school, which negatively impacts the immediate community. In essence, Jackson High School will be closed and the preservation of its rich history will be lost. The school will be reopened with a new name and number and the heritage of Andrew Jackson High School will no longer exist. In our communities, high schools are so embedded into the identity of the neighborhood, that by removing the connection to the neighborhood by disconnecting its students will lead to a devastating gap in community, its members and the school. Though, we as a community understand that more students are needed to fill the school to optimize the space, it must be considered that the investment that has taken place in other high schools in the District did not happen for Jackson until last year. My point, under Pratt- Dannals all neighborhood high schools received accelerated programs, with the exception of Jackson. When Honorable Wright was elected, she attempted to fix this slight; however, the IB program did not last a year at Jackson. In the school year 2014-15, Jackson received an early high school program. Nevertheless, the program hasn’t had time to be marketed properly to sustain students in Jackson’s feeder program. It should also be noted the size of Jackson’s attendance zone, is the smallest in the district. This zone is the only high school in DTO that hasn’t been added onto in 25+ years. (Raines and Ribault received students when Paxon was converted to a dedicated magnet, and Jackson lost students when First Coast was opened). If the main concern for this boundary change is to increase enrollment, it would seem most logical to extend Jackson’s boundary to gain the suspected overcrowding from First Coast, which originally negatively impacted Jackson’s enrollment. Finally, Jackson’s program offerings needed revamping 10 years ago, but up until recently this is just being done and I’m sure if given time the programs being considered will become viable options creating unique opportunities for the students living within Jackson’s attendance zones and countywide. As a recommendation, please consider extending the boundaries to regain the students lost to First Coast years ago and the whole school magnet option for Jackson, as was done with Ed White.

The Raines High situation is quite different. We feel as though Raines is being torn down at its foundation. Last year, with the conversion of Butler to a dedicated magnet, Raines was left with Northwestern being its only middle school in the feeder pattern. (So, making Northwestern dedicated as well will be disastrous to our community). Now it seems that elementary schools in the feeder pattern are now being re-purposed in the case of West Jax and SP Livingston. We could understand consolidating two elementary schools, but re-purposing them both so that one is not serving the community and the other feeding some of its 3-5 grades to Central Riverside will be a great disservice to those living in the Raines attendance zone. The recommendations as they stand would create a large hole in the Raines feeder pattern that will possibly be too large to overcome. We feel the working group recommendations were fair and a great compromise for both scenarios.

Throughout this boundary process we have been informed if something was not done then our schools will be restructured by the state due to them not meeting state standards. Conversely, we also hear that our schools are doing better and we are headed in the right direction. So, it brings into question ….are we doing so bad that we don’t have time to see the QEA plan through? And, if this is the case, then why are we not being told the real story of what is taking place? It seems that mixed messages are being given, which leads to confusion, then to mistrust. What are we to believe? Is it that boundary changes are the ONLY way to achieve the turnaround that is needed? Is the turnaround so urgent that previously carefully developed plans do not have time to be implemented? If so, that would be extremely sad and very hard to believe.

We are asking for patience to see if the plans in place will turnaround the accountability scores, which means the schools will receive higher grades making them more attractive to students living within their attendance zones. Yes, we realize that turnaround work is not easy. Please know that you have students and teachers working hard daily with the plan that is in place and was created by the current team. To make some of the recommended changes now, seems to disregard and not acknowledge the current work of the schools and appears the schools are being considered defeated. Superintendent Vitti has repeatedly asked for time for himself and we are doing the same. Please give us the opportunity to get the work needed done. Last year was the first year for the FSA and we believe progress will be made in these schools this year if given the proper attention and time. We believe in the students and staff at all our schools in Northwest Jacksonville and fully stand with them.

Whatever is decided by DCSB pertaining to these boundary changes will need to be supported by everyone. We will need to get to work the very next day to ensure the success of the children that will be affected. Still, we ask that you make working together easier by listening to the people. The working groups, made up of volunteers for Jackson, SP Livingston, and West Jax, voices have already been disregarded. Personally, as a member of the Jackson working group, I can speak to the students, faculty, alumni, and community members that repeatedly told us they do not want to be a dedicated magnet. They informed us this was the first time they had been informed of an enrollment problem, and they let us know they were committed to doing what they could to increase enrollment. Now, you are requesting participants to voice the same position once more, only this time to Board Members. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc. is prepared to continue work diligently with the District to ensure academic progress in these schools. Hopefully, everyone can come to an agreement/compromise as we prepare to work to make the education process better for our children.

For some, boundary changes are considered a quick fix to overcome accountability requirements. There is usually a cost associated with the convenience of a quick fix. The questions we pose to you today, is at what cost are we prepared to make these changes, and who is ultimately paying the price? It seems to us the price is too high, as the results of this gamble could potentially put us in a far worse position. Take Butler for example, who is seeing its lowest enrollment ever after being converted to a dedicated magnet. Please do not misunderstand me, I believe that given time the Leadership Academies will grow. However, that growth will take time, which we have been told in the scenarios given that no such luxury exists. Then, we would have even more schools being underutilized while waiting for a newly developed program to grow roots, then sprout up, and multiply….POSSIBLY. As to who is paying the price… the children, their parents, and the community these schools serve. In the case of SP Livingston, according to Superintendent Vitti’s  recommendation, the children will leave this elementary school after second grade and begin school at a new elementary school. It is our understanding that the basis of K-8 is to decrease the number of transitions a student has to a make, which is suppose to be better for the child and easier for the parent. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc., as lifelong community members, respectfully ask that you do not gamble with the lives of our children or the life of our schools and communities.

Again, our apologies for the length of this message, but we feel our concerns were worth the read and time as we can’t force you to see reason but we cannot stand idly by and watch this become dangerous for our children and communities. Please know we invite further discussions on this matter, either individually or collectively. We sincerely thank you for taking the time to listen (read).
Felicia Gaines
Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc

A new Florida law wants to end the practice of charters counseling out poor academic performers. WTF!!!!

You should read that again. The legislature admits it’s
a problem and such a big problem that they are going to pass a law preventing

From Redefined and House bill 7209

 Create new rules for charter school facilities
funding, aimed at outlawing “private enrichment” and creating financial
incentives for charters to serve large numbers of low-income and special needs

Enact other charter school reforms,
like barring them from counseling out students for low academic achievement.

Public schools don’t council out poor
performers, instead the roll up their sleeves and do the best they can.

 Then despite that and the fact over 300 charter schools have failed, tens of millions of dollars have been wasted, as a group they don’t perform better than public schools and that was before the legislature was going to make it against the law to counsel them out poor academic performers, despite all this failure and dubious practices Tallahassee is also seeking to make them easier to open and to have local districts share their local property tax money with them, taxes that since they are exempt from, charters don’t pay.

What am I missing here? When is
enough, enough?