Superintendent Vitti says the district doesn’t have enough resources to protect children but has plenty to go after teachers.

Recently on the First Coast Connect radio program when asked why the district, unlike other districts isn’t pushing back against charter schools which have more than doubled under Vitti’s watch and as a group don’t perform as well as the city’s public schools, he said it boiled down to resources, and do you want to spend the resources fighting those battles.

Well it seems like he doesn’t mind spending those resources when it comes to fighting court decisions that over turn district decision to fire teachers.

Once again an appeals court has overturned a district decision to fire a teacher.

This isn’t the first time to Vitti has ordered his lawyers not to give an inch to teachers who have fought against their firings and the courts have ordered the teachers reinstated either.

When it comes to teachers there is no quarter given but when it comes to charter schools he shrugs his shoulders and says, what can we do?

I don’t want to make any judgements about individual cases, because if a teacher needs to be fired they need to be fired but I also think the contract needs to be followed because if not why have one anyways. The judge in this case says the district didn’t and now the super is weighing whether to keep fighting. I just wish he cared as much about our kids to fight just as hard for them. 

The district has a poor reputation when it comes to how it treats its teachers a reputation that Superintendent Vitti routinely reinforces when it loses these cases.

Duval’s guidance counselors have it rough too.

I have covered the plight of our guidance counselors before but just recently a few readers chimed in too.

From a pair of readers:

It’s not just teachers that are afraid, school counselors are afraid too! Did you know that three years ago Vitti decided that every high school would have a 12 month counselor? So, almost across the board, the low man on the totem pole at every school was forced to move to 12 month or lose their job. Most of them are annual contract so they have no recourse. You either move to 12 month or you’re relieved of your duties. It’s so unfair! And no one cares! Not one peep from the union or anyone else to back us up. Counselors are on the exact same contract as a teacher. Can you imagine if they try to make a teacher at every school moved to 12 month? 

And guess who’s fault it is if the kid doesn’t graduate? You got it! Must be the counselor! Never mind that the kid never comes to school, or if he does come to school he never picks up a pencil. There is a tremendous amount of pressure and browbeating that is going on around the district for counselors to drive the graduation rate and post secondary readiness rates. The reality is that we have very little control over these things. 

It’s a very sad time to be a school counselor in Duval county.

I couldn’t agree more. High school counselors will have to answer to district leadership at the end of the year about why Johnny didn’t graduate. They will ask the counselor what he/she did to help the student graduate. Whatever we say, it won’t be enough. It’ll be our fault, not the student or parent. The student had no responsibility in the process. Don’t get me started on the amount of time I’ve spent maintaining a spreadsheet with all kinds of data points instead of actually working with the actual student. Very sad. The students deserve better and the school counselors deserve district support instead of the bullying and fear that is coming out of Prudential Drive..

Cheryl Grymes takes thousands of dollars from for profit charter school operator

The fix is in. Who wants to bet if she is reelected we’ll get a wave of Academia McCharter schools moving in.

Cheryl Grymes just took two thousand dollars from Ignacio Zulueta and his Sunset development. This draws a direct line from her to the Academia charter chain.

District 1 it’s time to wake up. Whatever noble intentions she may have had years ago they have been perverted by her getting a seat at the table/ Hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Rummel, Wayne Weaver, Gary Chartrand and all the charter school money  have trumped doing whats right for kids.

She makes me nostalgic for Martha Barrett.

Check out who has given her money. It’s a rouges gallery of privatizers and blame teacher types.

When did teachers become so afraid?

As we head back to school I would like teacher’s to seriously consider something. It’s not reviewing the latest scholarly article or their pedology.

When did teachers become so afraid?

When did we decide being micromanaged, marginalized and disrespected was better than the alternative?

When did we decide testing our kids to death, or forcing a curriculum on them that we know is developmentally inappropriate or doesn’t address their needs is okay as long as we have a steady pay check?

When did we decide that our silence was required and our opinions no longer mattered?

When did we decide it was okay to sacrifice times with our family and friends so we can work for free because the system gives us more than we can possibly do while at work?

When dd we become so afraid and all this became okay and is it all really better than the alternative?

I’m not saying we should throw up our hands and quit. Instead I am saying that if we stopped being afraid then we can make things better. The crazy thing is right now teachers have the power. Florida recently declared a critical shortage in just about every teaching position.

We need to stop working for free, from the first bell to quitting time give an honest effort but after that leave it at work. If enough teachers did that then this alone would send a big enough signal that things need to change.

Then we need to write letters to the editor and op eds, we have to let people know and I sincerely believe if they did that would demand better.

It’s also past time that people who were never in the classroom or were in it a long time ago dictated to professionals and that instead the people that know what is best for their kids ran the show.

To do that we have to elect school board members and state legislators that understand what it is to be a teacher and what our kids need and we have to understand that often these are the people who are going to get the least in donations and news coverage. We can keep electing people with the biggest bank accounts who often blame teachers and who would dismantle our schools.

Then we have to stop being afraid. The life many teachers are leading is not better than the alternative.

I will be honest there may be consequences for doing and saying the right things but if enough of us do it then there will be rewards as well. 

Duval’s HR director Sonnita Young, shrugs her shoulders at the district losing good teachers.

At a hastily called meeting to explain why some teachers were told they were getting the QEA bonus one day and then not the next, most of the teachers were upset at the answers that the district was giving them.

The very first thing the attendees were told was that nothing would change (later it was implied that it was their own fault for where they found themselves).

One teacher very frustrated said, you know what I can find another job in another district.

Sonnita Young the district’s director of human resources matter-of-factly replied, well we lose good teachers all the time.

I wonder if it took restraint from her not to say, well don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split ya.

I hope you don’t think I am making light of her remarks. These teachers were recruited to transfer or begged to stay at some of our more challenging schools; schools were gains and job security are often in short supply. Just the year before the teacher above was considered one of the best the district has and now at a hastily called meeting they were being told, go ahead and take off we’ll get by without you.

These teachers were justifiably and understandably upset at the fact they were told they were getting a bonus one day and then not the next. This frustration was compounded by the district blaming many of them for not checking their my accountability report and saying that mistakes could no longer be fixed. You know because the district has a deadline for fixing mistakes.

Mrs. Young’s dismissal of these teachers frustration and her shrugging her shoulders at the possibility of one of our best teachers leaving is indicative of the administration. They don’t value nor do they appreciate teachers. All we are to Mrs, Young and the district is easily replaceable cogs.

Mrs. Young is right, we do lose good teachers all the time and she is part of the reason why.

How Duval County sets teachers up to fail. (rough draft)

As you read below I want you to
think to yourself, is this any way to run a district?      
Teachers have this thing called My
Accountability where they can check their class lists. If you are in the union
they encouraged all their members to make sure their class lists were correct
as an incorrect list can have far reaching repercussions. It can effect VAM
scores which can effect employment and pay.
When teachers went to a hastily called meeting to learn why
they were told they were getting the QEA bonus one day and nothing the next many
discovered that their My Accountability lists were incorrect. Some teachers had
kids on their list they shouldn’t while others didn’t have kids that they
should. They asked if these mistakes could have led to them not getting the
bonus, and the district shrugged their shoulders saying it didn’t matter
because any chance to appeal ended in February.
Appeal?!? The district basically said that teachers had to
appeal mistakes that the district was making.
Some might argue that teachers should have checked My
Accountability to make sure their classes were right, you know because teachers
don’t have anything better to do. As I said the union sent out an email a while
back telling teachers that they should. The thing is what if you aren’t in the
union, have a million other things going on or the union email was sent to your
clutter folder which they said was a common problem you might have missed the
message. Heck you might have trusted the district to get it right too.
I just for grins and giggles checked my accountability and
sure enough there was a student who had never been in one of my classes on my
list a name I myself had reported earlier in the year. I’ll cross my fingers and hope that he’s doing okay.
Also only in Duval is there a deadline in getting things
right. Who cares that it’s mid-April now. A mistake is a mistake right and if
the district has the ability  to fix it
then instead of blaming teachers and saying it’s too bad you didn’t get the
bonus, then they should fix it.
Now think about the question I asked you to ask.

The answer should be a resounding no. 

District lets hundreds of QEA teachers down. (rough draft)

Some of the other titles I considered were, District
supposed to give teachers bonuses gives them the shaft instead and District
tells teachers one thing and delivers another.

One of the teacher’s I spoke with told me their
principal apologized to the staff on behalf of the district all but admitting
the district had done them wrong.

What was the problem? The QEA bonuses promised to
hundreds of teachers working in 36 of our traditionally low performing schools
weren’t delivered.

This is the story that I am being told by teacher
after teacher. They were told that their scores would be compared to just other
schools in the DTO (Duval Transformative Office) not against schools throughout
the district. However when it came time to pay out the district changed its
tune and is now going to compare these teachers of children who often show up
years behind their peers, against the district as a whole.

The District’s justification seems to hang on three
letters. MOU.

MOU stands for memorandum of understanding and its
agreement that the district negotiated with the union.

Let me stop right there.
Teacher’s looking to transfer to the DTO schools had to jump through some serious hoops.
1) Teachers were 
approached via email in  like febish maybe march 2014 based on the
previous year’s test scores so that would have been 12/13 scores…highly

2) once
you turned in your transfer papers and showed you were interested in the dto
schools an observation occurred.

3) Teachers
were then interviewed by a panel, including a dtu rep.

4) once
those three pieces were looked at you were deemed: highly qualified, qualified
or unqualified.

Then it’s amazing that after all that there was practically
zero interaction between the district staff and the DTO teachers. Practically
all interaction and I am told there wasn’t much after teachers signed on the dotted
line occurred by e-mail, very little face to face contact actually occurred.
When the superintendent announced he planned to give tens of millions of
dollars to some of our best teachers to either stay at or go to the DTO schools,
I imagined him or a highly select staff following up with and making sure they were being 
successful but sadly it turns out the process turned out to be little more than a clearinghouse sweepstakes style email which said, you may be a winner.       

Then when teachers at the DTO schools were being
recruited to stay several have said they were given the hard sell to quickly
sign on the dotted line. Being at a used car lot with an overly aggressive
salesman came to mind as I listened to these teachers stories. Sign now and
we’ll figure the rest out later seemed to be the sentiment.

Okay back to the MOU

is from the contract teacher’s were to sign.
Performance Criteria
Performance Amount
VAM or Growth Score
exceeds the silo average by 25%
100% of
VAM or Growth Score
exceeds the silo average by 11-24%
50% of
VAM or Growth Score
exceeds the silo average by 1-10%
25% of
This is from the MOU
Performance Criteria
Performance Amount
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo average
by 25%
100% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo
average by 11-24%
50% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive
VAM or Growth Score exceeds the district silo
average by 1-10%
25% of the Retention/Recruitment Incentive
Notice the change, what
teachers were sent says silo average, the MOU however says district average.

Why the change?

Now do I think the district baited and switched a
bunch of teachers? Where I wouldn’t put it past them the truth is no, I think
this colossal foul up was the result of a series of communication glitches and
if you have been in the district for longer than a cup of coffee you know
information being passed around or getting to the right person has had its

In fact one veteran teacher in her second year of the
QEA who has received the top bonus each year told me she has received no follow
up from the district, no check in to see how they were doing, no kudos to you
message, nothing.

Now maybe the district all along had intended to
compare student scores in the DTO schools to the district average, an almost
impossible standard if you ask me but the teachers I am talking to universally
have said that’s not the case and furthermore this caught more than a few
principals flat footed too as they thought their teachers would be compared to
DTO schools as well only and thus get the bonuses.

Maybe you can shrug your shoulders if a couple
teachers say they were told one thing, I am sure some people would chalk it up
to sour grapes, but not when principals also believe the same thing.

That being said, there may be a reason that the
district did indeed change course in mid-stream and that’s because they bit off
more than they could chew.

This is from an October 6th article in the
Times Union:

The QEA fund pays up
to $17,000 to recruit and up to $20,000 to retain high performing teachers to
the schools.
For instance, this year
834 Duval County teachers were considered high-quality and so eligible for the
incentive payments if they chose to work in transformation schools. Although
they all were invited, only 41 expressed an interest and eight ultimately
transferred into the school, she said.
Last year 38 teachers
were recruited to the schools and received the $17,000 and 92 teachers were
retained and received $20,000. After release of additional testing data, 46
more teachers received the extra pay.
Fast forward to a
couple weeks ago when 273 teachers were first told they were getting the bonus and
then were later told they weren’t.
The bonuses were for high-performing
teachers at low-performing schools, funded through the Quality Education for
All initiative, according to school officials.
Teachers get paid extra depending on
how much improvement their students showed based on the value-added model or
student-growth score. On Thursday 273 teachers were told they’d receive the
bonus based on scores above the district average, from 1 to 10 percent, but
were later told their scores didn’t meet the minimum performance threshold.
I don’t want to seem
like a math major but 273 seems like a lot more than 176 (the Times Unions
total of QEA teachers). According to these numbers this year nobody should have
received a bonus.
Except at least some
teachers did. Apparently the district has been on a recruiting spree, even
trying to sign up teachers brand new to the district not the veterans the
program originally promised. One person told me there were now 700 teachers in
the QEA a nearly 400 percent increase from the first year.
Did the district go on
a recruiting spree and then go, hmm how are we going to pay for all this, I
know, we better change what silos we are comparing the scores too?
The truth is I don’t
know and that is partly because the district won’t answer any of my questions.
I have asked how many
QEA teachers there are and how many got the bonuses and at what percentage,
fairly straight forward and you would think easy to answer questions but the
district thus far has remained silent. 
The district has been
squirrely in another way too. When 273 teachers are told they are going to be
paid one day and then a few days later the district says, opps, teachers are
going to have questions. So this is what the district did. On Friday afternoon
they sent out an email for a Monday afternoon meeting. Not the next Monday so
they could make sure teachers had a chance to see the email and make plans to
come but the very next Monday.
When the district does
stuff like that they are trying to bury the problem. They don’t really want to
answer questions and I am told at the meeting the few people that were able to
attend didn’t get their questions answered.
Sonnita Young kept
saying VAM scores as a catch all, even though k-2 teachers use student growth
scores and third grade teachers kids are measured by their proficiency.
Furthermore this year’s VAM scores haven’t come out yet. Now they could have
used last year’s VAM scores but what do VAM scores have to do with the district
silos and if your brain is spinning you know how the teachers who were at the
meeting felt as none of their questions received anything approaching a
satisfying answer. Nobody left the meeting thinking, oh I get it, it was a
simple mistake if anything they felt more betrayed, more let down, and more
I hope you are sitting
friends as it gets even more confusing. The union told me that this year’s
bonuses were based on last year’s 15-16 FSA tests (I guess except for all those
subjects that weren’t covered by it) scores.
You know last year’s
FSA test which was universally dismissed as being unreliable and had more
issues than Time magazine, you know the same test that was so panned that the
school board said it would hold people harmless based on the scores it
generated. I mean unless you are a QEA teacher then for hundreds of you it cost
you thousands of dollars.
Then what about
teachers who are in the first year of the QEA this year and yes now there are some
teachers in their first year and second (and yes we should all be wondering who
is going to pay when year 4 rolls around and the QEA funds run out), did they get
paid for just signing up or were they paid based on the 14-15 school year
Then once again I can’t
make the numbers work. I
n year one there were 176 QEA teachers and now
in year two there are nearly 700 of which 273, more than the original class
held, who didn’t get the bonus. Only second year QEA teachers should have been ineligible
for the bonus right, but as you can see more people didn’t get it than who were
in the program in year one? Um what?!?
Whether by hook (accident/lack of communication) or
crook (on purpose/they bit off more than they can chew or are making things up
as they go along) the district has let hundreds of teachers down and that’s not
good for their schools or the children they teach and it further undermines the
district’s credibility.  We have to do
better than this.

Two last things, this is a developing story, I hope to
talk to several more teachers about their experience with the QEA.

And the district finally got back to me, they said
they would have me something by Thursday, if what they get me clears up any of
the questions above, I will let you know.

Vitti’s lack of education experience hurts the district (rough draft)

Superintendent Vitti was a teacher for exactly two years in two different schools in two different states before he started his march to education domination. His feet barely wet he decided he had given the classroom all he could and he had bigger fish to fry and this lack of true education experience hurts the district.

I have written about his love of Teach for America which takes non education majors puts them through a fie week access course and then puts them in our neediest schools where they are supposed to serve two years assuring these vulnerable students have an ever revolving door of novice teachers or what I like to call the stupidest plan ever. He doesn’t understand or appreciate that experience counts, most likely because he doesn’t have any, but like I said I have beat that drum many times.

Two other recent developments have also highlighted how his lack of teaching experience has negatively affected the district.

First he thought, you know what elementary schools especially in a district with a reading problem have to much of? Books, that’s what and he wholeheartedly endorsed a curriculum that replaced books with black and white hand outs much to the chagrin of parents, teachers, students, principals, and generally everybody with common sense.

BOOKS! We got rid of books! Perhaps if Vitti had spent more time in the classroom he would have realized that they have an important role to play.

The next thing is the unraveling of the QEA bonuses meant to lure or get teachers to stay at our traditionally under performing schools, at our schools that don’t do well on standardized tests. Where I think every teacher that went for or received the bonus deserved it, Vitti doesn’t understand that teachers know from the get go that we’ll never be rich and that often we receive enumeration from other avenues like a child learning and progressing and becoming something positive that we helped to mold.

He thought, throw money at the problem and the problem will go away but all the QEA has done as well as not working is create more problems. The teachers who uprooted their lives at the promise of a few more dollars and who are now left in the cold are rightfully and understandably upset and angry.

The district and our children would have been better served had we invested the money on behavioral supports, wrap around services and smaller classes, but now all we have are hundreds of frustrated teachers and little else to show for the 35 million dollar investment.

If Vitti had been a teacher he might have known the QEA bonus plan was doomed to fail.

When the district hired Vitti at 35 to become the superintendent they wanted an up and comer, but we would have been better served to pick somebody who better knew how classrooms worked.

Parents and Teachers get a rare victory in Duval County. Welcome back books!

Next year books will return to our elementary schools after what can only be described as a lost year for many of our students where books were replaced by black and white hand outs.  

From the times Union:

A year after Duval’s
elementary schools switched from traditional math and reading textbooks to
online materials and printouts, district leaders are beginning to add books
back into the mix.
The school board
Tuesday approved two measures which will cost nearly $2.5 million to buy books
for the next school year. They are purchasing new phonics books and related
materials for kindergarten through second grades and new “classroom libraries”
for kindergarten through fifth grades.

This follows months of
complaints from parents and some educators that youngsters need books in their
hands to better engage in learning to read. Teachers also complained that black
and white printouts needed to be in color.
Now later in the article Superintendent Vitti tries to make the argument that this year had been a success.
Also from the Times Union:
Vitti said the new
books and workbooks are the result of teacher and parent suggestions; but they
aren’t due to faltering academic performance by students.
Okay Superintendent Vitti if that helps you sleep at night lets just roll with it. Whatever the reason the return of books to our elementary schools is indeed a rare and much deserved victory for our children, teachers and schools.

Principals in QEA schools say, give their staff the bonuses they earned.

 Teaching in today’s blame the teacher test the kids till they drop day and age is often a frustrating and hard thing to do and it also means the little things count for so much more. Little things like having your principal stick up for you and fight for you can go such a long way.

Principals in several DTO schools, those 36 historically low performing schools that offered big bonuses for teachers either to transfer to them or stay, are becoming frustrated with the district as they believe they reneged on bonuses promised to their staffs. 

They believed when it came time for the bonuses to go out, their staff would get them as they like many teachers thought their scores were going to be compared to other DTO scores and not to the district at large which if you think about is an almost impossible metric to achieve.

I believe there would be more principals speaking out if they weren’t in such precarious positions. Superintendent Vitti in his short tenure has already made hundreds of principal moves and couple that with the districts reputation for stifling dissent and it makes principals speaking out in favor of their teachers a difficult proposition.

However at the end of the day the principals have to know that their fate also depends on the performance of their staff, and I am sure they would rather have a staff that feels supported at least by them rather than a staff that is disillusioned and feels let down by both their principals and the district.

This is a messy situation which seems like it is about to get even messier.

Check back later this weekend for more stories related to the QEA.