The kerfuffle between the school board and superintendent explained (rough draft)

First some background.

When superintendent Vitt was hired he promised huge gains which would be delivered shortly and only Becki Couch of the current board actually voted to hire him. Paula Wright was on the board but she voted against him.

For the first two years the board gave superintendent Vtti seemingly without question whatever he asked for.

Then about two years ago that started to change, first when the super proposed open enrollment, something he back pedaled on after a couple weeks because the community pushed back and with the proliferation of charter schools.

This all came to a head about a year ago when Vitti made several radical proposals/boundary changes for schools mostly on the north and west sides of town. Their representatives, Couch, Hall and Wright, coincidentally all educators as well, pushed back and the board was split into two faction, those three on one side and Shine, Grymes, Fischer and Smith Juarez on the other.

Then this past summer with Fischer having resigned and Smith- Juarez separating a bit from her mentor Gary Chartrand and I believe her tiring of her treatment at the hands of Shine and the superintendent, the alliances started to shift.    .

This takes us to two weeks ago when the board approved a new budget not because all the members were comfortable with it but because they were statutorily required to do so.

And what about those gains he promised? After a first year bloodbath they have been modest at best.

That catches us up.

When setting goals for the district mostly having to do with the achievement gap between white and minority students, the education faction of the board wanted aspirational goals while the superintendent was only wiling to offer modest ones.

This went back and fourth and finally Mrs. Smith Juarez asked him to take his talents elsewhere.

Scott Shine got wind of this and alerted his contacts in the press and business world who have been overwhelmingly, I would argue despite the evidence, pro Vitti.

Huge amounts of pressure came to bear and ASJ walked back her intent to replace the superintendent.

Last Friday the board met, recriminations were thrown in both directions by board members and ASJ and Vitti apologized to each other.

They met again Monday to discuss the achievement gap between white and minority students that started the kerfuffle, and the education faction of the board wanted aspirational goals while the superintendent, probably feeling emboldened and despite the fact he had changed his tune last week signaling a willingness to offer higher goals was now again only wiling to offer modest ones.

And yes folks that means we were right back to where we started

Strangely enough they were also both right.

I don’t believe aspirational goals are the way to go. I agree with the superintendent we need reasonable and achievable goals. Huge goals that we most likely won’t meet would most likely demoralize the district and lead to more finger pointing.

At the same time I thin ASJ was right and that it was time for the super to go, though I look at teacher moral, discipline, communication and the Engage NY curriculum he picked, that are all dreadful.

There you go.

Welcome to Duval County.

Are we creating students or robots in DCPS?

I am a member of the Recess for DCPS Facebook page and there was a heartbreaking post with equaly heartbreaking comments today. I have deleted the names of the parents but I don’t think that lessens the impact.

I just sent this email to my daughter’s principal:
“Is there is a reason students are not allowed to talk before school in the Second Grade hallway? My child tells me they are constantly berated for talking and told they must sit quietly and read. Our kids have so few opportunities during the school day for critical socialization. What harm is there in chatting with friends before school has begun? Last year she sat in the multipurpose room before the bell, and I know they could talk there. In Kindergarten they sat in the hallway outside of the classrooms and were allowed to read or talk before the bell. I am not comfortable with the expectation students sit silently prior to school. If there is some new policy in place I would ask it be revisited. If there is not, I would ask the staff be instructed to allow socialization at a reasonable level of noise.”

My son has told me repeatedly that they’re not allowed to talk during lunch. He’s also in second grade. What they’re expecting of these kids is asinine!

 I have volunteered 3 times this year at in my son’s kindergarten class and I told my husband it’s like boot camp…..Then, the teacher told me that’s what she felt like she wss running a boot camp….validating my thoughts. It’s like sit down, be quiet…..all day! Then to top it off, they have loads of homework. 

They are just making children hate school which WILL back fire. 
It’s so sad to me. It’s like a prison sentence now to go to school. Don’t they want to teach communication skills, building friendships and relationships? That is critically important development and growth and in the real world as well.

My daughter is in 1st grade and is in the multimedia room and is told they are not allowed to talk at all and get yelled at if they do. I asked her if they put books out like they did in the kindergarten hallway and she said no, that they tell them to ..

I want to steal this and send it to our principal! My 1st grader is not allowed to talk in the multipurpose room before the bell. They can read quietly and that’s it. It’s ridiculous.

 My child got in trouble (we got an email from the teacher) that she was talking to another child at another table at lunch!! Really? They aren’t allowed to socialize and talk to other children at lunch? This is insane. She is in kindergarten and comesSee More

 They are turning our schools into prisons. I will be bringing this up at the next SAC meeting for sure. 

 Yes they are!!! It is maddening, 

Frustrating and so upsetting to me as a parent seeing my child upset and struggling because she cannot be a child, be Curious, playful, none of that. They are 5,6,7 years old!

My child complains that she’s on “voice level zero” for most of the day. This is quite a change from her Kinder year where her class was considered her school family and they worked together, interacting throughout the day AND of course at DAILY recess.

 My son is non verbal and “makes noise” he isn’t quiet. Nor is nirmal to be quiet all the time. My daughter is 3 and im told by the teacher all thee time she talks when not suppise to. I say, well her mimmy dies too and it cant be fixed she learned from the best and wirh a non verbal son, i never tell her nit to talk, we pause

My daughter is in 5th grade and it has always been that way at her DCPS school since she was in kindergarten. Reading only and sitting quietly in the hallway. The schools are building little robots that have no social skills, are afraid to stand up 
I’ve been visiting our K-4 for a decade. It used to feel good. Then they started steadily eliminating everything that makes school soulful and memorable. Movement, speech, freedom to use the restroom, snack, recess, birthdays, holiday celebrations, Val.Valentines, library book battle, the second grade business fair, the fourth grade talent show. Last year was the last straw – I showed up the first week and saw the teachers had been outfitted with body mics and megaphones/bullhorns. I’ve spent my career in the criminal justice system; now our little mountain school feels much like the jail/prison system I know too well. Except the crime is childhood. Culturally, this is a devastating and terminal disease.

To check out the page or join the group, click the link.

There has hardly been churn of superintendents in Duval County

This is a great comment in the Times Union

From J Taverna

In the past 27 years Duval has had 5 Superintendents and is hardly an example of Superintendent churn in an urban setting as the tone of this article suggests. The article also suggests that the Board has been difficult making it hard on Vitti when in fact the Board actually did nothing for three years allowing the Superintendent to do whatever he pleased. Mediation may work but here are several items that speak to the difficulty:

1. This paper and Vitti’s supporters continue to ignore the serious concerns that have been raised all along and beat a drum claiming major accomplishments – performing below the state average in just about every category is not an accomplishment so stop making the claim that he has made major accomplishments while suggesting that his predecessors were all lame.

2. Something is amiss in the culture when you have to make over 120 changes in principal assignments in a two year period and you have the third highest chronic teacher absenteeism among the 40 largest districts in the nation. There is no openness to discuss issues such these because this administration controls all thought to weave false scenarios. This alone is going to make it very difficult for those who differ with Vitti’s view to find accommodation with him when up until now he has shut them down in very demeaning ways.

3. It is a reasonable expectation that someone hired to be the CEO of the District should possess emotional stability regardless of whether or not Board members are emotionally balanced. He clearly lacks the emotional stability it takes to lead and that is very difficult to mediate.

Is the board really calling in a mediator?

From the Times Union

After a year of accusing each other of communicating disrespectfully, including eye rolls, smirks, insulting texts, chastising emails and, most recently, a resignation request, the Duval County School Board and its superintendent say they are ready to call in a mediator.

Except are they? They voted 3-3 not to this past Friday.

The problem is not that they can’t communicate though I think several board members struggle to do so appropriately, it’s that they have competing visions for the city and different levels of awareness, Watching the board meetings you can just tell some members are way more prepared than others.

Scott Shine’s lack of awareness.

From the Times Union

Couch suggested that it was disrespectful for Shine to have publicized the private conversation between Vitti and Smith Juarez and to publicize his suspicions that Smith Juarez was planning a vote to fire Vitti without first asking Smith Juarez about it.
That conversation could have occurred at a public meeting, Couch said, so the board could speak with one voice.
Shine refused to agree to withhold such issues from the public until a meeting.
“When I hear that the school district is in jeopardy, I will contact the media,” Shine said.
This is the same guy by the way who has threatened to file grievances about me twice this week  over things I have written, my opinion on his performance and leadership and in the spring complained to the media that Ashley Smith Juarez was trying t limit his freedom of speech. 
So only he is allowed to speak to the media or up when he thinks there are problems in the district? Oy vey, this kid. I have worked with lab mice who were more self aware.   
“When I hear this school district is in trouble, I will contact the media… I will never withhold info from the public,” Shine


Proof the “drive by” elites run our schools.

People’s words are very telling and look what Scott Shine said we criticized about throwing the city into a tizzy.

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 – were Jags original owner Wayne Weaver, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, and executives from of the United Way, the Community Foundation, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and the Jacksonville Civic Council.
You notice he didn’t say parents or teachers and yeah I understand the vast majority of both were working and could not attend but he doesn’t care about those groups, he cares about the city’s elites who donated to his campaign.
– at least at the start of the 3-hour meeting –
You know because they can’t be bothered to stay for the entire meeting, heck Cheryl Grymes couldn’t either. They aren’t interested in improving our education system, all they are interested in is retaining control over it.

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.

Does Cheryl Grymes have a no show job at Big Brothers Big Sisters?

From the Times Union

Board member Cheryl Grymes argued with Smith Juarez over the purpose for Friday’s special meeting and complained that it was too long. She left a half-hour before it was over because of prior commitments.

Um, not to get back to work but  prior commitment? Grymes makes 80 thousand dollars from Big Brothers Big Sisters and I just feel that maybe they aren’t getting their money’s worth. All these board meetings and prior commitments seem to be adding up.

If anybody has any information on this either way, Chris you’re wrong on this one, or oh my gosh, you called it, I would like to hear it.

Several School Board members call out Scott Shine

From various news sources

Couch suggested that it was disrespectful for Shine to have publicized the private conversation between Vitti and Smith Juarez and to publicize his suspicions that Smith Juarez was planning a vote to fire Vitti without first asking Smith Juarez about it.

“When I hear that the school district is in jeopardy, I will contact the media,” Shine said.

Several Board members said they couldn’t respond to Shine’s statements because of the laws. Smith Juarez said felt limited and could only say that if she had intended a vote on Vitti, she would have spelled it out on the agenda before Friday’s meeting.

Couch noted what she thought was some sexism in Shine’s statements and other people’s comments that characterized Smith Juarez and some of the other women on the board as making “emotional” decisions about Vitti. Couch said she considered Shine’s actions and statements to the media as emotional and reactionary.

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.

Hmm, sexist and disrespectful, it’s almost like the board has been reading my blog.

Cindy Edelman, she’s rich white and just cares to much

From the Times Union

Cindy Edelman, a philanthropist and education advocate, noted that Duval County has run through a number of superintendents over time. She likened this week of conflict and danger to Vitti’s job as to the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which a day repeats with little change.

What they didn’t mention the part time art classes I am told she taught at Bolles for a bit? There you have it, in Jacksonville that makes a bonafide education activist, by the way, I am just a blogger, in an effort to get my friends to stop picking on me for being referred to as a blogger, I asked the Times union if they would call me an education activist and they told me no.

By Groundhogs day she means two in nine years but hey who’s counting. Did she not see Groundhogs Day?

I just watched The Magnificent Seven and one of the characters said, you can cut the ears off a mule but that doesn’t make it a horse. Ladies and gentlemen I present you Cindy Edelman.