Teacher questions DCSB splitting schools

Below appeared in the Florida Times Union

By Dennis Egan, Teacher

Questioning the idea

In a district that already has a serious financial deficit, the district now proposes to spend an additional $2.7 million to split four struggling schools into eight.

That means four new principals and more assistant principals and other administrative staff. Two schools housed in the same building with no real plan for the details of how that will work.

I can see where a lot of that $2.7 million is going, and it’s not into direct student performance activity.

The same student body that generally has been unable to sustain even minimum levels of performance will now be “forced” (superintendent’s word) into more rigorous programs.

I’m a science and technology person. Reading is a prerequisite for these topics. How many of these new courses will students in remedial reading and math classes be able to take?

Have we given up on the basics, or have we just given up?

Duval County needs mentors

January is designated as National Mentoring Month. This month highlights mentoring and the positive impact these volunteers can have on young lives.

During this month, Duval County Public Schools’ honors individuals who have chosen to become mentors to our youth and recognizes them for making the future brighter for our young people. Being a mentor is easy: You just need to be able to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement to a young person on a consistent basis.

While National Mentoring Month brings national attention to the benefit of and the need for mentors, locally, it is critical that we recruit mentors to help attain our goal of increasing academic achievement for all Duval County Public Schools’ students. Our whole community – individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith-based communities and nonprofits – must work together to increase the number of mentors and assure a more successful future for our young people. Our strategic goal is 20,000 mentors by 2020. Help us reach this goal for our students.

According to research, when students have mentors they have better attendance, a better chance of going on to higher education and better attitudes toward school.

It’s proven that the positive influence of role models can have a lasting impact. Program evaluation results show that after one year of being matched with a mentor, students:

Show a significant increase in their future orientation
Are more committed to living a drug and alcohol-free life
Show greater attachment to their family, friends and other adults
Show an increase in self-esteem
To learn how you can become a mentor, contact our Community and Family Engagement Department at 390-2960.

Ed Pratt-Dannals
Superintendent

DCPS open mouth insert foot

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Was that actually Deputy Superintendent Patricia Willis claiming the school district through it’s out of school suspension centers is responsible for the crime rate in our city going down? Such chutzpah, such hubris, such a disconnect from reality. Also is that juvenile arrests in general she mentions are down or just arrests at schools because if it is the later, it might be because the district assumed control of the police officers at them. Finally is she not watching the same news or reading the same papers as the rest of us because barely a few days go by before reports of some child committing some horrific crime are broadcast or published.

She wants the district to take credit for those things but at the same time she joins the others at 1701 Prudential drive in raising their hands in the air saying, who us, when Florida Community college reports that 70% of our recent graduates have to take remedial classes and members of the city council declare businesses do not want to relocate to Jacksonville because of it’s school system.

The truth is suspensions if they included students, who attended the suspension centers, would not be down fifty percent because inexplicably kids sent to them do not count as being suspended. The truth is discipline has not improved at many of our schools, instead teachers have learned to endure and ignore bad behavior, if they want to get high evaluations or keep their jobs that is.

Suspension centers is a great idea for academics, bureaucrats and administers sitting around drinking coffee brainstorming, however the second it was announced the teachers I was sitting with new it was a bad and wasteful idea. If we were flush with money we could throw away then sure why not but in lean times it’s a luxury we can’t afford. If we really wanted to make a difference we should have used the 2 million dollars to hire forty social workers and given them caseloads of 25 each. That’s a thousand kids whose parents are absentee, who live in violent neighborhoods without basic necessities that we could have helped. There in the children’s homes is where we could have made a real difference.

Why kids get suspended from school often has nothing to do with school but instead of addressing the root of their problems we chose to ignore them and throw money away instead. That Mrs. Willis not the crime rate going down is what the school district should take credit for.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

What 5000 will get you in the DCPS system (rough draft)

I’ll start by saying I think teachers are very underpaid but the following isn’t about that. One of the things the county says it wants to do is get its best teachers at it worse schools. Don’t buy it for a second friends, if that happened the public might finally learn the dirty little secret that its not the teachers that are doing the bad job, it’s the education policy makers which have nearly wrecked education by putting teachers and students in unattainable situations. Don’t believe me? Ever wonder why the school board don’t just move the faculties at Stanton and Paxon two of the best schools in the nation to Ribault and Raines, supposedly two of the worse, according to test scores anyways? Why not they are about the same size? Well I’ll tell you why, it’s because it wouldn’t make a difference. As long as we continue to do things the same way, we will continue to get the same results.

The district however has to at least appear that it is doing something so it created signing bonuses for teachers who agreed to work at our failing and turn around schools. I myself agreed and will pocket 5000 extra dollars a year for the next two schools. In the spirit of full disclosure by the way, I am not one of the best teachers around; one of the teachers the district says it needs to get to its lower performing schools. I do a nice job with instruction, form pretty decent relationships and have solid classroom management, though are more than a few things my admins would say I need to improve on. In the past five years I received needs improvement once, high performing once and satisfactory three times. The years I was high performing and needs improvement seemed very similar to my satisfactory years if you ask me.

No where I like to think I am solid, I am not one of the teachers the experts claim should be working at the school I do but neither are the 20 or so first year teachers all who got the same bonus as I did. A first year teacher at my school makes the same salary as a 13th year teacher at an A school. Furthermore like me and most of the staff, these brand new teachers didn’t come to Ed White to get the bonuses. I know this because the district sprung them on us a week before school began. Though we all agreed to stay for 2 years because they agreed to give us an extra 5k a year. And who wouldn’t, it was like found money. They basically said, Chris here is an extra 5k to o the job you already agreed to do, thank you, I will take it was my reply They offered the money to everyone, from our teacher of the year, to all the first years and sadly to those one or two teachers who are playing out the string.

The staff took their positions at Ed White for a lot of different reasons, to some it was the first job they were offered, where others had a connection to the school, some are former students like me or they lived in the area. I however guarantee between very few and none came to Ed White because they thought they were getting the five thousand dollar bonus, you know the one we didn’t know about till a week before school began. By the way the 5k bonus has not made me a better teacher, the only thing it has improved is my bank account.

That’s a staff of 120 getting 5k each and it made me think, wow, what could we have done with that extra six hundred thousand dollars. What else could it have been spent on?

My school and in fact many schools have gutted their elective programs and it’s not a stretch to think if students like school they will do better in school. Right now so many kids have nothing on their schedules to look forward to. We could have used that money to bring back art, drama and home ec. and if we had another p.e. teacher well maybe those classes wouldn’t have fifty kids each.

We could have added two counselors and two social workers to the staff. Schools only have kids about 15% of the time and for some that’s not enough time to make a meaningful impact and most of the reason kids act up at school or don’t try at school has nothing to do with school. Counselors could try and get to the roots of their problems and social workers could provide wrap around services so kids aren’t just safe and taken care of for I sixth of their lives.

Then we could have hired a support facilitator to make sure fewer of our ESE kids fall through the cracks. I did just a cursory review of our ESE kids grades last year and we had over 30 who were in all regular classes whose GPAs started with zero. They just aren’t falling through the cracks they are being swallowed by the Earth. At my school we have sixteen special education teachers, that’s teachers who have to teach and prepare for their classes too, also in charge of providing special ed services for over 400 children, it would be insulting to impossible things to say that was an impossible task to do well.

Finally we could have hired statician/data entry clerk. Teachers are spending an unfathomable amount of time collecting data. So much that they often don’t have time to collate or interpret the data. It’s also time which would be better spent working with kids.

We could have increased our staff by ten (teachers cost the district about 60 grand each, with salary, benefits etc.) and provided so many services that aren’t being provided now. This could have happened if the district would have taken the money none of us teachers knew we were getting and which didn’t influence our employment decisions at all and used it to give the kids, the services so many desperately need (it would have helped the economy as well by creating ten new/more jobs). Another service not being provided now is putting our supposed best teachers at our supposed worse schools and that’s because the powers-that-be know it won’t make one bit of difference. Instead they have chosen to just go through the motions more content with appearing to do something than doing what is right. Sadly like blaming teachers for the ills of education and allowing so many children fall through the cracks this is a pretty typical problem the district has.

I like my 120 colleagues can use the extra five thousand and what’s more I think we deserve it as well, it’s just I think the kids in our classes deserve a little more too. Let me finish by saying, I think teachers are very underpaid but above wasn’t about that.

A Pratt-Dannals Disservice

I’ll just jump right to it. Superintendant Ed Pratt Dannals is doing the city, its schools and its children a tremendous disservice. Now I am not talking about his leadership and the policies and procedures he has either put in place or endorsed, though many of them are at best suspect, no I am talking about something much more dangerous and that’s the misleading words he takes every opportunity to spew.

Despite almost overwhelming evidence to the controversy the superintendant is constantly saying, look at us we have a B district and we’re heading in the right direction. He celebrates a two percent increase in the drop put rate but doesn’t mention how it only came about after the state changed its formula. He says look at Stanton and Paxon but through omissions says please ignore the other 11 D or F public high schools. Have you seen our award winning magnet programs, he asks, while deflecting attention away from the fact we have four schools on the verge of being taken over by the state? I could go on and on and on. In short he takes every opportunity to paint a rosy picture, when the picture is far from rosy and this misinformation is holding both our city and its schools and children back.

The truth is we have real problems, problems it is going to take everybody rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to solve. How are Jack and Jill public supposed to know how dire the situation actually is when the superintendant with a wink, a nod and a don’t look at my pay check says, you know what, sure we can improve but things aren’t that bad.

The public might not understand that the uptick in youthful violent crime is a direct reflection on what is happening in the hallways of many of our schools, especially when the superintendant says look how suspensions are down 49%. They might not understand that the reason many employers despite the cities obvious plusses resist coming here is because of our school system. He glosses over the fact that over half our tenth graders have been passed along without the skills they need and can’t read at grade level and the facts that many of our kids graduate woefully unprepared for college (over 70% have to take remedial classes) or for the world of employment. The people of Jacksonville are being blinded by the superintendant and his proxies saying; look at us we have all these great things going on that has made us a B district. Well friends just like the C has become the new F in many of the district’s schools making it in many cases practically meaningless and/or deceptive, being a B district on the states scoring scale just isn’t that impressive.

Mr. Superintendant I implore you, no make that I beg you, please call a press conference and after you sigh and throw your hands up in the air tell the people of Jacksonville the truth, let them know how dire things really are, the serious trouble that we are really in. Tell them how our teachers are having their morale crushed and are overwhelmed with tasks that only have a peripheral relationship to teaching, tell them how policies and procedures are squeezing the joy of learning out of many of our children and putting fewer and fewer in situations where they can actually succeed. Tell them how you have cut the budget to the bone and so many needs are going unmet and the states unfunded mandates usurp the people of Jacksonville’s ability to choose their future for themselves. Tell them how it is going to take them getting off the sidelines, them volunteering, taking an interest, and demanding their representatives in government do what is right and that is the only way our city, our schools and our children are going to have a chance. Tell the people of Jacksonville, black white, rich or poor that we must put our differences aside and start working for the good of our schools and our children. Be a leader and put a true face on things, don’t just be a guy collecting a huge paycheck trying to protect his niche anymore. Sir, I know it was a long time ago when you get into education but it was probably because you wanted to make a difference. Well again sir right now your words are making a difference unfortunately they are not making a positive one.

Superintendent Pratt-Dannals when you paint a rosy picture you have robbed the people of Jacksonville of the choice to get involved or not and this at time when we desperately need them more than ever. Why would they and why should they get involved if our top teacher says, things could be better but they really aren’t that bad after

Duped

Generations of African Americans were robbed of their rights and a chance of a decent education here in Jacksonville and that’s not hyperbole that’s just how it was. Exacerbating matters, our cities leaders were resistant to change even as the writing appeared on the wall during the civil rights movement of the sixties. It was kicking and screaming that they agreed to bussing in 1971 when the best solution would have been to provide the proper resources to all the schools regardless of what side of town they were in. Though I can imagine any trepidation the leaders of the black community may have had if that promise would have come through after all they were the recipients of the systematic abuse and discrimination. Unfortunately bussing didn’t work as well as well as some would have hoped.

Children were forced to travel many miles from their homes to unfamiliar parts of town when there was often a neighborhood school close by. African American opponents believed it created problems with discipline and eroded away the cohesiveness of neighborhoods. White opponents claimed their children were being sent to dangerous neighborhoods. Both groups thought it hurt parental involvement and extra-curricular activities and some people think it worsened the problems of economic and racial segregation by encouraging white flight (white families moving to suburbs). It would be disingenuous of me to blame all these problems on the school district because bussing was the nations plan and like the rest of the nation Duval County gave it the old college try.

The next thing the Duval County School District tried was the creation of magnet schools to be located in predominantly African American areas of town. They thought specialized programs could recruit whites to voluntarily travel out of their neighborhoods and they were right. The magnet schools have been an amazing success that at the same time created a whole new set of problems.

They have created a two-tiered system of education of have and have not’s. And however the school board twists the facts they are basically glorified private schools financed by the tax payers dime. Where your students go to school in Jacksonville partly determines what type of education they receive and in a public school system that should be unacceptable. But worse than that the school board has come to believe the hype generated by the academic magnet schools and thinks they can duplicate that success at all the schools and the reality is they can’t, though the school board keeps on trying.

Which begs the question, why do we have academic magnet schools if the graduation requirements such as taking and passing algebra II are the same at all schools. Where preparing every student for college is a laudable goal, it’s also a completely unrealistic goal. Not every child is interested in going to college but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stimulate their growth, interests and needs too.

The county has practically eliminated the teaching of trades and skills despite the fact that’s a lot closer to what many students want to do and are interested in. Plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, cosmetologists and day care workers will never be outsourced to India and many of those professions make as much if not more than professions that require college degrees. Furthermore many of the kids that do go to college will get liberal arts degrees and why don’t we cater to them as well instead of just catering to the math/science crowd.

Somewhere along the way the School Board also initiated an unwritten with a wink and a nod policy of social promotions. If you want proof of this look at the eleven of nineteen failing or turnaround high schools. Children didn’t arrive there and suddenly forget what they had learned. On the contrary they never learned it and were pushed along. I don’t blame elementary and middle school teachers for this. It’s gotten so difficult to fail children and often teachers are called to the mat if they try and do so. Because of this some teachers have told me the C is the new F. The thing is once they get to high school there is nowhere else to promote them to and they are forced to sink or swim with a lot of sinking going on. Social promotions have in effect dumbed down the district, unless of course you are attending one of the academic magnet schools.

If you don’t daily see the frustration on lost children’s faces you might be able to get a sense of the reasoning behind it. Children that fail are more prone to drop out, though what the powers-that-be didn’t take into account was children that have fallen behind don’t always catch up, in fact it’s often the opposite that happens and they fall farther and farther behind.

At the same time the school board started their push to prepare every student for college or what I like to call put every peg regardless of shape into a round hole, they also went soft with discipline too. Like with so many other things they have done I can recognize there may have been some noble reasoning behind it. There was a whole movement afoot for a while, which called for a kinder gentler approach to discipline that the county got behind, unfortunately the county got that wrong as well and have nearly gutted discipline as a result. Many teachers have stopped writing kids up preferring the toxic learning environment rather than being called to the mat for having dared written a referral or have the children receive no consequences for their actions. It’s a waste of my time they often say. Furthermore it doesn’t help that Principal’s evaluations are party determined by how many children they suspend. That effectively takes a tool out of their box when it comes to discipline.

Short of selling drugs or beating up a school board employee it is nearly impossible to remove a child from a school even if they are a constant discipline problem and are failing all their classes. These children often hijack the learning environment and not only stop teachers from doing their job but other students from learning as well. And if you were wondering where civility went to, well you won’t find it at most schools because it’s no longer required. Instead of just preparing children for college, I thought schools had a higher calling and that was to prepare children to be good and productive citizens.

Each of the School Boards quick fixes resulted in even more serious problems. And that’s the problem; they are trying to come up with quick fixes which in some cases are flat out unrealistic as well. They are doing this instead of sitting down and coming up with a cohesive plan that looks at the long term ramifications. Where there are so many students who have been successful despite the school board at the same time the school board has contributed to an ever growing band of students who lack manners and basic skills. Time after time the school board has been filled with good intentions that have gone awry and we all know what is paved with good intentions. I don’t think we as a city can take many more of them

The Times Union’s love affair

The Times Union’s editorial board’s love for Superintendent Pratt-Dannals is once again evident in the editorial, F-Cat Scores: Raising expectations. Like he did in his letter to the district on the DCSB web site, the column talks about the problem with this years f-cat and then later asks us to celebrate the successes at some schools.

Does anybody else see a problem with this? Is one part of the f-cat good, while another part is bad? If successes are set up by years of hard work as the editorial suggests, then aren’t failures set up by years of poor work as well? Which is it?

Furthermore, how can the superintendent criticize Pearson without mentioning that the county has brought them to town to do some of our statistical analysis? Which is it Times Union, should they be scrutinized or should they be used?

Continuing, it is interesting that over 500 teachers applied to work at our struggling schools but doesn’t that has more to do with the economy than them thinking the Duval County Public School system is being successful. Also many of those 500 that attended a recent job fair weren’t from out of town. The district invited everybody including locals without teaching experience to attend and then was woefully unprepared for the turn out they received. If that’s something to be celebrated, talk about turning lead into gold.

Finally, when the Times Union talks about a snap shots that represent a few years, what they are actually talking about another is tens of thousands of kids who enter a system that will ultimately curtail many of their futures and graduating tens of thousands of children many who won’t be prepared for college or the workforce. How’s that for a snap shot?

I like it when the Times Union writes about education. There are few subjects more important. I also believe there are great things happening in the county and the staffs at the schools mentioned in the article should be applauded for their hard work and dedication, just like the staffs at all schools regardless of their grades should be. I just don’t think it’s fair to the Times Union’s readers, and the children of Jacksonville, when they put such a positive spin on an over all dreary picture.

Chris Guerrieri
Stake Holder

Blame the Messeneger

The district web site at one point details the problems both real and perceived with this year’s f-cat and then touts the successes that several schools had. This begs the question does the district believe the f-cat was inaccurate when assessing some schools but accurate when assessing others? If this seems incongruent to you don’t worry, it’s not, it’s just par for the course in the Duval County Public School district.

When there is a success they have no problems beating their chest saying look a us, but when there is a failure, like the f-cat results or the fact seventy percent of graduates have to take remedial classes in college they equally have no problem pointing the finger and casting blame elsewhere. Welcome to the way things are run in Duval County.

The truth is the f-cat despite whatever noble purpose it may have represented when first conceived has become an albatross around the neck of public education. It’s flaws, drawbacks and problems were well documented before this years round of problems. Real leadership might call for replacing it with something that works effectively rather than saying it’s great when it gives us the results we want and terrible when it doesn’t.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

More porridge please: A Glimpse at the inner workings of the DCPS district

I was called into a training yesterday, it’s my summer so they can’t make me go but the subject was one I think is important. Though it would be disingenuous of me to say the fact they promised to pay me my hourly wage wasn’t a big, very big inducement.

As I pulled into the faculty parking lot I noticed they had paved the students parking lot. Hmm, I thought, that’s interesting, a thought that came to mind again when I noticed they had retiled several of the floors.

I entered Houston Hall, where many of the meetings are and took my seat surrounded by 25 or so peers, and six members of the seemingly always-expanding district staff. One got up and thanked us for coming and told us, and don’t worry you will be getting a stipend for your time.

A palpable gasp went up from the crowd, stipend, um we were told we were getting our hourly wage, we mumbled to each other. The difference for my peers and me is about one hundred dollars. I mentioned it to the senior district person on a break and she, who makes twice my salary by the way, with a slight tone of indignation in her voice that I would even ask, said, oh you are just getting a stipend, I don’t know what you were told. I felt like a Charles Dickens character asking for more porridge and got the same response they did.

I sighed feeling like I was a victim of the old bait and switch and sat through the training, which like most consisted of the trainers reading a power point and showing us a video. By the way two of the district people never said one word, two barely spoke and just two put the presentation on. While doing so they shared three success stories that took place during there thirty plus years of teaching to illustrate how what they were selling worked.

My point of this is we wonder why we have problems as a district. We plead poverty but spend our money on cosmetic changes and a huge district staff, whose effectiveness is seriously in question. Then not only do we treat our teachers poorly but we put them in nearly impossible to succeed positions as well. I say this last part because the training might as well been called; dooming teachers and kids through quickly put together not that out plans, but more on that later.