The Slant of the Times Union

The Times Union has long been a big part of my life. My mother worked there for nearly thirty years and I have fond memories of sitting around the table with her reading the paper. Now however I have to say I am a bit frustrated with the paper. They seem to be on the wrong side of the education debate. Even in their news pieces there seems to be a slant.

In a recent article about Micelle Rhee, controversial former D.C. schools chancellor, addressing the Florida Legislature, Brandon Larrabee sited her presence in the movie, Waiting for Superman. I say movie not documentary because many of its dramatic scenes were staged. Mr. Larrabee referred to the movie as being critically acclaimed, I say the movie was blatant propaganda made by a public school hating film maker, financed by billionaires interested in increasing their share in the education market through misinformation, teacher demonizing, charter schools and an increased reliance on standardized testing. In case you blinked, you should know that education has become a multi-billion dollar business.

You know what really gets me? It’s the fact that many of those that embraced Waiting for Superman as the gospel are the same people that will dismiss a Michael Moore movie as Hollywood crap. I share many of Michael Moore’s views but I know when I watch his films to do so with both eyes open and to take them with a grain of salt.

Even if all of what was portrayed in Waiting for Superman was true regardless of the fact much has been debunked, (sadly however that didn’t get nearly the press the film did) it would still only show a miniscule fraction of what is going on in our schools. It would be like looking at three doctors you knew were bad and then condemning the whole medical field nationwide because of their actions. Sadly however when Mr. Larrabee says critically acclaimed he gives the movie more credibility than it deserves.

You expect a slant from their columnists take Ron LittlePage for example. In Ron Littlepage’s column about the state potentially withholding funds if some of our schools don’t improve, he talks about the education commissioner losing him, well I can tell you right where he lost me. It’s when he wrote, “But we now have a strong School Board and a strong superintendent in place who are putting extra effort into improving these schools.” Mr. Littlepage exactly what school board and superintendent are you talking about?

This school board and superintendent, instead of following the law which I agree is draconian and instead of addressing the real problem, kids getting to high school unable to read and do math at grade level, without the skills they need to succeed, came up with some half baked plan to cut the schools in half creating two theme schools that would share the same campuses. And you are surprised the state said no thanks?

That proposal was not extra effort, instead it was crazy and a common definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Well friends we have been waiting for over a decade for 1701 Prudential Drive to fix those schools. The superintendent by the way was there every day and several members of the school board have been there for years and not one of there quick fixes have worked. They reason is they stubbornly refuse to address the real issues those schools have and because of that nothing has changed.

Mr. Littlepage, I don’t want the schools closed or taken over, but we have real problems which need real solutions and if you, the school board and the superintendent aren’t going to part of that it’s time you got out of the way and let somebody else try. That in case you are still lost is all the state is saying.

Then there are the editorials, columns without authors. A couple of editorials ago a Times Union editorial asked, what doesn’t the School Board get. Well I am now asking the Times Union’s editorial board the same question. What don’t you get?

We have the superintendent and school board we need in place, the school board is heading in the right direction, we need to have patience. Do you know where those statements and dozens similar to them have come from? They over the last few years, that’s years, have come from editorials that have been written by the Times Union’s editorial board. How much patience can and should we have? How many ideas thrown like paint against a wall hoping something sticks are we supposed to endure from the school board and the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive?

I know editorials are little more than opinions but when put in respected forums like the Times Union they carry weight, they both influence others opinions and policy. And in this case they propagate the failed policies of our local education system and that is causing children to fall through the cracks. It is hurting kids.

Times Union if we follow your advice and be patient and this latest solution to save our ailing schools doesn’t prove to be any more effective than the last few are you going to take responsibility for all the children doomed to a menial existence or who have had their development retarded. Are you going to apologize to their families or the victims of the children who turn to crime because quite frankly they aren’t suited for the workforce or college? Or like you did a while back are you going to call for more patience, and are you going to say, when these members of the school board leave or are superintendent retires, the next ones are competent and sincere too.

Patience is one of the problems we have and I think when children’s futures are on the line we need urgency. Though like the editors of the Times Union are entitled to theirs, that’s just my opinion.

I am not saying you have to agree with me all I am asking is to think what is best for the children. Pushing them trough without the skills they need to be successful and without discipline and a work ethic is not what’s best for children. Cramming them into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of desire and aptitude is not what’s best for children. Deamonizing teachers and endorsing propaganda is not whats best for the children. What the times union reporters and editorial staff often recommend is not what is best for children.

The Times Union has a powerful voice; I wish they would speak more for the kids and not the superintendent, school board and others.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Ron Littlepage, lost again

In Ron Littlepage’s column about the state potentially withholding funds if some of our schools don’t improve, I can tell you right where he lost me. It’s when he wrote, “But we now have a strong School Board and a strong superintendent in place who are putting extra effort into improving these schools.” Mr. Littlepage exactly what school board and superintendent are you talking about?

This school board and superintendent, instead of following the law which I agree is draconian and instead of addressing the real problem, kids getting to high school unable to read and do math at grade level, without the skills they need to succeed, came up with some half baked plan to cut the schools in half creating two theme schools that would share the same campuses. And you are surprised the state said no thanks?

That proposal was not extra effort, instead it was crazy and a common definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Well friends we have been waiting for over a decade for 1701 Prudential Drive to fix those schools. The superintendent by the way was there every day and several members of the school board have been there for years and not one of there quick fixes have worked. They reason is they stubbornly refuse to address the real issues those schools have and because of that nothing has changed.

Mr. Littlepage, I don’t want the schools closed or taken over, but we have real problems which need real solutions and if you, the school board and the superintendent aren’t going to part of that it’s time you got out of the way and let somebody else try. That in case you are still lost is all the state is saying.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

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

The Times Unions love affair with the superintendent continues: part one

The Times Unions love affair with the superintendent continues. In a recent editorial they wrote: Just like a good school needs a great leader as principal, a school district should have a consistent vision and a dynamic leader to carry it out. Now, with a strategic plan in place, and meaningful evaluations of Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals, Duval has a productive relationship between board and superintendent. Let’s hope that becomes the standard for the future.

I’ll be honest I have a problem the strategic plan and it’s not just because it reduces children to numbers and data points on a graph and not because the implementation of it is done with such a narrow minded focus that there are often unintended consequences (the erosion of discipline for example) but because who it managed by. Duval counties strategic plan is the equivalent of me allowing my students to write their test and then grade it as well. There is no neutral party monitoring it to see if it is effective only people who have manifest need to see the numbers improve.

As for the principals evaluations by the school board if you are a reasonable person and read them, then you to probably have questions. Businesses report not wanting to move here because of our school system, seventy percent of our graduate have to take remedial classes once they enter college, potential employers say they can’t find good candidates from the pool of recent graduates and teacher morale is shot and despite all this the superintendent garnered near perfect evaluations from the school board. Say you do like him and think we are headed in the right direction doesn’t above deserve some kind of needs improvement mark? This is made all the more exacerbating by the fact he helped pick the numbers in the strategic plan and then was in charge of gathering the numbers.

If you think the district is headed in the right direction, you are probably a member of the school board, the superintendent and his inner circle or an editor for the Times Union; you are sadly misinformed, because we’re not.

We have serious problems and we need a superintendent who is willing to tackle them and a newspaper that is willing to report them. Until that happens the citizens of Jacksonville and it’s children are being done a huge disservice.

A Brickbat for the Folio

Up is down, black is white, dogs are playing with cats, people are jumping on the furniture and the Folio gave Duval County School Superintendant Ed Pratt-Dannals a bouquet. That’s to say things are all mixed up. The Folio bestowed the ceremonial honor to the superintendant because he turned down a raise and 20 thousand dollars in cell phone and car allowances.

If you didn’t know it the superintendants base salary is 270 thousand with his total compensation approaching 330 thousand dollars. Looking just at salary, his is almost a hundred thousand more than the mayor and he makes almost the equivalent of Clay and St. Johns counties school superintendants combined. Which begs the question why had he been getting a cell phone and car allowance anyways? You would think he could have afforded them already on his quarter million dollar plus salary.

Likewise did you know that when he went from assistant superintendant to superintendant he received an over one hundred thousand dollar or about a 67% percent raise (he was already making well over 100k) a far cry from the less than one percent raise most teachers typical receive with their step increases, a raise by the way that the superintendant sought to deny them earlier this year when he declared financial urgency.

What’s next Folio? How are you going to reward the fact he has gutted discipline, destroyed teacher morale, further eroded the teaching of the trades and arts and despite his claims otherwise made no appreciable improvement to the district, in fact many think our problems have gotten much worse, in his nearly three years of stewardship; a man of the year award perhaps or how about a parade?
Here is a Brickbat for you Folio.

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

Let down by the Teachers Union… again

Let me start by saying I am a dues paying member of the union. I believe in the union and few things frustrate me more than when people blame teachers unions for problems in education. Unions are not here to protect bad teachers, just to make sure all teachers get due process, nor are they here to stifle education reform, thinking instead we should be at least be doing the basics before we attempt extraordinary measures. So with all this being said why am I feeling so let down?

Well it started when Duval Teachers United filed a grievance against PEN (the professional educator’s network) a local thinly veiled attempt at Union Busting. Despite PEN’s protests to the contrary it is obvious to anybody who applies any level of critical thinking that their goal is to weaken the union. Where I don’t think that DTU’s grievance is unreasonable it made me wonder, is protecting themselves from excursions into their territory first and foremost on the Union’s agenda? Is that what they are concerned with while there are so many other more pressing problems?

What about the stifling policies and procedures that are literally choking the life out of local education? What about the wave of blame the teachers and shake things up administrators that the superintendant has tasked to turning struggling schools around. If teachers talked to or treated their students the same way some principals treated their staffs they would quickly be out of a job and the community would be in an uproar. What about the crushed teacher morale, what about all the kids put in no win situations, what about insisting the district take the code of conduct seriously.

Then what about the thousands of grievances against the school district, because on the mountains of paperwork, more than teachers can possibly do in a day and all the extra tasks teachers are forced to do for free at home while their children are in extended day or wait for dinner, that’s thousands of grievances they could file each and every day. We have all these serious issues and the battle the union chooses to wage is against some Podunk teacher organization that nobody would have heard of or thought twice about if the DTU would have ignored it. That’s where DTU has chosen to draw its line.

One of the biggest problems local public education has is its leaders are far more interested in protecting their niches, their little kingdoms than doing what’s right for both teachers and children. The district is crumbling around us and the superintendant paints a rosy picture at every opportunity. He has created or endorsed policies that push kids along without the skills they need to be successful and gutted discipline. He has instructed his administrators to put yokes on the backs of teachers and work them like farm animals and to get rid as many as they can. Then teachers overwhelmed, marginalized and blamed for the ills of education can’t turn to the union for help because it is far more interested in beating back a push from a little know organization than standing up to and demanding the district does what is right. These are the two entities minding the store of local public education and as things currently stand we shouldn’t be proud of either.

I believe in the Union, I am a dues paying member but I feel disheartened and let down. The district has put me and so many of my children in almost impossible no win situations or are working us until we drop, a common lament with many of the district’s teachers and the union instead of sticking up for me and so many of my teacher brothers and sister has sadly decided it has other fish to fry.

I can’t make this sh*t up

I arrived to school today and discovered my books were missing. I teach a couple ESE science classes and I have found using older editions of science books is better or my kids. I had assembled a class set of biology and general science books that I thought were pretty appropriate. They are more sergeant Friday, that’s just the facts mamn, where the new books want you to go on a yellow brick road style journey to get to the same facts. I get it though; the reason behind the fancy new way is to develop more critical thinking skills. Though at the same time if a kid can’t read or process information at a reasonable rate then nobody short of the lady who taught Helen Keller how to talk is going to be successful.

While teaching the same standards, just with tools I felt were better suited for my students, I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do and that’s differentiating my instruction and meeting the kids where they are; by the way these are things I have been told over and over to do. However it turns out that isn’t good enough; they want me to do it with the books they choose. Another decision made by people not in the classroom that affects the classroom.

Next we have this thing called RtI, (response to intervention) a program teachers are supposed to refer kids to for extra help, kids that are failing or in danger of failing. The first nine weeks being over I checked my kid’s grades and found I had several who had failed. About half failed because of attendance, the other half either a combination of attendance and lack of effort or just plain old lack of effort. These last kids I thought would be perfect candidates for RtI. But before I did so I also pulled their report cards to see how they were doing in their other classes. Maybe as great as I sometimes think I am, it’s “a me” problem as to why they are ailing. Well it turns out the kids who were failing my class because of a lack of effort were likewise failing their other classes for the same reason too (whoa, thank goodness I am as great as I thought I was).

Perfect candidates for RtI right, it seemed logical to me that kids failing all or most of their classes would be right up the RtI alley. However since the title above is, I can’t make this sh*t up and not Reasonable things that happened at school today, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if you guessed differently and if you did then award yourself a prize. That’s right friends, failing all of one’s classes isn’t enough to refer someone to RtI. I am too disheartened to print the convoluted list of teacher tasks required to do so here.

Finally the superintendent came today to talk to our staff about concerns we have. He came at 8:00 when only 1/8th of the staff had planning and was off. I know, why not come after school when the whole staff would be free to talk to him? Probably because that would make too much sense and maybe just maybe give him an accurate picture of what is going on. The sad thing is I bet on the way back to his Ivory Tower he is probably going to pat himself on the back and think; you see, I do listen to teachers. Well one of the sad things anyways.

Friends, welcome to Monday or what I like to call, I can’t make this sh*t up.

Superintendant turns down less than one percent raise, lauded as hero

With some fanfare it was announced that the superintendent would be turning down a raise. He had been allowed to take a raise comparable to the ones teachers get. You will forgive me if I refrain from giving him a humanitarian award especially since the typical teacher receives less than a one percent raise a year. This is the same raise the superintendent sought to deny teachers earlier this year when he his band of sycophants, I am sorry the school board, declared financial urgency.

Sadly this is just one more example of the Times Union, who has mentioned it in several pieces and who takes so many opportunities to paint the superintendant in a positive light that I am beginning to think he must have pictures of the editorial staff with either a live boy or a dead girl, joining forces with the superintendant as the city’s teachers and children languish and the city itself heads in the wrong direction.

Good job Times Union, what’s next a humanitarian award?

If Ron Littlepage loves the superintendant so much he should marry him

I really don’t understand why Ron Littlepage of the Times Union keeps giving Ed Pratt Dannals the school superintendent a pass. This time Littlepage celebrates him because he turned down 20k in car and cell phone allowances, something he probably could have afforded anyways with his 275k salary (total compensation 08-98, 339k according to the Action News web-site). Three years ago when he was appointed he received over a hundred thousand dollar raise from his previous salary. He probably does not need a raise as he makes almost as much as the superintendents of Clay and St. Johns County combined and a hundred thousand dollars more than the mayor.

Do you think we are getting an adequate return on our plus 300 thousand dollar a year investment? If so, is it the poor graduation rate, the high drop out rate or the fact less than half our high school kids read at grade level, or maybe it’s the lack of discipline or the poor teacher moral that you think warrants it?