My sit down with Superintendent Vitti Part 5: Teacher Turnover, Dyslexia, the Future and More

Teacher Turnover
Turnover sadly is not a problem just reserved to John E.
Ford. It is a problem that the entire district has and, Vitti pointed out, it’s
a problem that the teaching profession in general has. He went on to say that
young people now were very transitional with their careers with few staying in
one profession for a lifetime. Since that is how he feels, it’s no wonder he is
a big supporter of Teach for America.
Teach for America takes noneducation majors, puts them
through a five-week access course, and then places them in our neediest
classrooms where they serve a two year commitment—or what we know to be the
exact opposite of best practices. I have been a huge critic of the district
using TFA teachers, recommending instead that we put our resources toward
finding people who might be lifelong educators in our classrooms, especially
our neediest.. Despite these points, I can’t disagree with his thought that
Teach for America is not exacerbating the turnover rate in our high poverty
Teachers come and go at an alarmingly high rate at those
schools because Florida makes teaching at them both unattractive and difficult.
Many of the students are mired in poverty, they start school behind, and gains
are often slower. They don’t perform as well as the state would like on
standardized tests and that, in turn, leads the state to demand that principals
and teachers be replaced. This retards the development of teachers, wrecks
continuity and makes attracting qualified teachers and principals to those
schools even more difficult. He spoke of some district measures to help stem
the turnover tide, including recruiting African American males, trading a free
master’s degree for a certain term of service, and developing master teachers.
However, what he didn’t speak about was the district recruiting its best
teachers to go to our neediest schools. Furthermore he did make that point that
some people could be successful at one school and unsuccessful at another
school. Presumably he was talking about our suburban schools where there is
little turnover and our inner core schools where there is a lot of turnover. I
agree with him but in reverse.
You see I wonder about all the new teachers that go to the
inner core schools because that is where most of the jobs are, filled with
exuberance and ideas but quite often lacking classroom management and
instructional knowledge, a combination that often leads quick exits. What would
have happened had they gone to the schools in the suburbs or the schools where
discipline isn’t a problem? Instead of being out in a year or two how many
would have become lifelong educators had we put them in positions where they
could have succeeded. Once again however the district seems to be content
sitting back and hoping the ever revolving door of teachers at our most
struggling schools will one day pay off. I don’t understand why the district doesn’t
recruit the master teachers we already have to go to the classrooms that can
least afford the massive turnover that is taking place.
Through a combination of additional resources, smaller
classes, support and yes, a few extra dollars, I believe we could see many of
the district’s best and brightest head to these schools. In the past, we have
tried some financial incentives, but for people that entered the profession
knowing their pay will never be comparable to what they do, it hasn’t swayed
many. Instead the district seems content to try an ever-revolving door of
novice teachers, many of them, the Teach for America ones that have at most
five weeks of training.
At the end of the day I really do feel Teach for America has
a role to play but as a supplement to our teacher corps, not as a replacement
for people who may become lifelong educators.
At this point we had talked for over ninety minutes and he
had postponed at least one meeting so I knew the time we had left was rapidly
coming to a close. My final question was about the measures the district was
going to put in place to help our dyslexic students. Dyslexia, by the way, is
not even considered to be a learning disability. It’s subject that is very
close to him. He started by talking about the catch-22 situation that many kids
with dyslexia have. They need help but signaling them out also creates a
stigma. He said he planned for the district to train teachers in strategies
that would assist dyslexic students.
A Full Plate
If the superintendent’s plate seems very full to you, I
believe he would agree, but I also think that’s the way he wants it, at least
for now. He said his plan is to be very engaged, but as he finds people he
feels are doing a good job and whom he can trust, he will step back some and
“gradually release.” His role will eventually become that of a guide, where he
will help offer vision and support. Right now, some things are working well. He
mentioned how well the facilities were run and the excellent maintenance program,  ATOSS’s and the staff’s willingness,
especially at the school level, to accept change and as you can see from above,
and I didn’t even mention how the district had done very little to prepare for
the Common Core. We have a long way to go.
I also see and feel the frustration that many people have,
and where I might agree substantially with many of their points, I disagree
with more than a few who have called Vitti a failure after just seven months at
the job. When Pratt-Dannals was our super, I used to routinely write that it
would take us years to recover from him, and that hasn’t changed. Student
accountability had been destroyed, teacher morale was at rock bottom, district
and school-based leadership in many cases was at best questionable, and I could
go on and on. Vitti arrived to a very deep hole, which is something I hope
people remember when they first think to criticize. I think he has done some
nice things and some things with which I disagree. He hasn’t been nearly as
good as his self-evaluation indicated (46 out of 47 highly effectives,) but he
has been a lot better than what we had. Regardless how you feel, the truth is
he has barely got his feet wet. He also inherited a very deep hole courtesy of
the previous administration, one that will take us more than a few months to
dig our way out of.
I think people need to be vigil, the need to question and
they shouldn’t necessarily take things at face value either. But at the end of
the day I think people should be optimistic too that we are heading in the
right direction. 

3 Replies to “My sit down with Superintendent Vitti Part 5: Teacher Turnover, Dyslexia, the Future and More”

  1. I wanted to read all of your "parts" before commenting. Chris, I think if you had given Pratt-Dannals a chance and spoken with him like you've done with Vitti, you might have been able to give him the benefit of the doubt too. One explanation for my position is that the "message" by the super and from the super always sounds better than what actually goes on. And it should. Vitti has proven with this "sit down" with you and the communications chief that he understands self promotion and marketing and that his overall goal is to control critics. My dear sir, you've been compromised and your message moving forward will reflect that. Now the teachers and those not able have an authentic platform from which to tell their perspective has been tainted. While you move forward with your man crush, don't forget that salaries are being manipulated, that in unprecedented fashion 12 month employees missed or only got part of last week's pay, that principal changes actually don't make sense and an argument for constant changes in the urban core with little changes in other parts of town makes little sense, that some principals have very poor data and yet were allowed to keep their jobs while others were demoted or moved one or more grade levels, that some principals who'd made their schools worse were promoted to A or B schools, that there is more going on with staff selection other than just the region chiefs, which was your only focus, and that many promises made by the young and inexperienced super never came to fruition. All of these speak to credibility issues and you give lip service to this but that's about it. If you think going forward we have somehow managed to move so far away from the fear tactics, leaders with limited experience and knowledge, side deals, and coverups, think again.

  2. I am one guy trying to give a voice. I don't doubt there are tons of things I have missed but I also don't see many others steeping up. If people have something they should give it to me and I promise my man crush won't stop me from looking into it.

  3. I agree with the first post, but this is not different then how things are done in Jacksonville. Metro Jacksonville was a very critical blog until it got compromised as well. Chris…I will still check in but this is all interesting…all five parts 🙂

    Jacksonville the wonder of the South…silence the voice of the others and control many things on all levels 🙂

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