By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel
In the quiet of a school library, more than a dozen Osceola County teachers shared their professional frustrations with Gov. Rick Scott this afternoon, challenging some of his policies and urging him to promote Florida’s public schools.
“I see the whole school system as the last bastion for every child…that poor kid you were, that I was, to really get up and get out,” said Pauline Waggoner, a gifted teacher at Neptune Middle School in Kissimmee.”We accept everybody who walks in the door. We take them, and we teach them, and we go from there.”
But teachers feel unfairly criticized, judged and micro-managed, she and her colleagues told the governor.
Kissimmee “I appeal to you to promote Florida as a place of good public schools,” Waggoner said.
Sarah Andriaccio, an eighth-grade language arts teacher, added, “How can you make it more positive for us, as a career and a profession? It’s like we’re a target.”
Scott, holding a roundtable discussion with the teachers, said he is a strong supporter of education. “If we’re going to do well as a state, if our families are going to do well, it’s going to be tied to education.”
But he said the public views the public-education system as one unwilling to police itself. “The perception is that it’s not an accountable system,” he said, and too many people feel “we’re not getting value for the dollars we’re putting in the government.”
Scott said he understands that teachers work hard and knows, given budget cuts and a new merit-pay law, that “there’s a lot of stress.”
But during the nearly two-hour long discussion with Neptune teachers, the governor made it clearly he believes firmly that public education needs to change. He said he held the event because “I’m trying to get ideas from teachers.”
He was in Osceola today to announce a manufacturing firm’s plans to open a regional headquarters there.
The teachers, picked by their principal, were cordial but also outspoken in their criticism of some of the reform efforts Scott supports, including merit-pay for teachers and options outside traditional public schools. Several challenged Scott’s repeated comparison of public schools to private businesses.
“This is an entirely different beast,” said Todd Hariaczyi, a seventh grade language arts teacher. “We have children who come to school hungry…They’re worried about survivable, not getting their homework done…The support at home may not be there,” he said.
“Don’t hold me accountable for a student who skips class,” said career teacher Elsa Mottola. “How am I going to be held accountable for the student who never does the work?”
Sanjay Brown, another language arts teacher, said Florida needs to make improvements in its schools but, “”I don’t think the solution lies in charter schools.,”
The creation of charters means “you’re saying to us ‘you’re not doing a good job,’ ” Brown said. “You are slowly but surely privatizing education.”
Despite the sometimes heated exchanges, at the end one teacher asked Scott to record a short clip for the school’s morning announcements on Friday, and several posed for photos with him.
“Did I agree with everything?” Hariaczyi asked. “No…But we learned a little about him.”
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