I think in the past for the most part the outcome of school board elections were determined by name recognition and party affiliation. I hope that is changing because Jacksonville can know longer afford to do “business as usual.”
The economy is rough, crime is up, civility is down; apathy, hopelessness and hypocrisy have replaced motivation, hope and sincerity, well look at education because all those things can find their roots in our schools. If we don’t get serious and make changes our problems will only get worse. We cannot continue to do the same thing over and over and hope things will miraculously improve. That makes as much sense as passing a student to the next grade level that doesn’t have the skills to be there. Oh wait that’s something we already do with regularity.
One of the biggest problems we have had here in Jacksonville when it comes to education, which affects the city like nothing else, is a lack of effective leadership. Traditionally the school board has been either a stepping-stone for politicians on the way up or way down or a place where part time, casual observers, with tenuous ties to education, who are filled with hubris, think to themselves, I can fix that.
Jacksonville and its children can no longer afford this. Fortunately this year we have a real opportunity to make a change and we can start with the School Board district six races which has four main contenders.
First there is Eric Smith a career politician who I am sure is banking on his name recognition and supposed clout to get elected. Though I wonder if he has such tremendous clout why hasn’t he already been down at city hall or using his contacts in Tallahassee to change the culture “where it’s never time for the kids.” If he has this amazing clout, why hasn’t he been using it, instead of sitting back as the Duval County School Board forced every child into a one size fits all curriculum, divided the county up into haves (those that attend magnet schools) and have nots (those that don’t), practically gutted discipline, ignored the plight of many of the counties disabled children and started blaming teachers for not succeeding when put in unattainable positions.
Then there’s businessman Steve Berrey whose wife is a teacher. Though I am glad he’s not running on that alone because that would mean if my brother were a surgeon I could start cutting things out of people. His big idea is more professional development for teachers. Unfortunately he must not have talked to his wife because if he had he might know that most teachers consider the Shultz Center and professional development here in the county somewhat of a joke and in fact there is a pretty good one going around. How many district people does it take to hold a training? The answer is five, one to put it on and four others to look bored and work on their nails. Sure professional development has it’s place but what teachers really need is an administration who backs them up when they are having a hard time with a child in their class. Sending them back with a please don’t do that again, seemingly the districts only discipline plan, isn’t working for many.
Next there is resource office Gary Oliveras. At least he has been working in a local pubic school, something neither Berry nor Smith could say. Though comparing the school he works at, Stanton, to most of the schools in the county is like comparing a vacation in the Hamptons to relief work in Haiti. I think both have roads but the similarities end right about there. He is right though when he says the administration affectively knee capped teachers when they focused on reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions without putting options in place. First that takes a tool out of the discipline tool box, second it stops parents from being parental, third it allows some teachers to teach and some kids to learn as the only time that happens is when so and so is absent. Teachers throughout the district pray some kids will be missing so they can do their jobs and if suspensions help that even just a little maybe we should encourage more.
Finally there is Becky Couch. To be honest what she says is no more or no less impressive than what the other candidates have to say. They all seem to have sincere and good faith ideas. What sets her apart is the fact she has been in a classroom working with children. She has also heard what other teachers have had to say about what is working and what isn’t working and I believe the fact that she is a teacher gives her a better perspective than the husband of a teacher, a lifetime politician and a school resource officer could possibly have.
I like her idea about backing up teachers and principals that discipline, but I also like Berry’s proposal that the JEA start paying their fair share. I have no doubt Eric Smith does have clout, but he doesn’t have Couch’s experience working with present day teachers and students and I think that’s far more important. I don’t believe Oliveras sees the school board as a stepping-stone to other political offices but I don’t think Couch does either.
If you actually take the time hear what they say it’s really hard to say one sounds so much better than and that’s why to me it comes down to, who’s been in with the kids and who has shared the trenches with other teachers. I believe those two things above all else will give somebody the best idea of what works and what does not work. As far as I can tell Becky Couch is the only one who has those very important qualities.
Though regardless of whom people decide to vote for, I hope the citizens of Jacksonville realize we can no longer do “business as usual.” Doing things the way we have has seen us dig a deep hole for our city and many of its children. A hole that sadly many of our children will never be able to get out of. Jacksonville has real problems with education and it’s time we took them and who we decide to lead us through them seriously. I also hope people realize we can no longer make our decision based on whose name we recognize and according to what political party we like best. Our children are far too important for that to be the sole deciding factors.