In a way what is happening at John E. Ford K-8 is a microcosm for what is happening all over the nation. Are schools testing factories where how kids perform on standardized tests is all that matters? Or are schools places where kids come to be nurtured and allowed to grow?
First I think Superintendent Vitti should be commended for meeting with the parents and teachers of John E. Ford K-8 on June 27th. He had to know going in it wouldn’t be easy to have a meeting with angry parents and frustrated teachers. The reason they felt that way is because the district had announced plans to replace first year principal LaTonya Parker.
Now the reason given for replacing her on its face seems valid, if you think schools should just testing factories that is. The superintendent reported that the test scores of the K-8 fell farther and more dramatically than any other school in the district.
A parent however countered that schools should be more than just test scores, a vote for schools being a place where kids are nurtured and allowed to grow. It wouldn’t be the last such vote that way before the night was over.
Parents and staff also spoke passionately and with frustration about the frequent turnover of principals; Mrs. Parker would be the fourth to leave in five years (fifth if you count Jacqueline Byrd who lasted just a few days) and the high turnover in staff, both of which they said led to the schools precipitous drop in scores. Every time there is a principal change more experienced teachers leave they bemoaned.
They also said something that is more rare than you might think in the district; they talked about how Mrs. Parker was a real leader. A leader they supported and whom they felt could, after this first year hiccup, get the school heading in the right direction. If the district is heading to a customer service model then the customer’s spoke loudly about what they wanted and that was for Mrs. Parker to stay.
The superintendent after taking a fair amount of criticism from the 50 or so gathered school parent-teacher leaders did point out a few things, like how he is ultimately responsible for what happens in the district’s schools and if John E. Ford failed again it would be on him, a sentiment that Paula Wright, SB district 4, who was also in attendance echoed. He then said that had he been in charge a year ago (the super arrived in November) that he never would have put Mrs. Parker in charge of John E. Ford. Not because he didn’t have faith in her as a leader but because the job was such a “heavy lift”.
If you didn’t know, first John E. Ford is a K-8, one of only two in the district. It has a *Montessori program, a Spanish emersion program and where it is a magnet school for those programs it also takes in neighborhood kids too. It is not a dedicated magnet, like Paxon or Stanton. He indicated that would be a lot going on for an experienced principal, let alone for one taking their first job. He also emphatically stated that he thought Mary Michaels, the principal he chose to replace Jacqueline Byrd, the person he had chosen to replace Mrs. Parker, before she left for Polk County to be deputy superintendent, would do a better job.
A parent then asked if the meeting was just another example of the district going through the motions and if the decision to replace Mrs. Parker was final. The superintendent replied, no, and that the highly passionate group of school leaders had given him something to think about. The following are some of the things I hope he considers when making his decision.
First Mrs. Mickels was not the superintendent’s first choice to replace Mrs. Parker. Initially he went with Jacqueline Byrd. Mrs. Mickels has not had Montessori training, nor does she have school-based knowledge about what is going on at the school both of which are things that Mrs. Parker has. Mickels will take time to get going where Parker can start running the first day.
Scores are bound to go up no matter what happens. I don’t want to make light of it but the scores are so low now that they are bound to improve no matter who is the principal there next year. The super promised interventions, which will also help. When you couple that with teachers and parents who are motivated enough to fight for their leader it is hard to imagine what they can’t accomplish.
Next it will prove that he is actually listening to what the people of Jacksonville are saying. When Vitti arrived he did a listening tour of Jacksonville and many rightfully applauded him. The previous administration had a deservedly tone deaf reputation. The thing is, our leaders in this era of politicians going through the motions have to do more than just “listen”, they sometimes also have to act upon what they have heard and the message, loud and clear, was John E. Ford wants to retain Mrs. Parker. This is a group that likewise seem dedicated to doing whatever it took to make sure there is not a repeat of this years scores.
Is there a risk going with parents and teachers over data? Sure there is but as I wrote above many believe schools should be more than just test scores.
We will know July second Superintendent Vitti’s opinion on the matter.
* The Montessori philosophy recognizes that children work and think differently than adults, and emphasizes self-directed activity on the part of the child and observation on the part of the teacher. It stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of movement in absorbing concepts and practical skills.