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Oy Vey of the week, Duval brings secret shoppers to our schools.

I have been a secret shopper accomplice before. I got a free meal out of it as I helped a pal observe our wait and bar staff. I have known secret shoppers too who visited a whole host of businesses, well friends we're now bringing secret shoppers to our schools.

I can imagine how it happened too, Duval's lord of schools Gary Chartrand quite out of the blue, probably after reading an article about them announces, you know what Duval needs. secret shopper to which the superintendent replied how high shall I jump, great idea sir, while teachers and school staff are already overworked and under resourced, lets spend fifty thousand dollars and put something new on their plates.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have good customer service and we really should be parent friendly and I imagine overall we already do a good job at it. In fact whenever somebody asks me about a school I always reply call them up, meet the principal and go visit but it just seems like there is something wrong with bringing secret shoppers in to the district, I am sure another gotcha tool as people are already over worked and on edge.

I feel like if we have gotten to this point, then we have completely missed the point.

Superintendent Vitti’s chilling warning to teacher and parents

From the Times Union: Earlier this month, Nussbaum and a parent volunteer, Debbie Kane, made an in-person plea for another counselor and other school staffers at the monthly School Board meeting.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said afterward he agrees with Nussbaum’s message, though not
his mode of delivery. Vitti said he has met with and emailed Nussbaum several times,
informing him he is working on solutions.

“I respect the fact that he is an advocate for his community and his students,” Vitti said. “But
there are always routes to communicate his concerns. ... We don’t need to create political
theater or to politicize the problem-solving process.”

First let me say the Superintendent has usually been pretty good with getting back to me, sometimes it takes a while but more often than not he does.

That being said, just because he reads and responds to a concern doesn’t mean anything productive is going to happen. Case in point multiple ESE teachers at a workshop last December informed the district about on-going violations. The districts response? Do nothing until the state came in and did an investigation and said, clean your house.

Vitti may very well have read the e-mail and responded something innocuous but was then off to other matters. It was last spring that he floated the open enrollment trial balloon and that sucked a lot of oxygen out of the room, plus he has been busy giving our schools away to the QEA initiative has dominated a lot of his time and focus. It’s not unimaginable to think the problems at a school that has been fairly successful have fallen through the cracks.

So what’s a counselor or teacher or parent who loves their school and has grave concerns to do? Well talk at a school board meeting is practically all they have left because there for those three minutes things have at least a chance of getting noticed.

You know what I never hear at school board meetings? Hey I just discovered/am having this problem so I thought I would come here wait in line and bring it up. You know what I always here, I have contacted the district a half dozen times, I have pleaded, I have begged, I have tried to be patient and nothing has happened.

I am sorry that Vitti thinks fiercely and publicly advocating for people’s schools and children is political theater because it’s not, it’s often the only recourse the district leaves people. 

If we are to take Vitti’s words seriously he would like to see even that go away.  

A Duval guidance counselor at a large school begs for help. The district's solution is to make things worse.

The first part of above is how the Tampa Times characterized the story of Crown Point Guidance Counselor Lou Nussbaum when he spoke at October’s school board meeting, unfortunately rather than help the district has plans to do the second part, to make the situation worse.

Last year he and seventy of his colleagues signed a letter asking the district for help that Nussbaum says went ignored. It got to the point where he felt there was no other recourse except to address the board at a school board meeting. This had to be at best a nerve wracking proposition but Mr. Nussbaum had a little more protection than most teachers and that’s he is retiring at the end of the year.  

The plight he described was not unique to Crown Point, many of our higher performing elementary schools have seen their performance slip over the last few years as the district has switched focus to the North and West sides of town and as more and more charter schools found easy pickings in the more affluent neighborhoods, siphoning away both some of the top students and resources.

Superintendent Vitti even addressed this point saying in the Times Union, “As revenues decline, our challenges are increasing ... to stretch our dollars to get to every corner and pocket of the district.” Here is the thing, he speaks so eloquently about declining revenues but at this November’s school board meeting he is going to actually endorse the loss of more.

He is recommending the district approve two more Charter Schools, as if 31 mostly low performing ones are not enough. One of those will be the River City Science academy at Mandarin.  By all accounts the River City Science academies are the right type of charter schools, innovative and successful except for one very important fact, Mandarin doesn’t need another charter school.

Charter schools as sold to Florida were supposed to rescue poor and mostly minority children from their failing public schools. Well who in Mandarin needs rescuing from all the great public schools already there? The Science Academy sees easy pickings and is just looking to take advantage of a charter friendly school board, in a charter friendly city, in a charter friendly state.

If it was going to be the Science Academy at Beaver Street or the Westside even I an opponent of charter schools could shrug my shoulders and look for the next wind mill to tilt at but it’s not and all it is going to do is to is further drain away resources from schools that are just barely making it as it is.

The other Charter school Vitti plans to recommend is an expansion of the KIPP School on the Westside of town. You may have heard about it as Vitti uses every opportunity he can to sing their praises, which is odd because the schools grades have been F, lowest grade in Northeast Florida, a miraculous B, it would have dropped to a D if the state didn’t have a schools can only drop one letter grade rule and then another B. Yo-Yos are envious of their performance and the praise really doesn’t seem warranted.    

However the problems don’t stop there.  According to the Times Union of the 88 students who started the first class at KIPP, only 64 finished, that’s about 30% who didn’t finish a program that the super, the Times Union and the city’s elite sing praises about. Doesn’t that seem to be a really high figure to you? I would probably chalk this up to kids just coming and going but KIPP has a national reputation for counseling out poor performers. They also spend about a third more per child and can require parents to be involved but I guess those things just makes them lucky.

You would think the superintendent of a public school district instead of constantly praising KIPP would say something like, they have done some nice things at KIPP but it shouldn’t be lost on anybody how their grades are up and down, they have about a third more resources per child and require parents to be active. In fact I submit that if any public school had the same resources and parental involvement as the KIPP School does there would be no yo-yoing of grades and the performance would be much, much better.  

Approving their expansion probably has as much to do with the Super and Boards cozy relation with Gary Chartrand the man who wrote a nine million dollar check to bring KIPP to town as anything. Gary Chartrand a grocer by trade is the Rick Scott appointed chair of the state board of education, and never worked in a school a day in his life, but his lack of experience and institutional knowledge is an entirely different story all together.

Chartrand and the Board of KIPP have pumped thousands of dollars into the campaigns of School Board members, Becki Couch, Jason Fischer. Ashley Smith-Juarez, Connie Hall, Martha Barrett and Fell Lee. The only person who they didn’t send money to was Paula Wright, they did however give her opponent in the recent school board race thousands and thousands of dollars including Chartrand giving five figures to a super pac, the Citizens for Florida Prosperity which basically made up things about her and her record.

Now the Board may think it is okay to take money from a millionaire and indulge his pet project, they after all are doing the same thing with Teach for America but does the public think it is okay? Should any of us be okay with it? Especially with so many questions lingering.

The truth is there may be some nice things going on at KIPP, we shouldn’t penalize them just because they have extra resources, which is something the once very successful schools in the richer parts of town are sadly learning. We don’t know however and the district and the Times Union who writes an annual puff piece about them don’t seem to be interested in finding out one way or another but either way what is the problem with waiting to let them expand until they have sustained success? History after all says this will be another down year.

This piece starter with a guidance counselor desperate for help, pleading for needed resources and with a superintendent saying they would do what they could. Unfortunately it turns out his plan boils down to siphoning even more resources out of the district to one charter school we don’t really need and another than is a vanity play for a big time donor. We have a super on one hand who says, I am here to help and on the other seems to be more than willing to exacerbate the problem.

In a way Lou Nussbaum wasn’t just speaking up for Crown Point, he was speaking for dozens of other schools that the district has allowed to erode. Schools that have been ignored and depleted of resources. Unfortunately the districts current plans will only make their problems worse.

Duval County disrespects experience, the debacle at Beauclerc Eleementary

Instead of trying to find experienced teachers to staff our classrooms, the leadership of our district has a love affair with Teach for America which takes people with no experience and puts them in our classrooms. 

Maybe our superintendent loves them so much because of his lack of experience. Now I am not saying he doesn't have any but a lot of people questioned if a 35 year old was the right pick to run the 20th largest school district in the nation. I heard people say this would probably be the perfect job for him when he was 45 and had some more experience under his bet. But he was Gary Chartrand's darling and Chartrand thinks anybody could show up and do a job in education.

That brings me to Beauclerc elementary. It's principal who may be a wonderful human being, I don't know, but she followed up 2 years as a math coach with 9 months as an assistant principal before becoming principal. 9 months

Read these comments I got a few weeks back about Beauclerc Elementary.

 What is happening at Beauclerc Elementary? You have a principal that was an AP for 9 months but was promoted to principal because she is bilingual. However the school is in shambles and both AP's were moved to different schools. How can he pick and choose who he is moving? This school has had 3 different principals in 5 years. This superintendent is the worst in Duval County in the past 20 years. This is only a fourth of the crap that's going on with DCPS. At least school boards in the past would have spoken up and called out the superintendent for this mess.

The 2 AP's were new to the school. One was a demoted principal and the other came San Jose. The school is in shambles. Until last Tuesday, the demoted principal was running the school while no one listened to the principal. This is due to her lack of experienced-9 months as an AP. Now, the 2 AP's have been moved to other schools and replaced with another demoted principal-Hyde Grove and AP from Alimicani. This school has moved from an A to C in 3 years with 3 different principals. Kornblum, Manabat and now Mangual.

Literally 9 months. This past summer at the June board meeting Ashley Suarez vouched for her. "It would be a good idea". It will promote the Dual Language program. Remember she was not the 1st choice. The 1st choice was from out of town and had dual language experience. Once she backed away from the offer, Mangual was selected. How can she have the skill set to be a principal after 9 months as an AP? Before that she was a district Math Coach for 2 years.She is the laughing stock of the district in many circles

Ashley Smith-Juarez with barely any experience herself is another one of those that thinks anybody can show up and teach, or lead a school or a district and that's just not the case.

Now things there are unraveling at Beauclerc and some say the district as well.

The QEA's default position is to spin and decieve

I went to the QEA web-site and it did not take me long to find some spin and deception, this from their page on TFA:

Jacksonville TFA corps members often remain teaching past their 2-year commitment, and/or continue working in education in Duval County either as district administration employees or with non-profits in the city.

Well we know that is a straight up lie, some do, a few do, traditionally less than a quarter do do but that's not what they are saying they do. They are implying the vast majority do.

I don't know about you but I don't want to be spun, I don't want to be deceived, instead I want to be convinced they are doing the right thing. We all know there are problems, instead of burying them we should roll up our sleeves and work on fixing them, what would they have lost had they said, retention has been a problem but with this new grant we are looking to overcome it. But instead of being honest they decided to be deceptive. On a side note if a first year administrator, in their third yer overall tried to tell me what to do, I might have issues as would most veteran teachers.

We should all be wary of organizations where their default position is to spin and deceive.

Read the page because they also talk about all the extra money being spent on TFA and shouldn't we find out where that 1.75 million is going and shouldn't the public know we spend a ton more on TFA than we do regular teachers? The local media who never mentions it obviously thinks not.

The QEA could do some good, we need the cities rich to take an interest but trying to trick the people of Jacksonville is not the way to go. 

School vouchers lack both academic and financial accountability.

School vouchers have been in the news a lot recently but probably for the wrong reason.

According to Step for Student's the average private school that takes vouchers has 157 kids and 24% of them have vouchers or roughly 38 kids. The value of the voucher is 5,272 dollars which means and again this is according to Step up for Students the average school receives a little over two hundred thousand dollars. That figure is very important because also according to Step up for Students, every school receiving more than $250,000 in scholarship money each year must file a financial report by an independent CPA. Presumably the report tells us how the money given to them is being spent. This means for your average private school that takes hundreds of thousands of dollars that other wise would have went into the states coffers, we have no idea how the money is being spent. As I see it the system was set up that way because if not why not just have every school that gets money submit a report? What amount is to little that we shouldn't care about?

There are over 1,500 participating schools, of those at least several hundred do have to report, schools that take more than fifty students, so we can monitor how the money is being spent for them but for the vast majority that is not the case. With a wink and a nod Step up for Students and the state of Florida has told those schools keep it under 250,000 and we will look the other way and hope for the best. Once again all of the facts and figures above comes from Step up for Students, the group that administers the vouchers, website.

Now do I think all of those schools are on a 249,999.99 dollar gravy train, no, there are probably plenty of great private schools that take vouchers but I bet there are more than a few that are and thus far the state has no interest in assuring there is any accountability in how the money is spent.

The states voucher program as it is now, resists accountability both financially and academically, obliterates the First Amendment since 71% of the schools that receive them are religious, takes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state coffers, 714 million this year alone and is a bad deal all around. 

Instead of siphoning money out of the state coffers and giving it private schools that have practically zero accountability, we should invest in our public schools.

The Times Union misses 5 million reasons to get rid of TFA

Every time the Times Union does a piece about Teach for America they leave out a very important detail, and that is they are expensive. The district has committed six hundred thousand dollars to Teach for America, then with the QEA donations that goes up to five million (over three years), finally throw in the 5,300 that each TFA teacher receives a year for two years in loan forgiveness and and we have now spent almost 15k extra per teacher.

Now you might be saying only 600 grand comes from the district but even that means we are spending, sans training and first and second year teachers get a lot more training than veterans, the same amount on these novices which create an ever revolving door of and exacerbate the teacher retention problem what we spend on a 7th year veteran.

What would happen if we spent that five million dollars to attract veterans or top grads? Why don't teachers get the same loan forgiveness?

It's because the powers that be behind Teach for America dislike labor and want to reduce the teaching profession and every time the Times Union does an article about them and leaves out all the extra expenses then they have joined the wrong side on the war against teachers.

To read the TU piece, click the link:

How absolutely bad Rick Scott has been for teachers retirement.

The FEA's really bad week. Unions letting teachers down.

I am a member of my local union, DTU which is affiliated with the Florida Education Association. I believe in unions and am grateful for them too but at the same time I have to scratch my head at some of the poor choices they have made this week, which is ironic because they are currently having their annual convention and this should be a celebration of all they do.

First they gave 500 dollars to local school board candidate Scott Shine. Some of his other contributors are Gary Chartrand, Thomas Baker and Charter Schools USA, three of the biggest advocates for school privatization in the state. How can I go after him and point out all of Shines dubious allegiances when the FEA chooses to support him too?

Then they are giving an award to another supporter of the privatization movement. 

From the Tampa times: The statewide teachers union on Friday will honor Bishop Victor T. Curry with its Human and Civil Rights Leadership Award.
Look I am sure this guy has done some good work but at the same time he's snubbing his nose at what the FEA knows is the right thing to do. Were they trying to smooth things over or did they just not know or care.
Either way the FEA has to get with it and stopping supporting privatizers who would get rid of the FEA if they could should be step one.

The despicable behavior of voucher supporters

The supporters of vouchers led by Tampa Millionaire John Kirtley have deep pockets, unfortunately they don't want to use that money to pay for vouchers, instead they want to make sure that you do and to facilitate this they have created a group called the Florida Federation of children to further their aims but make no mistake it's not public school children that they care about.

Instead they have pledged to use their considerable wealth to influence school board races and that's despicable. School board races are supposed to be intimate affairs where neighbors pick one of their own to represent them and their schools. Now if the supporters of vouchers have their way then people will be represented by board members who prefer privatization to improvement and school board races which have typically been low budget affairs are the perfect places for them to buy seats because money typically outweighs message.

Message is a problem with voucher proponents too. Instead of answering legitimate concerns about accountability they try and drown them out with money provided by Charter Schools USA and John Baker of Jacksonville a man with close ties to several charter schools who along with Kirtley are the backers of the Florida Federation of Children. Ask yourself, do you want millionaires and charter school owners influencing your school board races, electing board members who are loyal to them not to you?

It's already happening too. Misleading mailers in Miami, John Kirtley bragging about getting school board members not from where he lives defeated and the republican party of Jacksonville threatening board members with political retribution if they don't support vouchers.

You know if these ultra rich individuals wanted to pull their money to provide vouchers nobody would have a problem. They however don't want to do that and instead expect the citizens of Florida to make up the losses to the state treasury that the scholarships incur. Last year alone that was 714 million dollars. Read that again.

People must ask themselves do they want school board representatives to be people who are dedicated to improving our public schools or to be people who are dedicated to replacing our public schools, the voucher group falls into the latter.

To read more, click the link:

Another terrible report about Florida's charter schools!

When will Florida wake up and stop wasting money and harming young people's lives? 

From the Sun Sentinel:

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company’s management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.
 Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:
 • Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.
 • Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.
 • Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.
 The schools are overseen by volunteer governing boards, which pay the West Palm Beach-based company to manage the schools’ academics, finances and operations.
 Administrators defended the schools, despite the financial issues and low grades.
 Mavericks schools have been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get.
 The Miami-Dade school district counted no more than 200 students during four visits to the Homestead school in February 2011. Yet the school had reported a 400-student count and 100-percent attendance on those days, the district found.
 A Broward school district official discussed a similar discrepancy in a June 2012 email to district staff members. Broward school district officials accused the Fort Lauderdale school of inflating attendance numbers, according to the email.
 An audit released by the Palm Beach County school district in 2013 found 300 discrepancies between the attendance records logged by teachers and those reported to the school district, and no evidence that 14 students enrolled by the Palm Springs school were actually taking classes, the report states. The school was forced to return $158,815…..
 Jim Pegg, who oversees charter schools for Palm Beach County school district, “said problems with Mavericks in Education have frustrated district officials. State charter-school laws do not address the performance of management companies.
“The statute doesn’t give any kind of authority to hold those management companies accountable; we can only hold the schools accountable,” Pegg said. “We need to be able to have some authority with [management companies]. They are the ones taking the tax dollars.”
From Diane Ravitch: Mavericks and the many other for-profit management companies flooding Florida are an integral part of former Governor Jeb Bush’s “Florida miracle.” The schools can be accountable, but the management company that gets paid cannot be held accountable.

Councilman Richard Clark willing to endanger children to bring Charter School to town

Duval County has 31 charter schools, 31, that's more than some Florida counties have public schools and council man Richard Clark thinks we need one more and is willing to bend the rules and endanger children to make it happen. 

From the Times Union: 
The property falls within a “school regulation zone” that bars new schools in certain areas within the vicinity of airports. The city can waive that restriction by determining the public benefit of a school outweighs the risk of a plane crashing into the school.

City Councilman Richard Clark filed legislation saying the benefit of expanding the city’s network of charter schools would justify granting a waiver.

But the city planning department had not done any report on the legislation, so it had no recommendation for or against the waiver. The city had not posted signs at the property or mailed out notices to nearby residents about the proposal, which also is standard for city decisions affecting how property can be used.

The “school regulation zones” extend 5 miles from the end of airport runways. The width of the zones varies depending on the airport because the width is equal to half the length of the runway.
State law lets local governments grant waivers for new schools on a case-by-case basis.

Clark’s legislation argues a waiver is justified because Duval County competes with surrounding counties on public school performance, and “new charter schools have demonstrated a successful alternative to the existing, traditional public school system.”

Why aren't our elected leaders required to be informed about issues? Duval's charter schools as a group grossly under perform when compared to public schools.

From Context Florida: 
In Jacksonville, with its areas of almost intractable poverty, it’s easier said than done. While some school-grade calculations are still pending, 32percent of Jacksonville’s elementary and middle charter schools graded so far this year have earned F’s.* By contrast, so far, only 12.5 percent of Duval’s traditional public schools scored F’s this year. Speaking in proportionate terms, and without accounting for sample sizes, Jacksonville’s charter schools, as a district, have 2 ½ times the number of failing schools than do our traditional-district schools.

We are paying for it dearly — not only in terms of student failure, but also in terms of diffused resources. Test-based accountability is a little too high-stakes in Jacksonville as compared to our nearest-peer district, Hillsborough. (Hillsborough County is exempt from the provisions that count test-scores as 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations.) Nevertheless, standards-based accountability permits educators to zero-in on students’ specific academic needs in order to better serve them.

But here is Richard Clark, at best ignorant, perhaps compromised willing to bend the rules, possibly endangering children to bring another unnecessary charter school to town.