Jacksonville, FL: Timid Old City of the Past

Officially The Bold New City of the South

Fifty years ago, the people of Duval County, FL and the city of Jacksonville voted to consolidate the two governments into one. At the time, they were reeling from the the schools’ loss of accreditation and the corruption in city hall.

The reason Duval County Public Schools lost their accreditation?

“The inferior financial support of our local school system in comparison with those of other Florida counties and those of comparable size throughout the United States is not debatable.

“Our children must make their place in a world now directed by science and technology. Industry will follow good education. There is no alternative. This is the greatest community problem and it must be given prime consideration.” Source: Jaxdailyrecord.com

George Santayana said if we do not learn from history, we will repeat it.

What was that reason for the loss of accreditation? Let Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) put it in all caps: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF [THE] LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEM.

If you haven’t been keeping up, our new superintendent, Diana Greene, who took up leadership of the district July 1, 2018, commissioned an update of the Master Facilities Plan. It involved a review of every school building by professional, qualified engineers and concluded with a recommendation for consolidation of some schools, replacement of others, and renovation/repairs for the rest.

Unlike previous MFPs, the new superintendent realized a MFP will never take effect unless it can be funded. Due to numerous state changes in school funding, much capital construction money (a fancy accounting term that means build and repair schools) have gone to charter schools. Therefore, she recommended an additional half-penny sales tax for the next 15 years and requested that there be a November 2019 special election. When some objected to the cost of conducting a one-question ballot, the school board committed to paying the costs of the election.

At that point, the city attorney got involved to tell the City Council that they were not required to schedule the requested ballot. From that point on, the City Council of Jacksonville, through its committees and scheduled meetings, has refused to move forward on the referendum.

The reason is simple: the mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry a/k/a known as Boss Curry, did not want a referendum this year. Also in opposition was a group known as the Civic Council, previously described in this blog here and here and here.

Thus, the City Council has delayed using one tactic or another. They dare not oppose the mayor, which calls up the days of the past.

Bold New City of the South? Or Timid Old City of the Past?

The schools have an urgent need for repair. They need money. The City Council, following the prompting of the Mayor, refuse to allow it although impartial polls show that city voters are 3 to 1 in favor. See here and here.

Let’s mention again the reason Duval Schools lost accreditation: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT.

It seems the people of Jacksonville learned the bitter lesson of 1964, but their politicians have not.

But that is not stopping them. The ridiculous retorts of councilpeople that public schools are bad, but charters will save us all. Clearly, they have not bothered to visit public schools or keep up with the news that our schools have achieved their highest ever rating from the state: the District was only four points shy of an A ranking.

This is not a bold, new city striding confidently into the future astride the energy of its people. This is a timid city, one echoing the past, bad days when the corruption in the city government was rank and expanding, when every elected official set up an official fiefdom for a department and insisted upon a cut.

No sales tax for you! Come back in one year!

But the Civic Council and their big gun, the Boss of the City, will call the shots. Like the old Seinfeld episode, we can hear the mayor’s voice shouting, “No soup for you!” Or in these social media, thumb-twaddling days, we read it in his tweets.

Before we move on, however, GOT would like to add another quote from long ago: INDUSTRY WILL FOLLOW GOOD EDUCATION. THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE.

Perhaps this is only education. Perhaps the rest of the city runs well and looks after the best interests of its people. Perhaps the mayor and the city council do care about voters’ preferences aside from the schools.

Oops, just kidding! The fix was in all along and mayor’s hand-picked man to run the city-owned utility (Jacksonville Electrical Authority–JEA), Aaron Zahn, who was a surprise pick to run one of the nation’s largest utilities when he had no experience … oh, wait, he did have experience but that was investment experience. If GOT’s memory does not fail him, privatization is right up Zahn’s alley.

By a 3 to 1 margin, people do not want the utility sold. That must be why JEA’s Board decided to explore the option today. Months ago, the mayor declared that privatization would not happen. Does anyone doubt Zahn went ahead only because he knew it’s what Boss Curry wants?

A sale of the utility would be a one-off sale that would bring billions of dollars to city government? What would the city do with the money?

More importantly, would the City Council refuse to advance an ordinance, leaving it to die in committee, if the mayor wanted it?

Would they have 10,000 questions that they would insist upon being answered as they have done to the school board? Would they insist upon a detailed list of projects and expenditures with an accompanying financial analysis detailing line item by line item exactly how the money would be spent?

Would they want dates and priorities declared?

If you think yes, GOT would like you to know that the Powerball jackpot is up to $63,000,000 tonight; maybe you’ll win but your odds are 1 in 292, 201,338. The MegaMoney game is currently at $168,000,000, but the odds are even worse.

The city council approved the $18 million tab for the buy-out of the operator and existing leases, as well as the demolition of the Jacksonville Landing with never a question for the mayor like the ones they are hurling at the school board.

No one opposes Lenny. No one if they know what’s good for them. This post runs long; GOT does not have room to recall how the mayor sacked hard-working, good-hearted people from many city commissions–all volunteer work. He didn’t think they would push his agenda. He wanted people who would do as they were told.

GOT also does not have room in this post to tell the story of the every 10 year charter revision committee stacked with people who will push to change the school board from elected to mayor-appointed.

But keep an eye on the big picture and know that few bold people are in power. The school board may be the last refuge in their fight with the city.

Bold New City? Don’t make me laugh. What we’ve been watching and speaking out against is the Timid Old City of the Past.

Week Seven: Summer Is Ending

This post is week 7 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Professional Learning

Check-in on where you are in your summer learning journey and your overall professional journey.

But first, a song about summer: it’s almost through.

“We’ve been having fun all summer long … but summertime is almost gone.”

I continue to read through the many books about mathematics, pedagogy, cultural awareness and sensitivity in the classroom, and more. Many times I share quotes on social media; occasionally I write a review for my blog. I find that writing is an important part of my professional learning as we teachers are not vessels to be filled, but painters facing a canvas. We have learned from masters, we have learned from the mistakes of beginners, we have suffered from the abuse of self-appointed experts who would never dare to pick up a paintbrush themselves, but our learning is never complete until we begin to paint our own pictures.

I am soldiering through the online PDs I must do and want to do.

Florida used to require teachers to write an Individual Professional Development Plan. I’m not sure if the state still does, but my district continues to require it. We call it the ‘ippy-dippy.’ A year or so ago, the district decided they didn’t like the sound of that. They now admonish us that we should say, “EYE-PEE-DEE-PEA.”

Of all the foolish things a district will try to intimidate veteran teachers about, that one deserves an honorable mention.

But I digress.

I have not done my usual activities over the summer. I have done the minimum that I must (analyze test scores), grind away at PD that I won’t have time for when the school bells ring, and try to figure out why my district threw half of its high school mathematics curriculum away in favor of free internet sources when said sources have not delivered on their promises.

Although the bathing suits won’t meet dress code, doesn’t the rest of the visuals depict well the annual safari teachers go through every year? The play list will move on, enjoy.

So where am I on my professional journey? The last school year was tough, very hard. Discretion will prevent me from discussing it further. But I needed some time away.

Last night, for the first time this summer, I finally felt the last of the tension and stress drain away. I’m ready to go back.

That is how I would like to end this post. I have five more years until retirement arrives at the last. I really can’t check out until then. But, what would I do in retirement? I hope to continue my service in my city’s public schools as a volunteer math interventionist, working with struggling students one, two, or three at a time. We don’t have interventionists in my district; we know we need them, but the money isn’t there.

But this summer’s journey has also pointed out the importance of teacher self-care. We have to stop killing ourselves.

Take care of yourself, teachers. Make those doctor appointments, leave the stress in the building when you go home, love your significant other and your family. Dead doesn’t help anyone and no one will engrave it on your tombstone.

Grumpy Old Teacher is sure that Hot Lunch Tray already has the last prompt in mind for Week 8, but still is going to recommend that it be about self-care.

Teachers, how do you take care of your physical, medical, mental, and emotional health during the school year?

Know When to Hold ‘Em: A Big Bluff

The latest in the half-cent sales tax referendum to fund the reconstruction of Jacksonville’s schools comes in this news story: the School Board is investigating the hiring of an outside law firm to litigate the many roadblocks the mayor and City Council, driven by the Civic Council, a non-elected, secretive group of wealthy and their toadies in the city, have thrown in their way.

The school board is not about to fold. And now, because Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) knows you want it, here’s the song.

But the Civic Council, a/k/a Charter storm troops, are already counting their money.

GOT woke up this morning thinking about the sales-tax referendum and for some strange reason, this image popped into his head:

Dogs Playing Poker by C.M.Coolidge Door Mat - 60"x36"
I see your half-penny and raise you 20%.

What if the superintendent of schools (Duval County, FL: a/k/a known as Jacksonville) called the City Council’s bluff? They keep demanding answers to questions that have already been answered. What are they really up to?

A fellow blogger reports the strong, yet true words of a school board member for a city council on which he served until term limited.

GOT would love for the superintendent to call their bluff.

“We are closing two schools this year. The Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, demanded that we turn them over to a charter school, despite the fact that the law, Florida statutes, give us a choice of charter, an external manager, or closing the school.

“Maybe school choice isn’t really a choice. We only get a choice if we make the choice that has already been chosen for us.

#Chartrand #CivicCouncil #RonDeSantis #RichardCorcoran #FLDOE

“Today I offer you a choice. Beyond the two schools we must close this year, we have at least 20 schools near the same point given the current Florida statutes.

Image result for dogs playing poker
Can dogs really hide aces up their sleeves? Pineapples don’t have sleeves. Wait, what? No, dogs don’t have sleeves either. Someone impartial really needs to regulate the deck.

“Let us have the half-cent sales tax. We will prioritize (as you demand) the rebuilding of schools whose grades place them in danger of leaving our control. We will rebuild those schools and then turn them over to a charter operator of your choice!

“Currently, that is the IDEA charter school chain out of Texas.

“Yes, we will build it and they will come.

“We will take those schools, rebuild them, and turn them over. The charters will not have to compete against us; we will disappear from those neighborhoods. They will have free rein.

“But the charters must agree to the following provisions in their contracts with the Duval County School Board:

  1. They will maintain the neighborhood boundaries for every school we turn over. That is, they must accept every student that lives within the school boundaries. Parents who move in during the school year, say in January, the charter must accept their children and enroll them. Counseling out children for any reason will be a cause for negating the charter contract.
  2. They will provide services for every IEP and 504 plan for every child. Again, counseling out parents by saying, “We can’t do that,” will be a cause for negating the contract. They must take every kid and do their best as every traditional public school in the district must do.
  3. The district has already provided the campus. The charter must agree that the district will provide transportation, meals, and maintenance for the buildings and accept that the district will subtract the cost of doing so from the state formula of allocation of district funds that they receive.”

How can a charter-lover resist? They get everything they want and all they have to do is live up to their promises.

8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge

WE have reached Week #6. Grumpy Old Teacher has caught up at last, but he still has a bad case of the grumps.

This post is week 6 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

The lead-in: ” You have considered your role as both a leader and follower, and know the optimal conditions for learning. How are you planning to implement change this coming school year? How will you make it fit within the overall goal of your school culture and goals, but be true to your vision?”

The recap of prompts:

  • Week One: What are your professional learning goals this summer?
  • Week Two: Ponder your professional past. What has made you the educator you are today?
  • Week Three: How are you both a leader and a follower in your career?
  • Week Four: What are optimal conditions for learning, for you, and for students?
  • Week Five: What is your big, hairy, audacious goal for next year?

Plan to Change

How are you planning to implement change next school year?

A bad case of the grumps or a pattern emerging? GOT is wondering now where these prompts are going. What is it with the superhero, super teacher trope and why are we going there?

First, let GOT quote from Hot Lunch Tray the statement of the website creator:

I am Penny Christensen. Originally from Western Michigan, I have taught and lived in Florida, Georgia, and Michigan. I am a lifelong educator, I am still not sure what that will look like in the future for me. I have formally taught 4th-7th grades, specializing in mathematics, science, and content literacy.

After teaching for 11 years I moved into the Technology Department in 2009 as an eLearning Specialist. I help educators implement educational technologies. This technology integration thing is just like acquiring any literacy, one should acquire it and then not need people like me to help. Let’s see.

I have some firm beliefs:

  • public schooling can be an act of social justice
  • doing well in school does not mean doing well in life and vice-versa
  • teachers can at any given moment be the one who makes THE difference and they will rarely recognize that opportunity so always be prepared
  • standardized testing is data, just like my BMI
  • a person is smarter when they access people from a variety of places and backgrounds

So GOT did a search. He is glad to report that Ms. Christensen has been blogging for about 10 years and her interests are in instructional design and internet learning, specifically, how the tools made possible by technology will enhance student learning. Completely absent from anything is even the slightest whiff of reformy connections.

With that out of the way, but still wondering where this is leading, GOT can answer the latest prompt: I retired my cape. It’s hanging in a museum and I have no desire to put it on again.

Looks good on the stand. I’m going to leave it there.

How will I lead change in my school? I don’t intend to. Change, real, lasting change is most often organic. It comes not from edicts or forced conversations, it comes not from faculty lounge harangues or wearisome professional development meetings, it comes not from canned programs or purchased programs. Real, lasting change takes place in the hallway when teacher A sees something teacher B has accomplished and says, “How did you do that?”

I cannot control my school. I cannot make people do better even if I thought I had all the answers. Spoiler Alert: I don’t.

But I can set the tone in my room. When I close the door, I can create a learning environment that makes children eager to learn, even math.

To answer the prompt, that is what I plan to do this year. Be the best teacher I can be. If others seek me out, then maybe I will have played some part in effecting change in the school.

But the superhero teacher? That person doesn’t exist and we should stop putting that expectation upon people who are doing the best they can in very trying circumstances.

Week Five: Big Hairy Audacious Goal

This post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

What goal is so powerful that you are compelled to move toward, yet respectful of its immensity?

Big Hairy Audacious Goal

What is your BHAG for next school year?

Big, hairy and audacious? Or unrealistic? Grumpy Old Teacher can think of many goals he would like to achieve (along with the necessary efforts of many others):

  • The resignation of Betsy Devos.
  • The startling admission of Bill Gates: “I didn’t know what I was doing and I’m going to stop now. Sorry for the bother.”
  • The end of standardized testing because, as officials in all 50 states should admit,”We already know the income level of the parents. We don’t need an annual test to find out.”

But the Dollar Shave Club and its competitors don’t have enough razors to send me for those hairy beasts. Maybe we need to be more in line with reality.

GOT will complete his 62nd journey around the sun in a few weeks. Along the way, he has learned that above all goals must be achievable.

“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts … I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien.)

GOT’s sights are set much lower because they must be less grand in order to fulfill the job from which he earns his living.

Goal Number One: Replace the curriculum resources stripped away when the school system decided to put off its textbook adoption cycle for two years, but not extend the current contracts with the publisher.

In replacement, we will use free, online resources, some of which are not yet available. For example, GOT has extensively used the publisher’s online math platform for practice problems and assessments. He has found that the best way to get kids to practice math as they need to is to make them spend the first 30 minutes of each 90 minute class on the platform.

That way, there is no cheating, no looking up answers because GOT is supervising the work, and GOT is available to answer questions and show solution techniques. As he is fond of telling the students, “I don’t live in your bedroom. (That’s a creepy thought.) If I assign this as homework, I’m not there to help you when you need my help.”

The platform will be unavailable. GOT has no idea yet how to replace it. The district says the free, online alternative will provide something, but GOT has checked over the summer and it is not active.

So Goal Number One, while it may not seem big and hairy enough for the prompt, is to find effective alternatives as the year progresses.

Or, to put it another way, the adoption/non-adoption of new curriculum means that classroom teachers must find their own resources for their students. Goal Number One is to locate these resources and reconfigure what I do to maintain instructional excellence.

Goal Number Two: Continue to work toward establishing restorative practices as a better way to establish a school culture and climate of mutual respect and appropriate behavior.

The short of the story is that, when done right, restorative practices are effective in improving student behavior and reducing ineffective traditional punishments.

Many people will argue with that, but the only reason restorative practices are controversial is because, far too often, they are not done right. The supports needed are not in place. Community is not emphasized. Punitive action and repairing harm are seen as a dichotomy rather than two separate arenas that reinforce one another when used appropriately.

As summer draws to a close (it’s only mid-July but in my state, teachers will report for a new year in only two and a half weeks), GOT hopes teachers have used their time well, especially for self-care and rest. The general public does not realize that most teachers work the equivalent of a full-time year in the compressed space of 42 weeks for a 10-month salary.

No other profession does that.

The Lead Learner

This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Lead Learner

What are optimal conditions in which to learn, for you, and for students?

Good Guggamugga, what a lead-in! The most pressing issue in my city is the School Board’s plan to replace or renovate its outdated facilities that are literally crumbling into the Florida landscape.

Not even video shown on local news, pictures in local media that are shared widely on social media, and pleas from teachers, principals, and district administrators, to say nothing of the children themselves. are moving the hard hearts of my city’s politicians, who are only concerned with promoting charter schools at the expense of losing the public schools.

Classroom ceilings held up by wooden two-by-fours, broken air conditioning that allows room temperatures to climb into the mid-90s, dangerous portable classrooms that offer no protection from lightning during a storm or are breaking in two as the ground sinks under part of it … mold, broken athletic showers, the problems are lengthy and a solution has been long delayed.

This is the summer blogging challenge from another ed blog: Hot Lunch Tray. I doubt this is the response they had in mind.

HLT asks about optimal learning conditions? In my city, let’s start with classrooms that won’t fall on the heads of children as they try to learn.

Week 3: Following and Leading

This post is week 3 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Leader & Follower

How are you both a leader and a follower in your career?

Following:

  • Because I must, as every mathematics and ELA teacher must, I follow the dictates of an abusive test-and-punish system. I pull data from the testing students must undergo: district baselines, district interim tests that go by many names, and finally the Big Event itself. I do the analysis and I can even make a good prediction as to how any student will perform as I may be the only person in my state to take the raw score (% of questions answered correct) and match it to the reported state score. Mind you, I am not suckered by this game, but it is one I have to play.
  • Administration. While the collegial approach is best and the best administrators I have ever worked for use it, I respect their right to make the hard decisions for the operation of my school. I am glad I can have my say without repercussions. But in the end, it is the principal who must decide. I follow those decisions to the best of my ability.
  • As a blogger, I write my pieces and share them with the world. Like most, I write about the things that interest me or grab me. Many times, I run across someone else’s post that expresses my thought much better than I can. Rather than trying to outdo them, I give them the recognition they deserve. That is why, at times, you will find I posted something on my Facebook page that I did not write or I reblogged directly. It’s not a competition for fame. Everyone of us must do our part to save our schools and, as a team, we will go farther.
  • Teaching is collaborative work. I don’t know it all. So while others often follow my lead, I follow theirs when they have a good idea to share.

Leading:

  • I volunteer my time as most teachers do in one way or another. Currently, I sponsor an after-school activity and chair the Positive Behavior Intervention Support Committee at school. As I have studied and learned, I have shared with my colleagues and we are making a positive change in the school culture. It is only a few small steps now, but that is the way every large change begins.
  • Younger teachers seek me out for advice on how to handle situations in their classrooms.
  • This blog. Many teachers are afraid to say what they want. They tell me that they are glad I am saying it for them.

I have done many things in my career, but nothing has been as satisfying as being a classroom teacher. In the end, we have to answer the question by saying that we lead students in their development and growth, but to do that, we have to follow their needs and adjust our methods accordingly.