My opponent is wrong: Jacque Bowen won’t be missed

Jacque Bowen was not an asset to this school system. I have discussed the performance of Polk’s outgoing Chief Academic Officer with in an incredibly diverse array of local stakeholder and activist groups, teachers, principals, and parents. Not one person openly praised her. They were and are numbingly consistent in their critique of her. All one needs to do is ask them.

To outside stakeholders/parents etc., Bowen was good at saying what they wanted to hear and being encouraging. And then nothing would happen. Inside stakeholders described her academic leadership approach as a combination of conflicting mandates, inflexibility, vindictiveness, and scattershot communication.

The absurd and punishing testing and assessment regime in Polk County, which even Hunt Berryman now officially recognizes as a problem, was ultimately her responsibility. Heather Wright answered to Jacque Bowen, as near as I can tell.

However, Hunt Berryman apparently hasn’t talked to any of the hundreds of people I’ve talked to who have interests in the School District he oversees. Because he had this to say about Bowen:

“Jacque, in my opinion, is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve run across in the field of academics,” Board member Hunt Berryman said. “She understands the mechanics of education and what we need to improve.

“Any time you lose a key person like that, it’s a hole to fill,” he added. “It’s hard to lose good people.”

I disagree — because I know the consensus of the people who really had to work with her and for her. She won’t be missed. In fact, I don’t know that we need fill that $130K job at all. (I’ll follow up on that at a different time.)

Let’s talk about consensus

I bring up this word “consensus” for a reason. I’ll come to it in just a second.

But first, as I told you would happen, the Lakeland Chamber’s Business Voice PAC endorsed my incumbent opponent. They knew it when I walked in. I knew it when I walked in. It was even funnier than I expected. I think there were seven interviewers. Of those, at least three had personally written 3-digit checks with squiggly numbers in front to my opponent.

And as I wrote earlier:

And Bank of Central Florida, which Berryman helped create, is one of five “major investors” in the Lakeland Chamber. Business Voice is not ever going to choose my campaign over one of [the Chamber’s] “major investors”…I note this without bitterness or concern. This is how the world of human business and social interests works. I try never to get emotional about cold political realities. None of this is personal.”

One member of the Business Voice group took that pre-emptive bit of public context like a scorned teenager. He made sure to tell me how “offensive” it was.

But everybody else behaved very much like the mature, successful adults they are. Indeed, I think we all rather enjoyed the situation, with that one exception noted. The conversation was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed chatting with Paul Noris. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him before. He wrote my opponent a big check, but he couldn’t have been nicer and more attentive to me. I appreciate that. And I look forward to working with him and the others if I win.

None of the interviewers expressed any real disagreement with anything I said, if memory serves. That included my critique of Hunt’s record. There was quite a bit of agreement, in fact. And quite a few excuses.

But there was some concern about my ability to create consensus on the School Board through diplomacy. And that’s a question I’ve heard elsewhere in other forms. So it’s worth examining more closely.

Aligning consensus with truth

I will build consensus on the board the same way that I built the consensus as a private citizen to remove Kathryn LeRoy: through transparent good-faith argument, honest discussion of facts, and engaging the public.

It’s important to remember that only Lynn Wilson openly stated it was time for LeRoy to go when her scandal first dropped. The consensus position on the Board was that Kathryn LeRoy was doing a good job — other than that unfortunate personal business with Greg Rivers.

Here’s my opponent, Hunt Berryman:

“There has been plenty of good that has been going on,” he said. “It’s a crying shame that all of that positive has to be — I don’t want to say destroyed, but set aside.”

Here’s Hazel Sellers:

“There has to be some consequences for these kind of behaviors but my question now — I believe Kathryn would do everything in her power to turn this around, but I don’t know if the community is willing to let her go forward,” Sellers said. “I was hoping we could survive this, but now, it depends.”

The idea that LeRoy was doing a good job — with or without her Rivers problems — and should continue was a clueless consensus. No one outside of the Bartow Office shared that consensus. But it was School Board consensus nonetheless.

The Polk public changed that consensus because Wendy Bradshaw and I did the hard, unpaid work to organize it. We formed Citizens for Better Educational Leadership (CBEL). And we beamed the truth about LeRoy’s leadership like a laser into School Board politics. When I have truth and the public on my side, I feel pretty good about my ability to build consensus.

First they ignore you…

And that brings us back to Jacque Bowen.

My own experience with Jacque Bowen was indirect. CBEL, under Wendy Bradshaw’s leadership, worked for weeks in the winter and spring to gather together teachers and parents to create a “state of Polk testing” document. I supported the effort; but Wendy and friends did the hard work. And Jacque Bowen was their contact; Wendy met with Bowen in good faith. Hunt Berryman did not lift a finger to help.

We were going to use this document to start a process that would lead to major changes in testing. We were modeling this on a process used by St. Johns County. I learned about this process from my cousin, who is a high-ranking St. Johns County education official. We thought we were working cooperatively with the district and bringing productive ideas that would help everybody.

The response we got to all this unpaid work and community engagement was dismissive and condescending. Read about it in great detail here.

The district basically told us in a snotty letter that we were wrong about most things and that we should go look at the test calendar online. We were not wrong. And looking at that test calendar is what led me to blow it up into a campaign prop that I take everywhere now. I love that prop.

So, I couldn’t help but chuckle at Thursday night’s Republican convention watch party at Florida Southern, which Hunt and I both attended. Hunt told the crowd he wants to establish a community testing review process — like the one they used in St. Johns County. He said “St. Johns County.”

When they’re stealing your ideas after ignoring and belittling them, you have adjusted consensus. You’re winning. And it makes one simple fact quite clear: the Lakeland Business Voice has endorsed a less energetic, informed, and effective version of me.

If you’d like to help keep this progress moving, please consider making a contribution here. http://billytownsend.com/donate/

4 comments

  1. Suffice it to say, I have no confidence in Lakeland Business after their endorsement nor will I support any Lakeland Businesses. At no time has Hunt Berryman EVER made a move to make any changes to resolve any of the issues surrounding the problems faced within the county’s schools. It was only when YOU, Billy Townsend, stepped up to the plate and took it on changes started occurring. Berryman “rubber stamped” everything and was one of the major forces in hiring LeRoy. Yet, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce endorses this kind of behavior? I don’t and I don’t support businesses that do.

    That’s a promise you can count on. Keep writing those checks because your businesses and those within Lakeland will not be getting my money!

  2. Mark Kaylor

    Mr Townsend,

    I disagreed with many of your articles and positions adverse to those of us trying to build Florida Poly.

    Howerer, I support your decision to seek office on the PCSB. I believe you are a man of great intellect, keen insight and have the ability to ferret out the facts. Your passion to begin the long ‘fix’ for the PCSB and your energy to do so is unsurpassed by anyone of recent times serving on the PCSB.

    Mark Kaylor

  3. Alison Foley-Rothrock

    The Lakeland Chamber does not represent all (or even most) businesses here in Lakeland. Small business owners like me, especially those of us with children in the Polk County schools, know full well that we need to make some changes. Electing new members with fresh perspective to the school board will be one step in the right direction. The high stakes testing has to stop. The overpaid and out-of-touch administrators have to go and teachers, parents, and students need their voices heard. THANK YOU, Mr. Townsend for your hard work and dedication. You certainly have my vote.

  4. Has anybody asked Berryman or Hazel Sellers specifically WHAT was the “plenty of good going on” the school board kept referring to? I’d really like to see a list that justified giving her a raise year after year. Exactly WHAT did LeRoy do during her tenure as superintendent that moved the district forward and improved education for the students of Polk County? (crickets chirping)

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