Let’s replace impasse with good faith and move fully into the post-LeRoy era

Kathryn LeRoy dug Polk County a massive, massive educational hole. She was helped by an inattentive and misguided School Board and a less than engaged public (myself included in the latter). We will be clawing our way out of her four years for more than four years.

From the failed LIIS system to the insane and pointless assessment/testing structure to the $100,000 diplomas of Acceleration Academy to the TOP schools to the most recent disruptive magnet school zoning plan to god-knows-what-else will come out, the new Polk board members and staff leadership are working diligently through serious inherited problems. I am asking everybody, from the bottom of my heart, to understand the enormity of what LeRoy left us and what we have to do to fix it. It will take time and patience and persistence. And we’ll have to do it in a teacher shortage era.

That leads us to one of the worst of these problems inherited from LeRoy’s tenure: the fundamentally adversarial relationship between leadership and staff.

This year’s “negotiations” started a few months after LeRoy left. That’s true. But it’s important to remember that every board member except Lynn Wilson back in January 2016 publicly praised Leroy’s performance. They didn’t like her personal behavior, as documented in the whistleblower report and subsequent investigation.

But, except for Lynn, they liked her overall leadership approach and results. That included the heavy-handed approach to our people.

If we could start over from scratch with the current board and the Byrd/Akes leadership combination, I think we’d be in a very different place with our teachers and staff. But we can’t start over. The School Board put itself in this position back in May and June, when Sarabeth Reynolds and I were not part of it. We are not in control of the board now. But I think we are influencing it culturally. I can’t talk about our negotiating positions. And I don’t know how all this will play out in mediation. I think our teachers and staff will probably be disappointed with even the best case scenario this year. I do not want to raise hopes dishonestly. But I do expect our negotiators to act in better faith when we go to mediation on Friday.

And I fully believe this is a year of transition. Next year should be much, much better in negotiations. Sarabeth and I will be in a position to influence that much more directly — rather than trying to steer it on the back end.

Marianne Capoziello yesterday delivered to me 775 copies of a statement signed by members of the public. They were collected by teachers in just a few hours at community events. They don’t ask anything radical, just “an honest intent to settle the issues.” I was happy to accept these signatures. I was happy to sign one of the statements myself. The public wants teachers treated with same respect afforded to police officers and nurses and other vital cogs in democratic civil society. That’s what I want too. I want it here; and I particularly want it at the state level where the true teacher-hatred and contempt dwells.

We in Polk County cannot afford unnecessary conflicts. We have too much work to do. I see this unfortunate 10-month “negotiation” as an unnecessary conflict. I’m eager to get past it and move forward.

5 comments

  1. Vicki Iliff

    Can you please explain “$100,000 diplomas of Acceleration Academy ” ?

  2. Interest-based bargaining worked well for our former district. The bargaining teams were both trained in that process. IBB has been around since the 1980s as a more collaborative approach to negotiations.

    IBB begins with the radical idea that teachers and administrators want the same outcome: quality education for their students. It uses an open-books approach to money issues. Teams research possible solutions together.

  3. April Blaze

    One really easy item to change that would improve teacher moral and show good faith would be to roll back the change LeRoy made to school hours three years ago. That change extended student contact time by 30 minutes a day at the expense of teacher preparation time. Besides the loss of planning, it also affected bus scheduling and teacher meetings and training times.

  4. Bill Windsor

    I applaud your efforts in trying to undo years of a failed leadership. My son taught in the Polk county system for a few years before leaving for another teaching position in Tennessee after my wife and I moved there when I retired in 2007. In 2013 we moved back to Florida due in part to a decline in my health. Since that time, we have been hoping that he and his family would return to this area. However, as he pointed out to me a short while back, it is almost impossible for him to do that due to inadequacies in the pay structures of the school system. As an experienced teacher and coach of 14 years, the pay he would receive and the cost of housing, would be putting him and his family at a financial disadvantage. It is my belief that the system is losing the opportunity to get qualified instructors because of other states rewarding those who mold the minds of the young. It is my hope that something can be done to get more qualified instructors in our school system, and not have to settle for the leftovers that have been picked through by other school systems within and outside of our state.

  5. Connie Crowley

    The sad part of this is that I am sitting on the other side of the country in AZ and we have the exact same concerns. I wish you luck to move the change needed. I am currently assigned to administrative leave for trying to communicate concerns in our district that impact students and families. And at the end of it all I am doing it for our children because they deserve better!! But when top down leadership thinks they know better and wont listen due to their arrogance, there seems to be no hope.

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