There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

I’ve probably studied and written more about Confederate monuments than anyone in Lakeland. I know the history of Lakeland’s specific monument and several others around the state. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of the intent of the people who erected them. I’ve worked very, very hard to understand it from their point-of-view. [See this long, deep chapter from my book, Age of Barbarity.] And that intent comes with a large degree of historical and human complexity. I can also confidently say that the people who raised these monuments gave no meaningful thought to the human complexity of the people who might have objected to these monuments at the time of their dedication. The people who might have objected to Lakeland’s monument in 1910 Lakeland or Florida had no power. And Lakeland and Florida treated them that way. They were at the very literal mercy of the people who built the monuments. All monuments everywhere are about power. I would like to see Lakeland’s Confederate monument moved to a museum where it could be studied and understood through the prism of history and context of its time. I think these monuments are important to American history in their way. They are evidence of something. This modern period of conflict over them reflects another important moment in American history. It’s also evidence of something. Studying that something, and trying to understand it, is the nature of history. But what you’ve just read is merely my personal position, based on much thought and research. I’m asking you to put that aside for a moment. I’d like you to consider a much simpler question. How many symbolic centerpieces can your city have? I can’t see any other answer but 1. Can you? The definition of a centerpiece is that it’s the centerpiece Herein lies the core problem of Lakeland’s monument. It’s less the existence than the location. The monument is the centerpiece of the park that is the centerpiece of our downtown that is the centerpiece of our city. It’s ground zero of our city. And now it’s ground zero for social conflict — forever, as long as it holds that spot. You see this illustrated quite nicely this morning in The Ledger’s collection of monument letters from readers. They sprawl across an entire page in the editorial section, restating the now familiar contours of inflexible argument on this issue. Other than an election, I...

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Clarifying the record on the Tenoroc investigation

The Polk School District is investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Tenoroc High School Principal Jason Looney. This investigation started at some point in July. Several of the complainants, including the woman most directly affected, came to me with their stories. I forwarded them to our HR officials and top staff. I told our staff through internal emails that I take the allegations very seriously and that I expected a serious investigation. For the record, I also forwarded the stories and perspectives of staff supporters of Mr. Looney. After some initial concern, I’ve been convinced for weeks that we are investigating these allegations seriously. This is a sad and ugly and hurtful situation. My supervisory relationship policy suggestion and very public vote against administrative appointments relate closely to this Tenoroc issue. I had hoped that we could complete the investigation before having to address it in public with school and person names. However, School Board Member Tim Harris severely complicated that wish on Thursday of last week. Harris attended a mandatory staff meeting at Tenoroc, in front of Jason Looney, and gave a 12-minute speech. He made a dismissive reference to “rumors” — and he said both he and the superintendent supported Mr. Looney. The superintendent did not attend, and to my knowledge, she did not authorize Harris to speak on her behalf. I will republish a transcript of Harris’ speech below so you can see it. I am addressing this today because I’m afraid that Harris’ appearance and message at Tenoroc on behalf of the superintendent might discourage open and honest testimony or statements. I think I need to clarify the record. At our School Board work session yesterday (Tuesday), I asked Harris if he knew there was an ongoing investigation of Looney when he went to Tenoroc. “No sir,” he replied. I think that’s important for people to know. I think it’s also important to know that the superintendent said the investigation is ongoing. Here is the clip of the brief discussion. [The first couple of minutes are audio only for some technology reason.] You will hear me make reference to a 2010 investigation of Mr. Looney for sexual harassment when he was an assistant principal at George Jenkins High School. I have read it. The allegations were all based on eyewitness accounts, and the investigators said they could not verify them. Mr. Looney received no disciplinary action....

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Let’s take a visceral human tour of what Florida’s sociopathic education model looks like in real life for real people — children and adults alike. We’ll start at the end, with these three marvelous young women from Stambaugh Middle School, a traditional zoned middle school in Auburndale. This video is short. Watch it. Here’s the background: some time in the last few weeks, Polk was ordered by some detached bureaucrat in Tallahassee to forcibly transfer several dozen teachers from about a dozen schools — after the school year started — because of their score on Kelli Stargel’s/Florida’s discredited value-added model equation (VAM). Failure to do the transfers came with explicit and implicit threats to funding for our schools that most need it. Understandably, our district obeyed — without really consulting the School Board. I think we should have considered saying no and facing the consequences. But I didn’t raise enough hell about it to be effective. That’s my fault. And so these young women came to our School Board meeting to tell us about the human effects of our state government’s thuggery and our local decision not to stand up against it. Behold the human consequences of a sociopathic education model that creates sociopathic institutional behavior. And understand this: nobody in state government from Richard Corcoran to Hershel Lyons to Pam Stewart to Kelli Stargel to Neil Combee to Rick Scott to Joe Negron gaves a rat’s rear end about “choice” for these girls. Choice in Florida is a lie. 70 to 75 percent of parents and kids choose traditional schools like Stambaugh. Your state enjoys punishing and hurting them. Here’s a key quote from one these extremely articulate girls: “A lot of these kids are suffering because of the educational situation. These subs cannot help us the way our teachers can. You guys are tearing us away from those teachers that we’ve had for so long and known from many years prior. I would like to say that these teachers who are being replaced have been some the best supporters and encouragers I’ve ever had. And I think that is really hurting everybody at Stambaugh Middle School.” In case you’ve forgotten, or don’t know, VAM is this equation for deciding teacher effectiveness and merit pay, which Polk County’s main state senator Kelli Stargel takes credit for helping create. VAM is big government social engineering at its absolute worst....

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Join the 7069 suit, part 2: the public must take back the power to kill VAM and drive common purpose

Join the 7069 suit, part 2: the public must take back the power to kill VAM and drive common purpose

I have taken to saying recently that the state government in Tallahassee is a disease on education — and that local districts present the symptoms. I know nothing that better represents this than our most recent VAM transfers. These transfers also represent how little power the voting public has to influence the educational policies of their own communities and state. No elected body signed off on these transfers, which were a product entirely of coercive interaction between bureaucrats in Tallahassee and bureaucrats in Bartow. The public had no say. That’s how everybody in power seems to want it. Taking back our say, as a public, is vital to changing Florida’s dead and corrupt model of education. That’s another reason I’ll be voting to sue over 7069 Tuesday night. I sit on my School Board; but I represent my community. My community demands better of Tallahassee, and it demands better of its district. We have to kill that disease in Tallahassee and treat the symptoms at home in a meaningful way — rather than endlessly creating new ones. Here’s the latest. What happened with the VAM transfers? As best that I can piece together, some time in the last few weeks, bureaucrats at the Department of Education offered some sort of Godfather’s choice to our Polk District leadership: transfer a bunch of teachers because of the VAM scores in last two years (yes, VAM has been discredited and made optional moving ahead; doesn’t seem to matter); or your turnaround plans aren’t approved for various schools and you can’t apply for additional money made available by 7069 — yes, the same law I hope we’re planning to sue over Tuesday night. I received this brief explanation of timing directly from the superintendent this evening: The application deadline was August 15, 2017. The statute allows for funding of “up to $2000 per student”. According to FDOE guidance, they will be funding “up to” 25 traditional schools (although statute allows for up to 50). The amount any approved school is allotted will depend on how many applications are approved and how many students attend each approved school. They will notify districts by October 1. And when did we get the VAM scores that dictated the transfers? We received the 2016-17 VAM data from the state the evening of August 3, 2017 – one week prior to school opening. Prior to that, our only...

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“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

You are looking at the Putnam County Confederate monument. It was erected in 1924, three years after the 1921 dedication of a tiny little plaque to the multiracial Putnam County veterans who gave their lives for democracy in World War I. You can’t see that monument in this picture. It’s off to the right. Try to Google an image of it. You won’t find it. I wrote the piece that follows somewhere around 2011, as part of my book Age of Barbarity: the Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida, which I published in 2013. The book focuses closely on the rise and and fall of Florida’s powerful and popular 1920s Ku Klux Klan. My family, led by great grandfather J.V. Walton, played a complex and important role in defeating the mainstream political power of the Klan. Simultaneously, my family played a pivotal role in memorializing Confederate myth and raising this monument. This piece dives deep into those complexities. It’s long. But I think it holds up well in today’s ongoing battles over monuments and memory. I’m sort of an educator now, I guess. And I think you could do worse on this subject than this chapter. ———- In the last few decades, historians have looked far more critically at the Lost Cause myth of the Confederacy and how the battles over the historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction shaped modern America. Those battle lines are often considered as North versus South, black versus white, industry versus agriculture. But the post World War I conflicts in Palatka and Florida show that this battle played out within southern whites and Confederate nostalgists as well. Any cursory reading of contemporary sources makes it clear that virtually all southern whites venerated Confederate soldiers. The Reconstruction Knights of the Ku Klux Klan proved a more complex question. Many white Protestants, perhaps even most, goaded by Thomas Dixon and D.W. Griffith, the creators of The Birth of a Nation, saw the Bedford Forrest klansmen as straight up heroes. But many others perceived them as a necessary evil. The distinction would matter in the 1920s. In January 1924, the Palatka Times-Herald published a history of Palatka’s “Patton Anderson” chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. My great great aunt Susie Lee Walton wrote it. Weedie, as she is known to the family, also read this history aloud at the chapter’s first 1924...

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

America’s worst, most corrupt School Board sits in Tallahassee in comfy state legislator chairs. Your vote for a local School Board member matters little or nothing to them. Their behavior shows they believe they can do anything to you — or allow anything to happen –and get away with it. Therein lies the elegance of the 7069 lawsuit. It’s not the charter school stuff or even the Title 1 theft. Lawyers can hit those tennis balls back and forth all day. Rather, the transformative value of the suit comes from challenging the bad faith nature of 7069’s political creation. In short, our corrupt legislators created an unvetted, haphazard buffet of hooey – and called it a meal. They did it at the 11th hour of the session. They gave no thought to implementing it. And they were completely indifferent to the opinions and observations of the officials elected by their communities to oversee education. Even more importantly, they were indifferent to the human experience of the people who must execute and learn on the ground. To state the obvious: that is not how a good faith partner behaves. That’s how an abusive spouse behaves. The 7069 suit is the governmental equivalent of a restraining order. A derelict partner I’m not a lawyer, but most analyses I’ve heard indicate that 7069 is most vulnerable legally to the “single subject” doctrine. That’s the idea that you don’t cram multiple varieties of unvetted hooey into a single law. You don’t do that because it shows bad faith to the people who elected you — and that you are supposed to serve. 7069, above all else, is a massive steaming pile of bad faith dumped on Florida’s local communities. Challenging it provides a clear community declaration: you are acting in bad faith, legislators. I am fully confident my community wants me to make that statement. And I will proudly vote to make it on Aug. 22. The vast majority of what you experience in Florida schools, as a parent or teacher or student or taxpayer, emanates directly from our one-party Legislature and governor. The rest of it reflects incentives created by Tallahassee that shape behavior hundreds of miles away. Those incentives are generally terrible and often reward abusive leadership and management at the local level. In truth, one can argue there is no such thing as a local School Board. Our funding comes...

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Changing culture requires confronting it: explaining my administrator vote

Changing culture requires confronting it: explaining my administrator vote

Take a look at the brief clip that follows. It comes from last week’s regular School Board meeting. In it, I explain why I felt it morally and ethically necessary to vote against a slate of administrator hires and promotions. In short, the circumstances of two specific appointments trouble me deeply. Our HR department has said it is reviewing both of them, based on my prodding. With that in mind, I let top district staff know on the Monday afternoon before the meeting that I could not support these administrator appointments. And then I raised it again at the work session Tuesday morning. You can see that discussion starting at the 2:57:00 mark in the video that follows. My goal in providing this advance notice was to avoid surprising or embarrassing people on Tuesday evening. Typically, the new administrator introductions make for a happy occasion. The appointees often bring their families to share in celebration. Kay Fields and I agree At the end of the work session discussion, you can hear Chair Kay Fields say: “The only thing that I’ll say about his situation here is that I think it’s very important for us as board members to understand our role. Our role is not to hire and fire. That’s Miss Jackie’s role.” She’s referring to Superintendent Jackie Byrd. I want to address that for a moment. In short, I agree. I wrote about that last week in an essay about my personnel philosophy. You can read at this link. Key passage: Personnel issues and changes are among the thorniest of issues for an active School Board member. I only supervise four employees. The vast majority of the rest report up to one of those four: the superintendent. Yet, serving 100,000 kids well requires a healthy human organism of 13,000 employees (and we really need more) willing to do hard, hard work for generally substandard pay. I believe I’m responsible for establishing a culture, through policy and comment, that reflects my community’s expectations of leadership and fairness. I’m responsible for the setting conditions that allow that organism to thrive at all levels… …The three [personnel issues] I mentioned are the only three in which I’ve intervened. And I did so because they involve allegations of abusive or unethical behavior. I felt it was my duty to intervene. I’m not intervening directly in a number of other personnel decisions whose...

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All schools are everyone’s schools

All schools are everyone’s schools

Polk County School Board members are divided into districts based on our residence. But we are elected and paid countywide. I live in District 1, in central and south Lakeland. Stakeholders for the schools in my district have every right to expect special attention from me. But I do not think of them as my schools, to the exclusion of responsibility to other schools or interests of other board members. If a fellow board member learns something important about Cleveland Court (to which I owe an overdue visit), I expect that board member to act. Likewise, if I learn something important about a school on the Ridge, I’m going to act on that. One of the more demanding and gratifying aspects of this job, and arguably the least public and political, is constituent service. I think if people interface with me and have a good customer/human experience, I am helping the system as a whole. So I take everybody’s call — and act if necessary and appropriate. Districts are not silos This is not a unanimous position on our School Board, however. My colleague Tim Harris, particularly, thinks in terms of geographic silos, organized by district. He says this quite a bit. It was particularly clear recently in a constituent issue I shared with staff. The staff forwarded this information to all board members via email. Tim replied, “Since this involves a district 7 school…I wonder why [the constituent] didn’t reach out to me? [Note: I removed identifying aspects from Tim’s note. And for Sunshine purposes, he was not responding to me. I feel certain he hit “reply all” without seeing that other board members had been added. We had no exchange. And I immediately removed all board member addresses from the email.] In defense of Tim, there is a certain geographic logic and reality that underpins this point-of-view. It’s physically impossible for me to spend as much time in the Northeast Polk community as my own in Lakeland. And during graduation season, he very graciously switched an attendee duty so that I could attend the graduation for Harrison, one of “my” high schools. I was very grateful. There are some logistical benefits to thinking this way. But, overall, I think this is a debilitating approach to tackling the core mission required of us each day: humanely, equitably, and competently educate 100,000 kids in Polk County. Actions reverberate through...

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Power, sex, and leadership: an urgent policy need

Power, sex, and leadership: an urgent policy need

Since June, I’ve become aware of three personnel decisions or relationships tainted by allegations of favoritism or mistreatment tied to undisclosed consensual sexual relationships. I’ve been made aware by the public or close stakeholders who provided detailed accusations. I make no claims about the truth of the allegations — only their existence and detail. One of three has already resolved itself with the departure of the top two officials in the District’s Accountability department. Two others are school-based. I’ve shared the same information given to me with District leadership and HR. I am satisfied for now that the information is being investigated. I am awaiting the outcome before speaking further on any details. Why I’m speaking publicly now I debated with myself whether to say anything at all publicly until the investigations have run their course. But Kathryn LeRoy’s behavior with a top subordinate tore gaping holes in the morale and direction of the school district for a year before it became public. Silence was deadly. And I harshly criticized the School Board for its silence and inaction, before and during last year’s campaign. Moreover, people with knowledge of the school and departmental communities surrounding these issues are openly talking about them. Nobody’s silence will change that. It just lets the poison circulate indefinitely. Just as important, I want the people in our schools and district facilities to know that I will take allegations of abuse of power — sexual and otherwise — very, very seriously. The people who report abuse of power are always the most vulnerable to repercussions from that power. They need to know that their political leadership will hold their operational leadership accountable for a culture of fair and responsible leadership. That is how we will build common purpose and trust together. So everyone should know: I am watching what happens here extremely closely. The toxicity that grows up around these issues is deadly to a sense of community. I won’t have it, if I can do anything at all about it. The first thing I can do about it, systemically, I’ve already set in motion. A policy proposal Polk County schools have a sexual harassment policy and a nepotism policy. But we have no written policy concerning supervisors and non-marital romantic relationships. Apparently, very few districts have one. I have asked staff to formulate a policy that: — Mandates disclosure of any romantic/sexual relationship...

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A deep dive on the Bryant Stadium problem and deal

A deep dive on the Bryant Stadium problem and deal

I am a conceptual supporter of purchasing Bryant Stadium from the City of Lakeland. I think it is likely the best overall option for the Polk district, the city of Lakeland (as a community), and for Lakeland High School’s overall athletics program, which I consider an important educational and community function. I think of athletics as an engagement tool. I liken athletics to like art, FFA, ROTC, band, and so many other educational functions that don’t produce test scores — but do produce memories, experience, and character development. There’s a reason many elite prep/private schools require all their kids to play a sport at some level. There is real educational value in teaming and competition, when properly modulated and governed. But if you made me vote tomorrow, I couldn’t support this deal. I still have too many questions; and I don’t think we’ve had an adequate public discussion yet. I blame myself, not my staff, for that. I’ll explain why below. And I am pleased that Bryant Stadium is the first topic we’re going to discuss at the work session a week from Tuesday, July 25th. I asked for this last week; but staff may have had this in mind to do anyway. The terms of the deal, as I understand them, seem reasonable. Two $600,000 payments ($1.2 million) for that property seems more than fair on the surface. We would also get the cell tower revenue, although I’m not certain what that is. Indeed, I think we have not had a precise enough accounting of the cost-benefit of buying the stadium (maintenance v. revenue, etc.) I want to see that. But even more importantly, I think we have put the specifics of the deal before the problem of Bryant Stadium’s future — and the future of field and stadium-based athletics and marching band for Lakeland High. I feel pretty certain that whatever we decide to do with Bryant Stadium, the people who are unhappy with the outcome will object to it far more intensely than the people who support it will cheer. Politically, this is a no-win situation. If I’m going to do something that will displease just about everybody, I at least want to make a decision that addresses the key underlying issues. I’m not comfortable on that yet. Maybe I can get comfortable on Tuesday; maybe I can’t. But I intend to make the decision I...

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How money matters in community education, part 1: 1200 teachers to hire

How money matters in community education, part 1: 1200 teachers to hire

This series of posts is primarily aimed at Polk’s business community and the wider community that doesn’t follow the intricacies of education policy and politics. It’s aimed at answering some basic questions: What are the real world consequences of years of self-defeating state stinginess in education funding? What does money buy? Why are community districts talking about money? Buying the basics of the service First and foremost, money buys personnel. It buys the fundamental delivery of the public education services that 100,000 Polk kids and families demand — and that the state constitution requires communities to provide. Indeed, state government provides most of the funding and virtually all of the mandates through which local districts fulfill constitutional obligations. Here is the funding breakdown in a pie chart. With that in mind, consider this: The Polk County School District would like to hire 1,200 teachers before the next year starts. That’s about 18 percent of our teacher force. Let that sink in. It’s the first exhibit in what money means to a community school district. It means basic staffing. What if the Lakeland Police Department was down 20 percent of the force? Would that be a crisis? A national, state, and local problem Here is a note from Polk Schools HR Director Teddra Porteous explaining where the 1,200 figure comes from. The 1200 is for overall hiring for the 17-18 school year if we were to hire them before school started, which is ideal. Essentially, it’s a combination of the amount of vacancies from natural attrition (retirements and resignations) we will have, the number of current provisional and long term subs in our classrooms and the anticipated vacancies when we open schools for the 17-18 school year. Lord knows, Polk has had localized employee relations problems. See this recent grievance hearing as an example. But the aversion to the teaching profession, when the demand for service is constantly growing, is commonplace virtually everywhere in Florida. See this link. Demoralization of teachers is real even in the “highest performing,” wealthiest districts. I have spoken to multiple of those administrators. This is what happens when you starve public schools and immiserate the teaching profession for 20 years. The teacher shortage, in Polk and elsewhere, reflects a combination of pay and stress level that human beings will not accept at scale. I wouldn’t accept it. That public education functions at all is attributable...

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“We let you win:” Tallahassee’s arrogance, thuggery, and cowardice in 1 Tweet

“We let you win:” Tallahassee’s arrogance, thuggery, and cowardice in 1 Tweet

This is a really funny, if pretty sinister, tweet. It’s been memory-holed; but I got a picture of it before it disappeared. Check it out. It’s the Tallahassee education establishment opening the kimono on who they really are just a bit. (You can click to embiggen.) Now let me give you the background. Meet Shawn R. Frost and Rebecca Negron. Rebecca Negron is a Martin County School Board member and the the wife of Senate President Joe “Schools of Fraud” Negron. You should know Joe Negron as the person who gives Kelli Stargel her marching orders for harming her own community. Rebecca Negron serves on the board of a thing called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. It was formed in the last couple years as competition for the long-standing Florida School Board Association.  It touts itself as “conservative.” But it’s not. It’s really just a platform for sustaining the old Common Core/Test-and-Punish Florida model; crushing traditional schools and teachers; and setting up morally fraudulent charter schools to profit. The spokesman for FCSBM says “we” let Billy win Shawn R. Frost, who goes by the Twitter handle @strategyshawn, is named as the group’s media contact/spokesman. He is the author of the memory-holed tweet above. Frost, Rebecca Negron, and the FCSBM are big supporters of “Schools-of-Fraud” and the starvation budget. Its part of their business plan, errrr, policy vision. I did not know who Shawn was until a couple days ago; but he and I engaged in some good-natured Twitter trash talk Friday morning over Schools-of-Fraud. My election came up as a way of explaining to him that I believe my community elected me to fight his vision for Florida education. Much to my amazement and flattery, Shawn seemed to know all about the circumstances of that campaign. He knew my opponent, the issues, that I ran on “change.” He even used the word “educrat” at one point. I got under his skin just a touch, and he started vowing to defeat me in 2020 through his awesome powers. My fingers laughed at him through a keyboard, and he responded by sending the tweet you see above. “We let you win. Underestimate me at your peril.” We let you win. Think about that for a second. He thinks he’s talking about me. But he’s really talking everyone who worked an early voting shift; every teacher who read and shared my...

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The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

As of today, I consider it mandatory that we honor previously established Level raises (sometimes known as steps) for all Polk School District employees. It will cost us about $4.3 million. We have the money to do it. It’s a simple choice between fulfilling our core function for our community or maintaining a “growing savings account” of dead money that Kelli Stargel and Tallahassee can raid at any time and divert toward fraud. I’ll explain below. I will vote for nothing out of the impasse process that does not include that. But I can go higher if anyone has the courage to join me. And I will openly use any failure to support level raises against other board members politically. I feel like I have no choice. And I want to be as clear about that now as I can be. I don’t want to surprise anyone. The survival of community government is stake If community education — even the idea of community-based government — is going to beat back the assault from Kelli Stargel and our endlessly corrupt Florida Legislators, we have to unify our key community stakeholders. That extends across governments. I was thrilled to see County Commissioner George Lindsey unload on our dreadful legislators. George and I are not normally seen as on the same ideological side. But I think this illustrates how meaningless ideology and party really are in this discussion. It’s really a question of whether you’re for or against fraud — or “malfeasance,” as George put it. I know Mayor Gene Fultz in Lake Wales and Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer are great friends of community education, who are deeply aware of how it fits into community government. And how the state is harming both. But it’s going to be hard to unify our community governments to fight the Tallahassee fraud if the School District can’t even unify our own internal stakeholders. That’s where the teacher impasse is so destructive — and why the last year, culminating in this Legislative Session, is so clarifying. Give Tallahassee everything; get nothing in return It is obvious that the Polk School Board and district leadership, back in May or June of 2016, made a decision to take teachers to impasse. It’s why they hired a Tallahassee-wired anti-labor lawyer. It’s why they offered nothing and then said: “Counter.” It’s why we’ve gotten nowhere. I believe, through close...

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Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Florida law, grounded in the Florida Constitution, requires all people of our communities to send their children to school. It’s a pretty direct and simple requirement. It’s one half of the deal that has underpinned human development in Florida and America for generations. The other half of the deal is that our communities must take these kids into our schools and care for them. Their parents, capability, motivation, or behavior do not matter. In Florida, your state government created constitutional instruments — like the Polk School District — to provide this compulsory education. It applies to normal education, gifted, 504s, ELLs, and IEPs alike. The state government provides most of the money to meet that obligation, while requiring local communities to contribute as well. The federal government kicks in a smaller amount. Here’s the breakdown in Polk. Today, your state government, your flesh and blood legislators, are abandoning their part of that deal. They want to destroy the arrangement. And they want to replace it with nothing. It’s true they want to use compulsory education laws as captive money for educational hucksters, as I’ll show you in a second. But they have no systemic ideas or moral commitment to anything but destruction and fraud. The last undead groan of a zombie model You saw it last summer when your state government used Kelli Stargel’s fraudulent VAM equation (shown above) to force the displacement of dozens of teachers in the neediest Polk schools. And then replaced them with nothing but a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That’s a metaphor for all of Florida education policy of the last 20 years. It despises the idea of community. It despises most kids. It despises teachers. And it will never, ever, ever hold itself accountable for the on-the-ground human impacts of its policies. This year, your legislators plan to provide even fewer resources per student to execute more absurd and anti-human unfunded mandates. They are refusing local pleas to fund our own educational systems because Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran have Republican primaries to run in the future. They will again prevent local School Boards from re-establishing a local option property tax taken away during the financial crisis of 2008. And they are imposing the rollback rate for local counties on property taxes used for schools. That should be an entirely local decision. With those two funding sources, we could give our Polk teachers significant raises. Without...

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A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

Here is the link to Part 1: The Future of Lake Wales is in Lake Wales, not Jefferson County. What follows is part 2. ——————————————————————————————————————- Lake Wales fascinates, excites, and frustrates me for the same reason. All the pieces exist there, right now, for an entirely new, community-based model of education with something for just about everyone. This model could equitably and cooperatively merge compulsory and non-compulsory community education. I think it would have the political clout to tell Florida’s corrupt and awful Department/Board of Education/Legislature to go flagellate itself — and likely get away with it. Unfortunately, as I understand it, LWCS simply wants the Polk School Board to turn McLaughlin over to it with no strings attached. Absent that, they’ll move toward a second charter Bok. LWCS has no interest in keeping a zoned, compulsory education middle school. That’s what I perceive from the letter that LWCS board member and general counsel Robin Gibson, my cousin, whom I like and love, sent to the School Board on April 3. I probably can’t stop a second Bok — at least not at this moment in time. But I know I can’t just hand over McLaughlin. I knew that well before I did serious fact-finding. I must have a zoned middle school in Lake Wales to protect neighboring communities. Turning over McLaughlin takes that zoning away. I made that position clear repeatedly in part 1 and in many other conversations. I can’t and won’t vote to outsource Lake Wales’ student behavior and ESE issues to other communities. That’s the likeliest outcome of doing away with a zoned middle school in Lake Wales. I will show you the data. Let’s go big — and equitable Unfortunately, Florida law does not allow for charter school zoning. That’s the key structural impediment to any deal with LWCS to unify the middle school community and the overall school system in Lake Wales. So we need a waiver, or special legislation that allows geographic limits. And if we’re going to do that, let’s merge how we do ESE and arts education. Let’s give everybody in that community both the stability of neighborhood-based compulsory education and access to choices that work best for each individual. Let’s have both providers work together in the best interest of the many kids who move between them. Let’s set up a standing cooperation committee.  I’ll volunteer as the School Board’s representative. Let’s work toward...

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There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

Update: Senator Stargel posted a Facebook comment in response to this post. I’m republishing it here: “I hate to add to this post because I don’t want to start an extended conversation on Facebook, that at this busy time of session, I don’t have time to complete but…. Billy, I believe we had a free and open conversation. There is no need to fear. You were given more time to speak at our meeting than your fellow school board members. I know that we disagree on many things but I have never been hostile or closed minded to differing opinions and I don’t plan to start now. I still have an open door policy to productive and civil discussion, especially when it relates to our school children. I look forward to working with you and the rest of our school board as we move forward addressing the challenges of educating the children in our county, whether those challenges are large or small. I don’t know where you got the impression that I would stoop to retaliation at the expense of our children, but that is untrue.” I responded like this: “I appreciate the note. And the reassurance. And we can have productive discussions at any time. My phone number is 8632094037. You can start the discussion by publicly reflecting on the lives of the 4,000 families that were disrupted by your VAM equation. That’s what I asked you to do in the meeting. But you showed no interest in considering the impact of your public policy on their lives. If you’re interested in that now, I find that encouraging. I’m eager discuss it with you. Thanks.” ——————————————————————————————- State Sen. Kelli Stargel is utterly and completely unrepentant about VAM — and its effects on kids and teachers. She knows the state of Florida used her statistical laughingstock of an equation to subject 4,000 Polk County middle school families to at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies through February at our five state-stigmatized middle schools. She doesn’t care. She made that clear last week when I confronted her face-to-face about it in her Tallahassee office. This is the same politician who put out campaign mailers in 2016 attacking education “bureaucrats” and gushing about “our hard-working and exceptional teachers.” That material was as fraudulent as her VAM. I think it’s important for all of you, as Polk County (and Lake County) voters, to...

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1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

Here’s a math problem for the FSA. Add together Florida’s fraudulent school grades + Kelli Stargel’s VAM + the teacher shortage + the uninformed, incompetent brutality of your state Board of Education + the Florida education model’s dripping contempt for every single person in a zoned school that isn’t Highlands Grove. Take that sum and multiply it by the cowardly silence of all your politicians — except one. What’s the answer? About 1,800 years of lost teacher/instructional time in six months. And an obvious violation of Florida’s constitutional right to “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” Quick refresher: late last summer, the state Board of Education seized control of five Polk middle schools. The BoE used Kelli Stargel’s VAM equation, this monstrosity… ..to forcibly transfer dozens of teachers just after the school year started. Neither the Board of Education nor the Polk District had any plan for replacing these certified teachers. After all, there’s a massive teacher shortage. The Polk District did not have the people to replace the people forced to move. So the kids at Boone, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Addair, Westwood, and Dension got a patchwork of subs and administrator fill-ins. You may remember that BoE Member Gary Chartrand punctuated this abuse when he got caught on a hot mike saying, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” See this post for those details. Chartrand and the horrible, awful, disgusting people on the state Board of Education have long since moved on. If you are one of the 75 percent of people in Polk County or Florida in a traditional zoned school, they do not care about your child or your life or your choice. They will not waste a second of conscience on it. When they look at you, they \_(ツ)_/¯. You should understand that. However, we in Polk County do not have the luxury of \_(ツ)_/¯. And on February 28, the Polk School Board got a full report on the real-world consequences of the BoE’s fun. 1,800 years Through the first six months or so of this year, Polk’s five “TOP” middle schools combined had suffered at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies. That means an active class for which no permanent certified or provisional teacher was in place. 2,617 days. If you...

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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...

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There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it’s good to talk about hard things.

There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it’s good to talk about hard things.

The Ledger’s Madison Fantozzi quoted me – accurately, I think — as saying this at last week’s School Board work session: “I’m probably done with magnet schools until we sit down and go through the ones we have [and what their purposes are].” I was responding to the new magnet school plan for Combee Elementary and Lake Alfred Addair Middle. I don’t like it. I think it’s disruptive for too many kids. I think it’s going to hurt Boone Middle, which really can’t afford to be hurt. And I’m not the only board member who felt that way. I’ll get the YouTube video up as soon as I can. But the plan is also more than a year old. It dates to the LeRoy administration. We’ve spent more than a $1 million in federal money. And we can’t really stop it now without doing greater harm. I never had a chance to vote when I could have made a productive difference. In recent years, education systems in America, Florida, and Polk County have displayed powerful talent and willingness to make non-ideal situations worse. I don’t want to do that. Believe it or not, when it comes to kids, I am a first-do-no-harm kind of guy. What is our magnet school policy? I would like to have a long sit down with my fellow board members to go through our existing magnet schools; examine their demographics and community relationships; and come up with a coherent policy framework that guides creation of any future magnets. Today, our policy seems to be: hey, there’s a grant; let’s create a magnet school. I would prefer we have a magnet school policy that articulates what we’re actually trying to accomplish. Anyway, the “until” in my quote apparently did not make it clear that I was talking about any future magnet schools.  I’ve been mostly out of town since last Wednesday helping take care of my dad, who was having surgery. I came home last night to a forwarded email circulating amongst some Lincoln and Lawton Chiles Middle parents. Here’s the key excerpt: One of the school board members has apparently asked for a special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue.  It was brought up in the February work session during discussion about rezoning 2 new magnet schools.  The rezoning issue is back on the agenda at the April meeting.  I have...

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A Bok-McLaughlin vision, part 1: the future of Lake Wales should be Lake Wales. Not Jefferson County.

A Bok-McLaughlin vision, part 1: the future of Lake Wales should be Lake Wales. Not Jefferson County.

I still sincerely believe we can make a deal that unites the Lake Wales middle-school age community. But I’m less optimistic than I was a couple weeks ago. I’m very troubled to learn that Lake Wales Charter Schools wants to take over the Jefferson County schools. Jefferson County is a tiny rural county near Tallahassee. It is 280 miles away from Lake Wales. The state is putting Jefferson County’s two zoned public schools up to bid. Lake Wales Charter apparently wants in on the action. That suggests to me that Lake Wales Charter Schools is something other than I thought it was. Follow this link for a pretty detailed account from Redefined, a Jeb Bush-foundation-backed website that has long sought to destroy the experience of geographically-distinct community schools that most Florida kids attend. Hurting that experience is very helpful in selling “choice.” Here’s the key excerpt: Another candidate, the Lake Wales charter network, operates six schools in central Florida, and may soon add a seventh. A majority of the system’s students are children of color, and it includes two schools that list 100 percent of their students as economically disadvantaged. [Billy insert — I haven’t verified the data in this Redefined piece. Just quoting it for reference. I have my own data below.] Lake Wales has some things in common with Jefferson. It’s a system of charter schools that were converted from traditional public schools after a community demanded change. Jesse Jackson, the Lake Wales superintendent, met with district officials on Friday. He said he got to know Jefferson County during his previous job. He was the director of Florida State University’s lab school, which drew hundreds of Jefferson students into neighboring Leon County. He said the Lake Wales schools, once under-enrolled, have attracted parents who previously sent their children to private schools, or to public options in neighboring towns. Now, most of the charter schools have waiting lists. With the right leadership, he said, the school could gain the trust of educators who might come to work there. It could attract financial support from donors in and around Tallahassee. And it could convince parents to invest their time — and re-enroll their children — in Jefferson public schools. “Our approach would be a whole-community approach,” he said. “It won’t just be trying to make the school better. It will be an effort, as we do in Lake Wales, to make the entire community better.” Quite...

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The Roosevelt process: good government is often messy

The Roosevelt process: good government is often messy

Roosevelt Academy in Lake Wales is an anomaly. It’s essentially a 6-12th grade district magnet school for ESE students. It’s not actually a magnet school; but that’s what it most closely resembles in enrollment structure. There are few, if any, similar schools in Florida. Kids apply to the Roosevelt program, which for many, many years has quietly provided a job skills and vocational program built around the ESE special diploma. As long as the special diploma existed, no one paid Roosevelt much attention. So it was able to largely shape its enrollment and education model with very little interference. The push for change Florida is now doing away with the special diploma option that Roosevelt has used. I don’t want to jump headfirst into that debate here. But here’s the reasoning: the special diploma limits what its holders can do. They can’t serve in the military, for instance. The fear is that allowing the special diploma limits what ESE students can achieve with proper support and inclusion with general education population. The counterargument is that they often don’t get proper support and end up dropping out of general education and life.  Roosevelt advocates generally come down on the anti-drop-out side of that. And the school has created a unique and calm environment, with very impressive experiential agriculture and vocational programs that seem to engage its kids. Here are a couple of pictures of the hydroponics the kids help operate and the woodworking products they’ve created. Of course, ESE, like so many educratic words, contains multitudes. And the experience of an ESE student, like any student, isn’t an either/or proposition. Ideally, all students get the support they need to thrive as best they can. The two schools of thought above need not be in conflict. But there are limited resources to spend. And that leads us to the Roosevelt question. How governing should work Roosevelt’s future is a complex and thorny question, in which many people with different points-of-view make good arguments. Thanks to the public process that is occurring, we’re getting to hear all of them. And it’s helping shape a future. It’s not necessarily fun. There was a fairly tense public meeting this week in which district leadership and my fellow board member Lynn Wilson took questions and heat from Roosevelt parents. Madison Fantozzi with The Ledger has a good account of the back-and-forth. I wasn’t there. During the...

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The Teacher Party, part 2: no more fraudulent school grades; an untested year; and Pasi Sahlberg for Education Commissioner

The key to ending the fraudulent #JebamaBetsyCore model of Florida education lies in the 2018 governor’s race. I believe the Teacher Party needs a candidate who will run on these foundational issues. End any policy that depends on an incomprehensible equation. That means we end VAM. (We may even end VAM this year.) And we end the fraudulent, destructive, stigmatizing school grades. Have an untested year to overhaul the fraudulent “accountability” system. Maybe we’ll even like the untested year so much, we’ll keep it. Replace Education Commissioner Pam Stewart with a commissioner who rejects the Florida model. Pick someone who has a vision for something Finlandish. I recommend Pasi Sahlberg or someone from the Tony Wagner/Ted Dintersmith orbit. Trust me, in education circles, the chance to remake the Florida model into something exciting and humane would attract much interest from high-powered people. And those names would signal a change as profound as the fraudulent school grade era that Jeb brought in 1999. There are many, many other individual changes and reforms a Teacher Party candidate could and would make. (Ending third grade retention is huge for me.) But those three would effectively break the Florida model. They would help us begin to rebuild it around motivated teachers. It would send a massive signal to would-be teachers and the country as a whole. After all, #JebamaBetsyCore has tried to inflict the Florida model on the rest of the country over the years. You’ll notice I haven’t said a word about unions, vouchers, poverty, or choice. Give me those three reforms, and I won’t need to. In that model, as you’re just starting to see in Polk County, the different choices can work together collaboratively and productively. In this model, ALL SCHOOL CHOICES are honored, not just those that Pam Stewart and Gary Chartrand and Betsy DeVos market as “escape” from the zoned schools that most kids attend. Let’s take a closer look at how these three points deliver much-needed relief and offer new hope. Take away the power of fraud The fraudulent Florida education model lags the country as a whole in graduation rate and exceeds it in teacher shortage. School grades are the cornerstone of the fraud. In fact, you will never hear me say the phrase “school grade” again without the word “fraudulent” in front of it. Fraudulent school grades exist to stigmatize the children, parents, and teachers of...

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The Teacher Party, part 1: we need teachers much more than they need us

The Teacher Party, part 1: we need teachers much more than they need us

Every morning, roughly 100,000 Polk County residents access seven or more hours of intense person-to-person public service from the Polk County School District. That’s 15 to 20 percent of our population. For at least half of the waking day. Every day. Nothing compares to that level of sustained human-to-human service demand from that many individual customers. No other product or service provided primarily by human beings can match its scope. Not law enforcement. Not Publix. Not health care. Not even the military. Our teachers do not patrol. They engage. Every day. For hours. With children. Think about the demands of engagement with your own children. Now multiply it by 80 or 100 or 150. Every day. For 6-8 hours. More if you’re a coach or band or club leader. This demand will not diminish in the coming decades. As surely as we can predict anything about the future, it’s this: if we remain an industrialized, networked, knowledge-based society, the demand for publicly-funded education services will not decrease. The only way the demand goes down is if society collapses. Everyone should wrap their heads around that. Teachers are the crucial delivery mechanism of this service. All the administrators, consultants, school board members, and editorial writers could spontaneously combust tomorrow. If teachers and paras and bus drivers didn’t, kids might not even notice. Flip that around, and we’ve got nothing. Unless you believe you can sit kids down in front of hopelessly outdated computers seven hours a day and say you’re adequately preparing them for life. If you believe that, you should say so. But we don’t even coach sports teams by computer. We’re going to coach literacy and humanity and citizenship that way? Simple raw pragmatism I am known as an advocate for teachers. I have many times made the moral case for creating an education model that supports them and honors the energy they bleed and suffering they endure today. The moral case for teachers is the prerequisite for responding to the even greater moral case for supporting and developing kids as human beings and citizens. The Florida model of education offends me, morally, because it despises teachers and considers them utterly disposable. By doing so, it shows that it despises kids and considers them utterly disposable. However, my offense is pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. And the moral argument for teachers has carried very little...

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Impasse has already cost us $75,000 and wasted 7 months. Let’s change our negotiating parameters.

Impasse has already cost us $75,000 and wasted 7 months. Let’s change our negotiating parameters.

First thing Monday morning, I will submit a request to Supt. Jackie Byrd to schedule an emergency School Board session to change negotiating parameters. I’m happy to have this meeting in public. But we can do it in executive session if other board members insist. I have no idea whether we will schedule one. But my observations tell me we’re not going to change the dynamics in this negotiation unless the School Board changes the direction we’ve given our lawyers and negotiators. Here is my three-fold recommendation for new parameters: 1) Eliminate from negotiation anything not related to this year’s salaries. Let’s just go status quo on whether health insurance and teacher evaluation can sit in the collective bargaining agreement. We’ve wasted far too much time and energy on abstractions. Let’s get real. 2) Instruct our finance staff to provide three options for salary increases, ranging from .5 to 3.0 percent. Provide one option structured as 1-time bonus. Lay out clearly the trade-offs related to fund balances, etc. Invite the PEA negotiators to lay out their case for which option they prefer. Allow the Board/District to rebut. Then let’s vote on one of the options and take some public responsibility. 3) Let’s work together closely with our teachers and staff to shame and pressure Tallahassee and our legislators into providing better funding for our instructional staff. 7 months lost In my little speech at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, I said: “This impasse plan probably dates till June or May.” Here’s a pretty good piece of evidence for that. This is the consultant agreement with Allen Norton and Blue, the Tallahassee law firm we hired to handle negotiations. ANB is a very high-powered labor firm that focuses exclusively on management interests. I believe they were hired as weapon to be used against our teachers and staff. That’s not acceptable to me. As you can see, the contract began June 9. We’re paying ANB $225/hour of your money. We’ve either paid them — or plan to pay them — $75,000. It’s a little hard to tell. It looks like they’ve change-ordered us at some point. If they do it again, I’m sure we could go over $75,000. From my point-of-view, as a board member, I see no value at all in the time and money we’ve spent on ANB. But I have received some sensible pushback on criticism of the lawyers. And...

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Timpasse, part 3: a new board generation will help Jackie Byrd succeed

Timpasse, part 3: a new board generation will help Jackie Byrd succeed

Here are links to the previous two parts of this series: “Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service” “Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture” Please watch this brief exchange between Tim Harris and me about Wes Bridges’ automatically-renewing three-year contract. It’s crucial for understanding the political and cultural dynamics on the Polk School Board. Key quote from Tim — and my response. “I also think that if you’ve been in office for three weeks, and this in your first meeting, you don’t have enough corporate history and cultural understanding to make this kind of proposal.” “And yet, I have.” It’s also crucial to understand that Tim Harris is the president of Florida School Board Association. In my observation, he’s recently spent much more time and effort doing that job than his Polk School Board job. The FSBA, which is full of well-meaning, helpful people, is the single greatest underachiever in Florida politics. With its built-in constituency, the FSBA should be the NRA of humane education. Virtually all of its members hate the Florida model of education. In reality, the FSBA hasn’t made a dent in the Florida model for two decades because it’s impotent. It scares nobody. Tim’s presidency is pointless for anyone but Tim. Meanwhile, Alabama has a 90 percent graduation rate. Now take a look at this clip of Tim Harris almost reveling in the powerlessness and irrelevance of the FSBA. He’s addressing a local-option tax that the state is preventing local districts from pursuing. Many districts, including Polk, want that option. Don’t even think about fighting for it, says the president of the FSBA. It’s pointless. Key quote: “For those of you who were able to at attend the FSBA conference. The first bullet we have under capital outlay; it was pointed out to us very succinctly. That will not happen. You might as well just not put it on your list. It won’t happen. That came from legislative leadership. You might as well just not put it on your list. Those clips and that sentiment help explain how my fellow board members and our negotiators have blundered us into a stupid and destructive impasse with our teachers. And how we’ve done it at precisely the wrong moment — just as the awful Florida model of education is beginning to crack....

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Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture

Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture

Your Polk School District declared a labor impasse with our teachers a week ago today. I was notified by a press release from the district sent at 3:52 p.m. I can’t speak for any other board members; but I know I was given no timeline for when to expect this to happen and no heads-up before it happened. No one with the district explained the impasse process to me. So I’ve had to figure it out myself. The School Board has held one 30-minute closed collective bargaining negotiating session since my swearing-in. School Board Attorney Wes Bridges admonished us not to share anything said in the meeting. The law seems a bit more ambiguous. Here’s how the 2016 Government-in-the-Sunshine manual puts it, citing a State Attorney General’s report: Section 447.605(1), F.S. does not directly address the dissemination of information that may be obtained at the closed meeting, but there is clear legislative intent that matters discussed during such meetings are not to be open to public disclosure. In any event, I do think I am constrained from saying anything that I hear in a closed negotiating session. So what I’m about to write comes entirely from my observations and conversations outside the formal closed session. Here are three key points: 1. Your School District and its paid legal representatives have not remotely sought to negotiate or meaningfully talk with your teachers and district staff. When our highly-paid Tallahassee labor lawyer writes, “We are willing to continue to work toward a resolution of our differences in contract negotiations,” he is not telling the truth. “We” are not. Billy Townsend is. But “we” are not. At the bottom of this post, you’ll see the district’s press release and the core content of our lawyer’s letter. Worth a comparison. 2. When your School District writes in its press release, “the primary dispute is over wages,” it is not telling the truth. Indeed, if one looks at the letter our high-priced Tallahassee labor lawyer wrote to PEA and AFSCME, salary is just one of four key issues — and not even the first cited. For the money we’re paying him, you’d think it might have occurred to him to more closely align his letter and our PR statement. The district also wants major changes to how we negotiate teacher transfer rules, teacher evaluation, and health insurance. You can rest assured that none of...

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Dear Townsend/Trump voters: Betsy DeVos loves everything you hate about Florida education, including Common Core

Dear Townsend/Trump voters: Betsy DeVos loves everything you hate about Florida education, including Common Core

As you know, Townsend/Trump voters, I don’t lie to you. I think that’s why so many of you voted for me, even though we often see the world in different ways. So I think it’s important for me to give you the unpolitically-correct truth about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Department of Education secretary. She has her confirmation hearing next week. In short, if you like standardized testing, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like Common Core, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like what happened with the teacher transfers in Polk County this summer, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like fraudulent VAM and fraudulent school grades and toxic micromanagement, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like teacher shortages, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like the Florida model, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you work, teach, or attend a traditional zoned school, like the vast majority of Americans in education, Betsy Devos has no respect for you. She doesn’t respect your choice. She would like to make your experience at those schools as miserable as possible, so she can redirect traditional school tax money to private sector cronies. The one ray of hope in this is that the federal government’s leverage over the states has diminished with the deep unpopularity and failure of No Child Left Behind. I doubt DeVos will be as consequential or damaging as Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary. As I’ve said many times, Education Obama is my least favorite Obama. And I say that as a No Party Affiliate who proudly voted for him twice. But don’t take my word on DeVos. Listen to the good folks at Conservative Review. Well, there you have it folks. Trump has just picked his education secretary after narrowing down his choices to two pro-Common Core, pro-micromanaging women: Michelle Rhee and Betsy DeVos. I’ve already discussed what a terrible pick Rhee would have been, but DeVos is no better. DeVos fails on two key promises Trump repeatedly made to voters: “Get rid of Common Core” and “keep education local.” Like Rhee, DeVos has adamantly supported Common Core. She’s even a board member of Jeb Bush’s Common Core-supporting education foundation (and one of its biggest donors), not to mention “closely aligned to Republican education officials like Sen. Lamar Alexander” — which should give any education freedom lover convulsions… …DeVos now claims to be against Common Core, of all things! That’s sure...

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Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service

Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service

The video below comes from the Dec. 13, 2016, School Board work session — my first work session as a board member. This hour-long excerpt covers the discussion of School Board Attorney Wes Bridges’ three-year contract. This contract automatically renews every year. It has no practical mechanism for removing Bridges without paying him at least $450,000. Lynn Wilson and I wanted to change that deal. The other five School Board members did not. What follows is almost all of the discussion — and our reasoning. It’s very illuminating. Anybody who cares about the direction of public education in Polk County should watch it. I will quote a few of my colleagues below. Their thoughts are quite instructive, I think, as we move into an unnecessary and gratuitous impasse with our teachers and staff. But first, let me introduce you to the “Billy Townsend, Polk School Board District 1” Youtube channel. It’s kind of nondescript at this point. But I have ideas. Believe it or not, the voting and taxpaying public cannot easily access video or audio recordings of School Board meetings after they happen. You must formally request a DVD and pay the $1.3 billion School District to burn it for you. Then you have to drive to Bartow to pick it up. You can compare that access to Lakeland City government, which has full online access to the meetings of all its various commissions and boards one click away. I think it’s unfortunate that we are so far behind industry standard on public access to meeting recordings. So I asked for and received a DVD of the 12/13 meeting; purchased a $35 piece of DVD conversion software; converted the file to mp4 format; and uploaded it to my new Youtube channel. It took me the better part of a Saturday morning to figure out how to do that — and the better part of Saturday afternoon to do it and write this piece. I am told that the School District does have the technology to make these meetings available and that we’re working on it. But in the meantime, I’ll do it, as my schedule and spare time allows. Some crucial quotes For now, I think the Bridges discussion is worth watching in its entirety. But I particularly would urge you to watch and listen to Hazel Sellers’ statement from roughly 14:30 to 16:30. Think about it in...

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Wes Bridges has tenure no teacher can dream of

If the School Board chooses to non-renew Wes Bridges’ contract before January 1, he will still be guaranteed his job until 2019. And our only recourse, as a board, will be to buy out his contract in full. That will mean writing him a $450,000 check, plus whatever vacation and incidental costs he would be owed. He might as well be a Supreme Court justice. He has, essentially, a lifetime appointment. Here is what Bridges wrote a few weeks ago — before I took office — to School Board members in a memo about his annual contract renewal. I read that — as a I think a normal, non-lawyer human would — as referring to a one-year contract. That’s similar to the annual contract structure that any principal works under. But that reading is not correct. Go into the contract and you see this: I read the reference to 2011-2014 as referring to underlying terms of the deal, not its duration. I thought this meant we had automatically renewing one-year deals based on the terms of the 2011-2014 agreement. I read it that way because to think of it as an automatically renewing three-year deal seemed insane. I couldn’t believe previous School Boards would tie future School Board hands in that way. But I was wrong. Our School Board, for multiple years now, has provided Bridges an automatically renewing three-year deal. There is no mechanism for removing him that does not involve paying him the full cost of the automatically renewing three years. Non-renewal just starts the three-year clock. At $150K per year, he’s entitled to a $450,000 payout to leave. People went nuts about the $230k we paid LeRoy. We could remove him for cause, in theory. But it’s functionally impossible to prove cause. Remember, we couldn’t even remove Kathryn LeRoy for cause. And we had detailed, documented complaints about her behavior and performance. Bridges’ performance evaluations are essentially meaningless in terms of his contract. So give the man his due. This is a good deal for him. It’s way better than what Kathryn LeRoy had. It’s a tougher tenure protection that anything any teacher-hater has ever complained about. He’s got game. I feel certain that anyone who can protect himself so thoroughly from his own employer can come up with a legal strategy to help prevent the unelected Board of Education from illegally seizing local control of...

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Wes Bridges’ resignation/contract is STILL not on any agenda

Wes Bridges’ resignation/contract is STILL not on any agenda

I’ll have a fuller discussion soon of the rather fascinating issues raised by the great Townsend/Fields Sunshine Law kerfuffle of 2016. But I do want to say this now: public officials should be scrutinized, myself included. We should not whine about it — or hide from it. Indeed, that’s why I personally forwarded the emails in question to The Ledger. I want reporters to know what I’m doing on important issues so they can scrutinize me. I do not fault the Ledger reader who complained about the exchange. I do not fault The Ledger or its reporters for writing the story. I don’t fault Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation for thinking it might be a technical violation. I know and like Barbara. And I have recently sought her out to consult about what I can write publicly here. I want to avoid any grinding against the law. But Barbara is not the law, as she’ll be the first to tell you. And the Sunshine Law’s interpretation and communication is so obtuse and complex in some places that it can actually defeat its own purpose. So this entire exercise was very useful for me and the public, I think, as a source of information and clarity. And it would have been useful if I had to pay a $150 fine, too. So I’m glad this happened. Now, very briefly, let’s get to the core of what this was about — Wes Bridges’ future with the Polk School Board and the ticking clock that affects that future. Here’s the bottom line: I ran on removing Wes. I won big. Wes resigned. Then he unresigned. I still consider him resigned. But that’s not really a legal issue worth fighting. It’s much easier to simply not renew his contract. As I read his contract, we have to do that before January 1 or it renews for another year. Its term would run until some time in March. I have no idea if I have four votes to non-renew Wes’ contract. But I’m comfortable with that. Because I’m comfortable with my position, and I plan to advocate for it. I’m never afraid to lose. The Polk School Board only has one day of meetings set between now and January 1. That’s one week from today, Dec. 13. I want to force a discussion and vote on Wes Bridges’ future. I want that...

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The wages of Common Core — and a message for Townsend/Trump and Townsend/Hillary voters

The wages of Common Core — and a message for Townsend/Trump and Townsend/Hillary voters

Common Core, teacher abuse, and broken standardized testing elected Donald Trump. They elected Billy Townsend, too. I believe nothing mattered more to the entire presidential campaign than Donald Trump’s brutal primary defeat of Jeb Bush using Common Core. And nothing mattered more to mine. I also believe that if Florida had pursued Finland’s humane and caring model of education two decades ago, rather than Jeb Bush’s toxic stress-based education system, we would not have a Trump presidency. I know I would never have run for Polk County School Board. Why do I think this? Most people come in regular contact with the government establishment either through Medicare, Social Security, or public education. Trump’s elderly base benefits from and is very happy with the first two. They ease the toxic stress of life. That’s why that form of Big Government will not be touched for them. It will probably be taken away from me. By contrast, public education in America — and especially Florida — is a toxic stress machine for the grandchildren of Trump voters. And it’s especially toxic for the Democratic party’s base of young people and their parents in traditional zoned schools. They experience the reality of Common Core/test-and-punish/teacher shortages every day. And we wonder why they’re not more enthusiastic about technocratic government. Even when we tell them to clap louder because the other guy is scary. Yet, no one that I’ve seen in the shell-shocked American commentariat is talking about Common Core/Education “Reform’s” role in all this. That’s a perfect encapsulation of the American leadership class’ general cluelessness about life on the ground in America. It also reflects the obvious fact that virtually no one in that leadership class has a child in a traditional zoned public school. During my campaign, I talked to thousands and thousands of people all over this massive, reddish I-4 county. I heard this kind of thing over and over again. “My daughter keeps failing math; and I don’t know how to help her. And the teachers don’t have any time to give her extra help.” A desperate father and Trump voter said this to me outside an early-voting precinct in the gathering darkness of a Friday night. He was watching his daughter’s crack at a middle class life end as a pre-adolescent; and he felt powerless to stop it. He hated this feeling. And this feeling had a name: Common Core. A...

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When you challenge the tired establishment, the tired establishment lies about you. It’s what they do.

When you challenge the tired establishment, the tired establishment lies about you. It’s what they do.

The old-line Polk County establishment continues to lie about my positions on many issues. National drug policy, which will never be an issue for the Polk School Board, is their favorite lie. Here is my actual policy, as I’ve written several times: It’s worth laying out the precise nature of Hunt’s lie on my views of national drug policy. He’s relying on a piece I wrote in 2011, five years ago. Because Hunt doesn’t know anything about drug policy, he doesn’t understand the difference between “legalization” and “decriminalization.” I have never, to my knowledge, advocated or even thought out loud about “legalization” of anything but marijuana. It is certainly my position today. To say that I want to legalize cocaine and meth is simply a lie. Five years ago, I did contemplate the idea of “decriminalizing” simple methamphetamine possession — but not the manufacture of it. The idea is that it would make treatment easier. But I came to believe that is a bad idea, for environmental and social harm reasons. So, for a very long time, my position has been to “legalize” marijuana and move toward general “decriminalization” of drugs other than meth — similar to Portugal. Hunt has never once asked me about this position. But this is it. I do not use drugs or condone their use. I believe, based on thousands of hours of research, that these policy changes would save many lives and strengthen communities. The do-nothing Polk County establishment continues to lie about this through word games with a five-year-old essay. It does this because it covets its power; and it fears new ideas. It is very afraid of this campaign. I expected this. I’m surprised it waited as long as they did. It must think it’s losing. Jerry Hill, in particular, decided to lie about me in several ways this morning. I’m going to spell that out in just a second. But even Jerry’s dishonest, chopped up rendering of my five-year-old writing repeats a lie, on its face. That’s because he doesn’t understand the difference between the word “study” and the word “advocate”; the word “legalization” and the word “decriminalization”; and the past tense and the present tense. He suffers some reading comprehension problems. I’m going to publish the full, unedited, passage of that 2011 piece below. I am in the fight for my community — always. And that brings consequences But...

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Join the happy parent rebellion, Adam Putnam. We. Are. Winning.

Join the happy parent rebellion, Adam Putnam. We. Are. Winning.

If you doubt this campaign is making a major difference, if you doubt that they hear us in Tallahassee as well as Bartow, listen to Adam Putnam. The likely Republican nominee for governor in 2018 had this to say very recently at the Florida Chamber of Commerce Future of Florida Forum. “We have begun to lose the support of the most important shareholders in the education conversation — and that’s the parents. In many cases, the most involved parents.” You can see the whole speech here. Adam seems to think this is a question of poor communication on the state’s part. I disagree. I think the state has communicated as clearly as it possibly can what it thinks of parents, teachers, and students. Florida despises most parents In truth, Adam, Florida is losing parents because state education leaders do not remotely respect parents or teachers in traditional zoned schools. They do not honor the educational choices that parents make to attend traditional schools. And you’ve let them get away with that for years. You shouldn’t be surprised now. The parents and kids of the Stigmatized 5 schools had no choice over what was done to their teachers with discredited VAM scores. No one asked any parent at Kathleen Middle if they wanted 9 of 11 English/Language Arts teachers transferred to other schools and replaced by subs after the school year started. This is “choice,” Florida style.  And honestly, that contempt for human beings spills over into other schools, too. See this piece from a few days ago. The “choice” community is sick of Tallahassee’s incompetent authoritarianism, too. A Polk parent looks state contempt in the eye I know all this firsthand, viscerally. Last year, I was the parent of a 7th grader at a charter school system in Lakeland. That made me a good parent, whose educational choice was respected and worthy of investment. This year, I’m the parent of an 8th grader at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland. And I’m a bad parent, unworthy of basic courtesy from the people who oversee public education in Florida. This was made very, very clear to me recently. Remember, I attended the state Board of Education’s meeting in Tampa last month. My son’s school was on the agenda at the meeting. I burned a vacation day to tell my state of Board of Education what I do not want for my...

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How to volunteer for change. We need you.

How to volunteer for change. We need you.

Energy wins elections. We have more of it. Let’s show it in the community in this final kick of the campaign. Here are several opportunities to volunteer. If one or more strikes your fancy, email me at bitown1@gmail.com or campaign@billytownsend.com or Facebook message me; and we’ll bring this thing home together. Work a precinct — either on Early Voting or Election Day: Early voting starts Monday, 10/24. It runs through Nov. 6. Wherever you are, there’s a time and location nearby. You’ll be shocked how many votes you can win just by handing out literature as people walk in. The weekends of the 29th and 30th — and 5th and 6th — are particularly important days for early voting. Walk with us in the Bartow Halloween Parade, Thursday, Oct. 27: This will be lots of fun. We have to be in line at the Bartow parade route at 3 p.m. The parade begins at 4 p.m. Lake Wales Pioneer Days, Sat., Oct 29 – Sunday, Oct. 30:  — Take a shift staffing our booth. Hours are 9 to 5 Saturday. And 11 to 4 on Sunday. Even a couple of hours would help. Work our Lakeland First Friday booth, Nov. 5  Sign waving, on weekends or Nov. 7 — This will be developing; and we’ll provide precise dates and locations. Deliver Election Day campaigns signs to precincts on Nov. 7 — We need as many volunteer drivers as possible. This is a big job....

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The truth about Hunt’s mailer: two open lies, three fuzzy falsehoods, and a revelation of character

The truth about Hunt’s mailer: two open lies, three fuzzy falsehoods, and a revelation of character

Adversity reveals character. Over the last six months, I’ve used deeply researched, substantive critiques to hold Hunt Berryman to account for his performance as a School Board member and leader. I beat him by 10 percentage points in August’s primary race. I won 90 percent of precincts across the county. Hunt has responded to this adversity by adopting many of my ideas as his own and lashing out. He’s done this in person — and by spending $50,000 of his own taxpayer-subsidized money to try to create a fake character named “Billy Townsend.” I haven’t actually seen the full scary TV ad he did about me. I don’t have cable. He hasn’t posted it publicly online to my knowledge. But I have seen Hunt’s mailer, which I guess says many of the same things. So here’s a quick effort at documenting his lies and clarifying my positions. You will see two clear lies and three fuzzier falsehoods. The content in bold represents an allegation on Hunt’s mailer about me. No leadership experience — False in every way. A simple, open, easily-refutable lie. You can see my leadership experience and intellectual background detailed at Billytownsend.com. Here is a quick list: — Member of Lakeland Kiwanis Club for 15 years. Newly appointed board member. Served as chair of high school scholarship committee for past three years. — Served as parent volunteer for multiple schools, including serving on the board of Harrison School for the Arts. — Co-founded Citizens for Better Educational Leadership (CBEL) with Wendy Bradshaw. CBEL successfully led the effort to remove previous Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and change the direction of the district. It has worked aggressively to simplify and reduce the Polk testing burden in all its forms. — Coached more than a dozen youth sports teams. — Served as The Ledger’s Education editor from 2003-2006. Directed coverage of the creation of the Lake Wales Charter District. Won a New York Times Company award for a special section commemorating the career of legendary Lakeland High School English teacher Hazel Haley. — Editor/leader of LakelandLocal.com, website focused on local good government and policy issues. Promotes federal control of schools — Another lie. I have written often about the failures of the federal No Child Left Behind law. I have repeatedly talked about the need for less federal control, particularly in testing and flawed accountability measures. I have no idea where he picked up the federal control...

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Of meaningful school choice, “radical new ideas,” a private school experience, and Get. Off. My. Lawn

In the last year, All Saints Academy and the Lake Wales Charter System have hosted screenings of a celebrated education documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed.” Hunt Berryman and I attended the Lake Wales screening on Monday night. I’ll write more about the specific film content in subsequent posts. But understand this, it is an unrelenting 90-minute indictment of Florida’s rote-test-punish-segregate education model. It’s delivered in the authoritative words of Google executives, the Khan Academy guy, and anyone with a shred of humanity. No one in the Lake Wales audience disagreed with its message. Except Hunt Berryman. This film and new mindset is a 90-minute indictment of Hunt’s approach to education, in which he always chooses the Florida’s DoE and Legislature over our kids. If you doubt me in this, consider two things: — The words of the actual filmmaker, Ted Dintersmith. He told us after the movie that every state government he’s visited in America is doing something to improve the innovation and humanity of its education system — except one. Guess which. This is a direct quote: “I’ve talked to a lot of Florida legislators; and I tell them, ‘I know you don’t wake up every day trying to destroy your kids’ education and chase away your best teachers. But that’s what you’re doing.” I think Dintersmith actually gives them too much credit. — I spent virtually the entire film and post-film discussion grinning and twitching like a giddy Cheshire cat. Hunt spent it scowling and yawning. Ask anyone who was there. About those radical new ideas What the film and discussion really portray/advocate is the radical idea of unshackling public schools from their stupid, soul-killing, industrial-era metrics of fact-retention. It advocates putting the classroom experience first. That’s exactly what I’ve campaigned on for six months. It’s what I’ve written about for years. It’s extremely encouraging that the forces behind both All Saints and the Lake Wales Charter System are on my side, whether they realize it or not. As I’ve said endlessly, I support a “private school” model for traditional public schools. Free teachers from meaningless standards. Emphasize depth of knowledge, not fact retention. Evaluate students by what they create and how they perform publicly. Develop citizenship through meaningful experience. I’m not saying that private schools do all of these things. I’m saying they can. They have the freedom to do it. To a lesser extent, charter schools do as well. Donna...

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A small man with a giant bank account

A small man with a giant bank account

My incumbent opponent just gave himself $50,000 so that he can run attack ads and mailers against me for the rest of the election. If you’re counting at home, that means he’s “raised” a grand total of about $124,000 (about $60k of it his own money) for a job that he does not even want to do, if his performance is any indication. For instance, he couldn’t bring himself to spend an evening hour at either recent community meeting about the Stigmatized 5 schools that he’s ignored for his entire 4-year term. He seems much more interested in me. That’s an odd priority, especially for someone trying to pass off my ideas as his own as quickly as he can. I don’t know that I have ever seen a more perfect metaphor for the laziness and entitlement that has infected our School Board and its enablers. If you want to know why America is in anti-establishment mood, look no further than Hunt Berryman’s wounded ego. Indeed, I would bet that never in the history of Polk County elections has one candidate dropped $50K of his own money solely to fund attacks on another. I admit it’s both flattering and disconcerting. The issue Concerning the content of the ads, I should get this out of the way. Everybody who has ever read Lakeland Local knows that I consider our prohibition-driven national Drug War an abject failure. It kills too many people. It fills our jails unnecessarily with people of all ages, but especially the young. And it strains relations between police and the public. I have been studying, writing, and thinking about this in great depth and publicly for years. I do not use drugs. I do not approve of their use. But I approve less of unnecessary death, disorder, and incarceration. Not surprisingly, Mr. Berryman’s ad appears to misstate my actual position, which has evolved over time. I think America should treat marijuana legally like alcohol. And I think we should decriminalize other drugs, much like the very successful and humane model in Portugal. In 10 years, this position will not be controversial. But I tend to think ahead. And as an attack ad aimed at people not paying close attention, I recognize the potential for this to hurt me. It could also help me with segments of the electorate. I honestly don’t know how it will play out. But I always knew...

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The Greater Winter Haven learning community already exists. Let’s build around it.

The Greater Winter Haven learning community already exists. Let’s build around it.

I saw a beautiful thing Monday night. It reinforced my strong belief in aligning our school leadership with distinct communities through their high school feeder systems. I was walking the greater Winter Haven community’s homecoming parade with a crew of FFA students and J.V. football players.  I love teenagers — with their armor of cool struggling to cover their vulnerability. Always holding back. Always ready for a selfie. Always complaining — unfairly, i think — about school food. They’re fascinating, even when they’re frustrating. I live with one. Anyway, I was darting back and forth along Avenue C and Magnolia Street, handing out cards to the crowds lining the parade route. Suddenly, I noticed a dozen or more of the strutting football players rush over to a woman standing on a sidewalk.  They swarmed her with hugs and smiles. These were the coolest dudes in the parade. And they melted like ice cream. “You must be someone important,” I said to her with a smile. “I taught most of these boys,” she answered. Indeed. The parade was moving, and I was the caboose; so I didn’t quite get her name or the school. But I think she was an elementary teacher. Nobody thought or cared about her corrupt and fraudulent VAM score. It’s a reminder of how the teacher-student bond can reverberate over years and hormones. It’s a reminder of the sacred power that some women can wield over some young men, demanding of them their best selves without demanding. I’m still in touch, as are a number of my classmates, with my fourth grade teacher, Margaret Melzer. A “community superintendent” for a community system supported by the District This also illustrates the value of community continuity in education. So I want to give major kudos to Winter Haven’s Public Education Partnership — especially Doug Lockwood, Tresa Warner, Rebecca Knowles, and Craig Clevenger. They put together Monday night’s joint Winter Haven, Lake Region, All Saints, New Beginnings homecoming parade and Thursday night’s Lip Sync battle. PEP’s work gave the greater Winter Haven community — in all its shapes and colors — a chance to line its streets and pack its theater to celebrate and support its kids and schools. And the greater Winter Haven community responded. The Polk School District should respond to the Winter Haven community accordingly. As I’ve written before, we should treat Winter Haven and Lake Region High and the elementaries and...

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We. Are. Winning. But we still need your help.

We. Are. Winning. But we still need your help.

Tuesday night at the Farm Bureau political forum and dinner, my incumbent opponent actually said this: “I will fight for teachers.” Really. A declarative sentence. I’m willing to bet those words have never before come out of his mouth. I’ve certainly never heard anything close to that from him. I welcome him to the fight. But it’s quite the evolution. A couple days before the August 30 primary, Mr. Berryman dismissed and belittled as “disgruntled” the many, many, many dedicated and talented teachers who talk to me. And even more recently, he defended the Florida DoE’s purge of full-time teachers in favor of subs at the Stigmatized 5 schools. At Kathleen Middle, for instance, DoE forced removal of 9 of 11 English/Language Arts teachers with no one lined up to replace them. This was fine with Mr. Berryman. So fine that he hasn’t bothered to show up to any community support meetings for those schools. Those teachers just need to “get themselves some professional development,” he said. What happened? Perhaps, like the Grinch, Mr. Berryman had a sincere experience in the last couple weeks that made his heart grow three sizes.  If so, I hope it gives him the strength of 10 Berrymans, plus two, in fighting for teachers. But I suspect the explanation is less Seussian: Mr. Berryman was responding to me pointing out to the Farm Bureau crowd how many of my ideas and themes he is claiming as his own in the waning days of the campaign. Indeed, he was essentially trying to convince the crowd he’s a better version of me. People can decide that on their own. But let’s be clear: I’m not trying to convince anybody I’m a better version of him. This is how change happens through politics. Better ideas and greater energy create consensus that drives policy. Together, folks, we have shifted the political and moral ground in the fight for education in this county. Mr. Berryman has become convinced, in his own words, that fighting for teachers is an important thing. It’s become in his political interest to say that publicly. And he’s not the only one. A sitting Polk legislator just sent out a mailer focused entirely on education with a pointed attack on education “bureaucrats.” I choose to believe she’s talking about the bureaucrats at the state DoE. That’s who she oversees and enables. For once, this mailer came...

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The new needs friends: an optimistic note to supporters and skeptics

The new needs friends: an optimistic note to supporters and skeptics

This is my favorite sequence from the Disney movie — Ratatouille. The all-powerful food critic, Anton Ego, confronting himself after a life-changing meal cooked by a rat. It’s one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever. Here’s the key quote: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations — the new needs friends.” Do you hear the modern public education world in that? In Polk County? In Florida? In America? I do. I hear it in the underpaid, overstressed men and women engaging our children every day. They offer themselves and their work without recourse to Gary Chartrand’s detached, anti-human, and gratuitously “fun” judgement. I also recognize the self-indictment of the critic. Indeed, I won’t say Anton Ego goaded me into running for School Board and subjecting myself and family to judgement. But I’ve always known how little I really risk as I type my judgements comfortably from my porch or air-conditioned office. I decided to run in May because I came to consider it a moral duty to do more than type. Support is created, not given I also hear Anton Ego’s words in the digs of some of my critics — and the anxieties of some would-be supporters. A nasty anonymous letter sent to my wife last week declared: “If Mr. Townsend continues with his bid to be elected to Polk County School Board, he is likely to find himself out of order many times. He will be only one of seven members.” It’s really not that different from an email I received from a reader and supporter about the same time last week. I wanted to voice a particular concern I have so that you can, perhaps, settle some uncertain minds. I have made quite a few teacher friends over the years and, in fact, am considering getting...

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