A K12 timeline and remaining questions: What I think I know — and what I don’t.

A K12 timeline and remaining questions: What I think I know — and what I don’t.

I’m still in fact-finding mode on the K12 issue. And I’ve still got timelines on the brain. So here is an update on what I think I know about the relationship between K12 and the District — and what I don’t know. I’ve organized it chronologically, which I find very helpful. I will continue to update is more information becomes available. February 2014 K12 creates Fuel Education as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Education Week has a good background story on the some the K12 struggles that helped lead to this move. See link here. Excerpt here: As education companies fight for space in the digital learning market, one of the biggest and most controversial players in the school industry is betting that a simple strategy—changing the name of a line of products and services—will give it an edge…. …The Herndon, Va.-based company is probably best known as an operator of online schools. It manages schools and offers blended learning programs in more than 30 states and enrolls about 125,000 students. But it also sells numerous other online and blended learning curricular products and instructional services, and the company says the rebranding is bringing together a number of related offerings—collectively accounting for less than 10 percent of its business—under the new name. Fuel Education will operate as a separate legal entity owned by K12, and house several different “personalized learning” platforms, as well as teacher professional development, consulting, and Web-based courses. And here: K12, which reported revenues of $848 million in fiscal 2013, has long been a focal point in the debate over the role of for-profit companies in education, particularly as it relates to the management of schools. The company and its backers argue that it fills an important, often unmet need by providing flexible and customized online services to students who struggle or otherwise aren’t comfortable in brick-and-mortar schools. K12’s detractors point to its students’ lackluster showing on state tests, and to complaints about its business practicesas reasons to be skeptical of its role. The company has weathered a wave of bad publicity recently. Last year it settled a federal lawsuit by investors who had claimed they were misled by the company about its students’ academic performance and its business practices, though K12 denied the allegations put forward. In September, a prominent hedge fund investor, Whitney R. Tilson, offered a broad critique of K12, in which he said its...

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Superintendent Byrd’s statement concerning K12

Superintendent Byrd’s statement concerning K12

I just received this note from Superintendent Jackie Byrd, within the last hour or so, along with some electronic documents I will need to review. I’m publishing her statement in its entirety. It’s a much delayed reaction to the article I wrote at this link — and an email I sent to District leadership two weeks ago. It’s worth noting that I let a week go by before saying anything publicly about my K12 questions. I won’t be retracting anything because I don’t know what the superintendent wants me to retract. She cites no incorrect statement, which is hardly surprising, because I mostly said what I didn’t know. I was asking for answers. If the superintendent cares to quote something that is incorrect and can demonstrate its incorrectness, I will retract it. For now, I’ll just allow her to have her full say without further comment: Mr. Townsend, It has come to my attention that posts appearing on your website as of last Friday (June 1st) contain serious and false allegations implying that the Administration has acted inappropriately with K-12, one of three State /School Board approved vendors providing online educational services for Polk Virtual School.  I am writing this letter to provide you with accurate, factual information regarding this issue and to request your retraction of the inaccurate allegations you’ve made.  While I understand that your sources are employees of the Polk County School system, that does not mean it is factual information. Florida law requires that the School Board give students and parents a choice of at least three vendors who can provide online educational services through the Polk Virtual School.  It is the parents and students who decide which vendor they wish to utilize, and each vendor is paid by the School Board based on the number of students utilizing that vendor.  The School Board has no role in suggesting, promoting, favoring or otherwise designating any particular vendor over the other two vendors. K-12 has been a vendor for the Polk Virtual School since 2009 when Dr. Gail McKinzie was the Superintendent.  The agreement with K-12 provides that they will be paid a specified fee for each student who selects the K-12 program for that student’s online education services.  The agreement with K-12 provides no fixed amount or minimum number of students for which it will be paid.  That agreement has been approved by the School Board...

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Portrait of a leadership culture: a decade-long timeline of power, relationships, and consequences in the Polk District

Portrait of a leadership culture: a decade-long timeline of power, relationships, and consequences in the Polk District

Brandi Garcia Blanchard is a bilingual Hispanic administrator. Juanita McCoy is an African-American teacher who worked her way up from serving as a para. Polk County needs more of both of those categories of employees to serve our diverse student population. So why did the Polk School District mercilessly disrupt — and nearly ruin — the professional lives of these women at almost exactly the same time in the summer of 2017? The most obvious and immediate answer is that Blanchard and McCoy, almost simultaneously, ran afoul of Jason and Laquita Looney during the 2016-17 school year. Both women were on the losing end of a dispute with a Looney. The word of a Looney was enough to severely harm their careers — and to some extent their lives. That’s really not in much dispute. The deeper question is why. And did they deserve it? A disconnect I cannot explain It is Jason Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that after 11 successful years as a Polk District employee (and after a promotion by Looney at Tenoroc High School) that Blanchard suddenly became a lazy and ineffective administrator starting in roughly September of 2016. It is Laquita Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that Juanita McCoy shoved Looney in the back at Southwest Elementary on May 31, 2017, as the culmination of ongoing, one-sided harassment during the winter and spring of 2017. This is despite the fact that the only eyewitness says there was no shove; there was no HR investigation; and all indications, including the principal’s statement to police, show the conflict went in both directions. “They’re the same to each other,” the principal told police. Having reviewed these two cases more deeply than anyone else, I find that the evidence does not support the position of either the Looneys or the District. Indeed, I find that both women, whatever their alleged shortcomings or culpability, are the victims of truly vicious institutional cruelty. Moreover, by my count, collectively, the Looneys have been complainants or complained about in at least six formal investigations of school-based disputes since 2010. In one case, the GJ investigation, they were essentially co-defendants. In every single case, no matter which side they were on, School District action sided with the Looneys. The Looneys won. Many people on the opposite side of the Looneys suffered deeply for...

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John Small, K12, the Looneys, and staff’s contempt for your elected School Board

John Small, K12, the Looneys, and staff’s contempt for your elected School Board

[Important update at the end of the essay] Last Thursday night, more than a week ago, I sent the email that follows below to members of our senior staff and John Small. Receipt of this email has yet to be acknowledged, much less have its questions answered in a response. For context, John Small is the former deputy superintendent. He retired last year and went to work for K12, an online education provider. See this screen shot from his Linked-in page. By all accounts I have heard from multiple district sources at multiple levels, and according to my own observation, John Small remains Superintendent Jackie Byrd’s most influential advisor — even in “retirement” and in service to K12. As I understand it, K12 is one of three existing vendors for the Polk Virtual School. (State law mandates that we provide three, as I understand it.) Polk Virtual School is different from Florida Virtual School, which has its own vendors and serves about 5000 kids in Polk. In the couple days before I sent this note, I received information that K12 had worked (or was trying to work) a large expansion of its presence in Polk by getting the district to purchase 5,000 or so licenses, despite the fact that very few Polk kids were using it. The cost I heard was up to $1.8 million. I became concerned that I had voted for something without realizing it. I asked the School Board’s diligent and kind executive assistant to help me figure out when/if we voted for a K12 expansion or expenditure. And we could not find anything. So I sent this note seeking clarity to several members of senior staff and to Small himself. I have said many times in many ways in public meetings and one-on-one conversations that I want to be made aware of personal relationships with major contractors. So it troubles me that John Small is a vice president and Jacque Bowen apparently affiliated with K12 and that these relationships have never been openly discussed at the board level. I will discuss them at the next meeting. I’m now trying to go back and figure out what exactly I’ve voted for on this. I asked Susan to inquire about this earlier today. But it’s probably easier for everybody to do it myself. Please respond to me, rather than her. Please provide me a detailed account of our contracting history with K-12, what precisely we...

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The District’s Looney Scandal: Why I went quiet. Why that’s over. And why we need an independent review — now.

The District’s Looney Scandal: Why I went quiet. Why that’s over. And why we need an independent review — now.

I go after Kelli Stargel and the terrible Florida state government as hard as I do to protect the people of the community I represent and the district I help oversee. That means, in part, I do it to give Polk School District leaders the space and protection they need to lead as if they really are the “servant leaders” they often claim to be. We, as a community, are starting to create that space for our local educational leaders. But our local educational leaders have not yet shown themselves worthy of that space — or the thousands of people who work so hard for them. Too many continue to tolerate or even create a toxic work culture that makes common purpose impossible.  This needs to change. Immediately. You may have noticed that I went quiet about the Looney scandal for a few months. There is a reason for this. Back in December, I asked Jackie Byrd and Board Attorney Wes Bridges to engage an independent, outside review of the district’s decade-long relationship with the Looneys. I did this because evidence told me that this leadership and HR team is incapable or unwilling to face this issue. Jackie and Wes told me they would pursue this outside review. But Jackie wanted to do it quietly. I could have made this request publicly and dramatically. But I wanted to show good faith toward leadership. I decided to mute my public scrutiny of the Looney issue as an act of good faith, to see what would happen. I wanted to give these “leaders” the public space to show some leadership. As we have seen, nothing happened — except a district statement of support for Jason Looney by apparently re-appointing him as principal of Tenoroc. To recap: Jason Looney has been the subject of three massive investigations related to multiple sexual harassment and mismanagement allegations against him at two different schools. One occurred at George Jenkins High (2010) and two at Tenoroc that are essentially the same investigation (2017). These allegations include first-hand accounts of unwanted advances, giving and receiving lewd texts, inappropriate workplace language, sexualized personnel drama/favoritism and punishment with Looney at the center, and fear of retaliation toward alleged victims. Most of the Tenoroc investigation revolves around Looney’s treatment of former assistant principal Brandi Garcia Blanchard, who was let go from Tenoroc at the end of the 2016-17 school year....

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