A moment for regeneration, part 4: the Polk community’s sales tax is vital to the Polk community’s future

A moment for regeneration, part 4: the Polk community’s sales tax is vital to the Polk community’s future

It is vital to the future of this county that Polk voters decide to continue the half-cent sales tax for facilities construction. Full stop. Let me say it again, with italics: it is vital to the future of this county that Polk voters decide to continue the half-cent sales tax for facilities construction. One can choose from a massive buffet of numbers and reasons to illustrate why it’s vital. I’ll be doing that quite often as the November 6 referendum approaches. But here are a few quick bullets on what $675 million over 15 years means — or could mean: A desperately needed new high school in Northeast Polk, along with other desperately needed capacity. A desperately needed renovation of Mulberry High School Elementary schools that relieve crowding at other elementaries — Chain of Lakes Elementary, for instance. Security upgrades and athletic field renovations. Millions and millions in maintenance projects deferred for years because we didn’t have money to do them. It’s the best way to help us avoid the air conditioning problems that have plagued Hillsborough County. Money to help with capital and facilities for conversion charter schools, like some of the Lake Wales and McKeel schools. [Dale Fair Babson Park Elementary has a need to cover its PE Court, for instance.  I’ve received a ton of hand written notes from kids fearing skin cancer.] And, if I have my way, resources to get creative about reducing busing and segregation — and improving how magnet and traditional schools affect each other. That’s just the tip of the practical iceberg. Continuing to pay the half-cent tax, which has been around since 2003, benefits basically everybody. And today, I simply want to take a moment to make my support as clear as I can. [As I understand it now, board members are allowed to openly advocate as long as we don’t use public money or resources to do it.] An independent Political Action Committee has been set up for individuals and organizations who want to contribute to the campaign of support. You can donate at this link. In an effort to put our money where the keyboard is, the Townsend household just gave $1,000. If you can contribute anything, please do. Everything counts. An answer to a very fair question I also want to thank Hollis Hooks for prompting me. At the quarterly Polk Education Foundation board meeting last week, we had...

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A Moment for Regeneration, part 3: Sarah Fortney for School Board District 3

A Moment for Regeneration, part 3: Sarah Fortney for School Board District 3

This is the final of my three recommendations for School Board candidates recommendations. Absentee ballots for the Aug. 28 primary have already been sent.  If you care about the future of public education in Polk County, in Florida, and in the country as a whole, it’s time to pay attention. This is the most pivotal Polk School Board election since I moved to Lakeland as a young reporter in 1999. Two multi-term incumbents are not seeking re-election. The third faces a strong challenge. Change is coming. What kind of change do you want? Earlier this week, I wrote about my support for Lisa Miller for District 7 and Jennifer Sabin for School Board District 5. Today, we’re focusing Sarah Fortney, a long-time teacher, in District 3. Like Lisa Miller in District 7 and Jennifer Sabin in District 5, Sarah Fortney brings two broad qualities I see as vital for a very good School Board member. Sarah has a core expertise in a vital subject matter area. Indeed, she brings arguably the single most important expertise. She has taught children for 33 years. Today, she’s a successful science teacher at a traditional zoned middle school. She knows, better than anybody running, what it’s like to fight for the humanity of kids in the type of school that Florida most despises and most actively seeks to sabotage. She knows what teachers in Polk County, today, experience on the ground. No one else in any race can match that literal empathy for the experience of our current academic teachers in a test-and-punish, school grade, VAM-driven world. When she tells teachers, “I understand,” she does. Like nobody else can. She will know BS when she hears it. And she will call it out. Sarah also brings a fundamental curiosity and creative problem-solving energy that has been lacking from elected Polk School Board oversight for a generation. Please see this decade-long timeline if you need evidence of the organizational culture costs of a distant and incurious board. In addition to these incredibly valuable traits, Sarah has demonstrated — more than anybody else I know in Polk education — two other qualities that make for elite public servants: Extraordinary personal courage: My great grandfather had a saying that has stuck with me since I was a boy: Without courage, no other virtue is worth a damn. I’ll delve into Sarah’s courage in a moment. But believe me when I tell you she has taken personal...

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A Moment for Regeneration, part 2: Jennifer Sabin for School Board District 5

A Moment for Regeneration, part 2: Jennifer Sabin for School Board District 5

This is the second of three School Board candidate recommendations I’ll be making. Absentee ballots should be arriving any day for the Aug. 28 primary, if they have not already. If you care about the future of public education in Polk County, in Florida, and in the country as a whole, it’s time to pay attention. This is the most pivotal Polk School Board election since I moved to Lakeland as a young reporter in 1999. Two multi-term incumbents are not seeking re-election. The third faces a strong challenge. Change is coming. What kind of change do you want? Earlier this week, I wrote about my support for Lisa Miller. Later this week, I’ll be explaining my support for Sarah Fortney in District 3. Today, we’re focusing on Jennifer Sabin for School Board District 5. The District 5 race for Polk School Board offers the clearest choice between the past and the future.  It’s the only race with a long-term incumbent, Kay Fields, who is seeking a fifth term. Jennifer Sabin represents the future. If you want something new and creative, Jennifer is your choice in this race.  Click to enlarge this excerpt from her mailer, including her strong endorsement from Polk’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, the dynamic Lois Horn-Diaz. Like Lisa Miller in District 7, Jennifer brings the two broad qualities that I see as vital for a very good School Board member. Jennifer has a core expertise in a vital subject matter area. She is one of the state’s leading non-governmental experts/advocates for testing and assessment reform. If you want a candidate with the understanding and will to push back on destructive high stakes standardized testing and excessive assessment, Jennifer is your candidate. I can’t wait to work with her to come up with human-centered alternatives. Jennifer also brings a fundamental curiosity and creative problem-solving energy that has been lacking from elected Polk School Board oversight for a generation. Please see this decade-long timeline if you need evidence of the organizational culture costs of a distant and incurious board. The second part is particularly important in this race. I’ll explain why in a moment. A passion for human-centered, not test-centered education Jennifer is a 40-year-old writer and education activist. She is a former language arts teacher, whose husband continues to teach in Polk County public schools. This is from her website: [Jennifer] is running for the seat because she is passionate about improving the education...

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A Moment for Regeneration, part 1: Lisa Miller for School Board, District 7

A Moment for Regeneration, part 1: Lisa Miller for School Board, District 7

This is the first of three School Board candidate recommendations I’ll be making. I’m starting with Lisa Miller because she’s in a two-person race. It will end, one way or another, on August 28. Absentee ballots should be arriving any day, if they have not already. If you care about the future of public education in Polk County, in Florida, and in the country as a whole, it’s time to pay attention. This is the most pivotal Polk School Board election since I moved to Lakeland as a young reporter in 1999. Two multi-term incumbents are not seeking re-election; and third faces a strong challenge. Change is coming. What kind of change do you want? Here is the first of my humble suggestions: Lisa Miller for District 7.    Lisa Miller embodies two broad characteristics that I’ve come to see as vital for a School Board member operating within the Florida Model, especially in Polk County. She has a core expertise in a vital subject matter area. Lisa is perhaps the leading non-governmental expert/advocate for Exceptional Student Education in Florida. I have met no individual that I consider a more effective, knowledgable, and practical advocate for children with physical or learning disabilities. More on that in a moment. She brings a fundamental curiosity and creative problem-solving energy that has been lacking from elected Polk School Board oversight for a generation, prior to my election in 2016. Please see this decade-long timeline if you need evidence of the organizational culture costs of a distant and incurious board. I’m delighted to say that I support Lisa so strongly because of her unique strengths, not because of any concerns about her opponent, David Byrd. David is a good candidate; and it’s a very high quality race. I will work well with whomever wins. But I believe Lisa will immediately become an elite School Board member — both in energy and insight. We will need both to work through many of Polk’s long-standing structural challenges. ESE exerts a powerful gravity on everything we do. Lisa will help. The last time I checked, roughly 13 percent of Polk students were considered ESE because of a disability of some sort. That’s about 14,000 kids. ESE, legally, also includes students considered “gifted,” which is foolish because of the very different needs of the populations. But when you include “gifted” kids, you get to about 20,000 ESE students. That...

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Which state senators support Amendment 8, the Foreign For-Profit Charter Enrichment and Local Democracy Destruction Act?

Which state senators support Amendment 8, the Foreign For-Profit Charter Enrichment and Local Democracy Destruction Act?

Where does your state senator stand on Amendment 8, the utterly shameless windfall for shady, foreign, for-profit charter schools developers and attack on community public education? Let’s find out together, shall we? I’ve started a tracker, and I’m asking for senators to share their positions. Screen shot preview below. I’ve been trying to get Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland to answer for days on Twitter. Crickets. Her opponent, Bob Doyel, is strongly against Amendment 8 because he’s a strong supporter of public schools and teachers. You can learn about and support Bob here, if you choose. Stargel, of course, is perhaps the single most anti-teacher, anti-public education elected official in Florida. Every bad thing Florida has done to teachers and schools during her tenure has Stargel’s name attached to it, including Florida’s endless starvation budgets for schools. Let me tell you: of course, she supports this amendment. But thanks to the competitiveness of her race, she’s afraid to say it out loud. Let’s make her say it. Political competition, tied to clear examination of a politician’s record, is a beautiful thing. That’s why we need to get every senator on-the-record with a position. (We need to do with it representatives, too, but someone else can lead that effort.) So, if you want to help, call or write your state senator. Ask them: Do you support public education and teachers? Or do you support foreign for-profit charter companies trying to come here to make a buck off our kids with no oversight?  Let me know what they say, preferably by tweeting me at @billytownsended or emailing at bitown1@gmail.com. As of today, only Gary Farmer, a South Florida Democrat, has confirmed his strong opposition to 8. But we’re just starting. Amendment 8: the wealthy foreign charter developer enrichment act. What is Amendment 8? To answer that, let’s look first at who is funding the campaign to approve it. Here’s an invaluable story about that. Nearly three-quarters of the money raised by the 8isGreat group has come from companies involved with charter schools. Red Apple Development, a Fort Lauderdale company that has helped develop more than three dozen charter school projects in Florida, donated $10,000 to the amendment effort. GreenAccess, a Jupiter company also involved in more than three dozen charter schools in Florida, donated $15,000. Florida Overseas Investment Center, a Sarasota company, also made a $15,000 contribution to the amendment campaign, records show....

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The complicity of silence and the obligations of power: my response to Tuesday’s meeting and The Ledger story

The complicity of silence and the obligations of power: my response to Tuesday’s meeting and The Ledger story

On August 31, 2017, School Board Member Tim Harris, on behalf of the Polk County School District as an institution, destroyed the credibility of the Tenoroc sexual harassment investigations, while they were active. He attended a mandatory Tenoroc staff meeting called by principal Jason Looney. At that meeting, he lectured the Tenoroc faculty, which included many actual or potential witnesses. He expressed institutional support for Jason Looney, while the investigation was still active. He suggested some of the staff/witnesses might want to find new jobs. He had been aware of Brandi Garcia Blanchard’s allegations for more than a month when he said this: I appreciate those of you were comfortable enough to send those emails, some of whom I did reply. And as a result of those emails I felt like it was important for myself and the superintendent to come out and speak with you and show our support — and support of Mr. Looney. Unfortunately, the superintendent cannot be here she has a very important family issue. [Inaudible] She’s out of the office for several days. So keep her in your prayers please. I personally have gone through situations in my career, and I was with the school district for 31 years before I ran for School Board, where I had a supervisor, let’s just say had a different paradigm from mine. I finally got to the point where I could handle the different paradigm because I decided that myself and that supervisor were always going to disagree. We just had a totally different philosophy of life. When I finally got to those mental positions with those three separate supervisors, I was able to deal with it a lot better and accept their differences from mine. It made looking for another job a lot easier mentally. Tim Harris said that, with Jason Looney standing next to him, while the investigation was still active and its outcome, in theory, still unclear. Harris and Looney openly showed powerless witnesses, on behalf of the institution, that the institution had made up its mind. Harris made claims on behalf of the superintendent, speaking for her in her absence. I didn’t invent these facts. This happened. The tape and transcripts exist because a potential witness who felt intimidated taped what Harris said. This meeting destroyed the validity of the Tenoroc investigations before they were finished and released. I told the School District...

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