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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A new twist in the Looney/HR leadership scandal: criminalizing workplace conflict — in one direction

A new twist in the Looney/HR leadership scandal: criminalizing workplace conflict — in one direction

Laquita Johnson-Looney told Lakeland police very clearly what she wanted at the end of her 20-minute interview on May 31, 2017, at Southwest Elementary School. She and teacher Juanita McCoy had been in a conflict for months, a conflict in which their principal told police they were equally hostile to each other. Johnson-Looney, a guidance counselor, wanted Juanita McCoy gone. “I do want to file charges [against McCoy],” said Johnson-Looney. “I do not want to return to this school knowing that this person is on campus.” Looney-Johnson got what she wanted. Without any School District HR investigation, the School District removed McCoy from the school that day, later transferred her to another school, and suspended her for five days based solely on the police report that emerged. A couple months after the event, based on the police report, the State Attorney’s Office prosecuted McCoy after Johnson-Looney reiterated that she wanted her prosecuted, the SAO told me. What was the crime Johnson-Looney accused McCoy of committing? An alleged push in the back as McCoy walked past her during a tense moment in the school’s front office on the morning of May 31. “I felt a firm hand on my back and I got pushed and I had to brace myself on the counter,” Looney-Johnson told police. “I could not believe she put her hands on me and pushed me.” McCoy denies she touched Johnson-Looney as she passed her. She says she was carrying materials for a meeting and could not have put her hands on Johnson-Looney. And on May 4th, 2018, almost a year after the incident, the State Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against McCoy as a trial loomed, citing “the facts and circumstances of this case.” There was no push A subsequent review of the audio statements taken by police show the only eyewitness to this event, other than Johnson-Looney and McCoy, told police she saw no push or force. This key eyewitness, who I’m not going to name for the sake of her privacy, was asked by the LPD officer, “was there any force?” “I don’t think so. I can’t really say. I just know that she definitely put her hands on her and scooted past her and said ‘excuse me’.” A subsequent line of questioning went like this: “Did you hear Mrs. Looney say ‘Ow’? “No ma’am.” “Did you see her get jarred forward or to the...

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On education and teachers, Kelli Stargel and Richard Corcoran are (very bad) Democrats. Come see.

On education and teachers, Kelli Stargel and Richard Corcoran are (very bad) Democrats. Come see.

I’ve talked quite a bit about how Kelli Stargel and your state government used the equation below to fraudulently evaluate teachers and sabotage traditional zoned schools serving marginalized populations of kids.  It’s called VAM (value-added model or measure). It’s basically a school grade for teachers — and just as drenched in bad faith. But you may be surprised to learn that in deploying this anti-teacher weapon of chaos, Kelli Stargel was just being the good education Democrat that she actually is. Below you will find an excerpt from this article about VAM, written in 2010.  2010. Let me say that again: 2010. This excerpt and article should be equally uncomfortable for Republicans and Democrats to read. Education Obama is the worst Obama The fact is, VAM was a terrible Democratic idea championed by Barack Obama’s Department of Education and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Race-to-the-Top, the disastrous successor to George W. Bush’s and Ted Kennedy’s disastrous No Child Left Behind, made VAM a national thing for a while. A short while. Education Obama is, by far, the worst Obama. I say that as someone who voted for him twice. I liked him very much on many other things. He also never embarrassed me as an American. But he was a conduit for elite, bipartisan, institutional policy on education. The fact that he and Jeb Bush agreed so often was sold as a lovely bit of national cooperation. Ask a teacher and test-stressed kids how all that good feeling worked out for them. [Usual disclaimer: I’m a No Party Affiliate. I describe myself as an anti-prohibition, pro-14th Amendment, moral conservative — with conservatism defined by honest human observation rather than religion. But most people call me liberal. I don’t care what most people call me. Call me whatever you want to.] VAM was quickly discredited by educators and statisticians alike and essentially abandoned by everybody else, right about the time Kelli Stargel and company started to think it was cool. Want to hurt teachers? Steal from Democrats I feel certain Florida’s education leaders thought it was cool because it was shown to fraudulently evaluate teachers in zoned neighborhood schools serving under-capitalized populations. It was a feature, not a bug. You cannot overstate their cynicism. You really can’t. Eventually, the disruption and fraud of VAM got out of hand. VAM discredited itself even in Florida, even among the Republican voters and...

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Kelli Stargel’s weird, day-late letter — and the great value of public confrontation

Kelli Stargel’s weird, day-late letter — and the great value of public confrontation

You may remember that I invited Kelli Stargel to attend the Polk School Board meeting on April 24th. I wanted her to address the board and public before we voted on the so-called “turnaround” schools that she and state educrats conspired to sabotage in multiple ways over the last couple of years. Here’s how she declined the invitation. Stargel’s key quotes: her school closure/outsource list “is not a matter of [state] laws” and “it’s a board issue and you guys are going to have to deal with it.” The day after April 24th meeting, which I’ll come to in a minute, Stargel sent a very strange and self-justifying letter to the seven board members, Superintendent Jackie Byrd, and Wendy Dodge, our government affairs person. That’s it. Nine people. To my knowledge, she has not posted it publicly anywhere. The meeting was the 24th, Kelli This letter’s stated purpose, in the opening paragraph, is this: I am writing to provide some information that I trust will be helpful as you make the difficult decisions that are needed to approve turnaround option plans for the six schools in Polk County currently determined to need improvement. These decisions are critical for the families and students in our community. These decisions are so “critical for the families and students in our community” that she sent her helpful information the day after we took this critical vote. That’s how truly lazy and uninterested in her “community” this person is. Take a look. I’ll post a picture of the whole thing down at the bottom. The timing of this letter is just the first manifestation of its oddness. It seems to serve no purpose other than rebutting me. I’m the only board member whose positions, words, or actions are specifically addressed, although she doesn’t do it by name. But she’s literally making this self-justifying rebuttal to only nine people. Most, if not all, of these people already have quite well-formed positions on how I operate as a board member. Thus, the only real effect of this letter seems to be to provide me with material — and a pretty clear example of the benefits of my approach to governing and politics. So thanks, Kelli…I guess. Political confrontation and competition changes political behavior for the better I tend to hear a core critique of the idea that we should hold legislators and state educrats — as...

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Tuesday’s state house election: Ricky Shirah will support schools and teachers. Josie Tomkow will hurt them and support Richard Corcoran. Choose accordingly.

Tuesday’s state house election: Ricky Shirah will support schools and teachers. Josie Tomkow will hurt them and support Richard Corcoran. Choose accordingly.

There’s an election Tuesday for state house seat 39, the seat the Neil Combee vacated a few months ago for a cushy federal government job. Here is the map so you can see if you need to vote. It’s basically Polk County north of I-4, plus much of the area between Lakeland and Auburndale. Click to enlarge. And go vote. If you are a teacher or any kind of stakeholder in public education, your choice is abundantly clear: If you want to change Tallahassee, and make it a partner in education, you should vote for Ricky Shirah. If you want Tallahassee to keep hurting you — if you like the Kelli Stargel approach — you should vote for Josie Tomkow. I don’t know Josie Tomkow. I haven’t met her. She may be a nice person. But I know she was selected by Neil Combee to fill his seat and do the bidding of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Neil is proudly loyal to Corcoran, who has been an enemy of every local community in Florida, especially in education. Tomkow has shown no indication of any positions that are her own. If you like excessive standardized testing and VAM scores and fraudulent school grades and threats to close schools, Josie Tomkow is your candidate. If you are a teacher or stakeholder of a public school, and you want Tallahassee to keep hurting you, she will keep hurting you. Because that’s what her leadership will tell her do. It’s just a fact, whatever your party or ideology. You are Josie Tomkow’s stepping stone to something personally beneficial. Her campaign is about her entitlement and the power of Tallahassee leadership — not you or your kids. By contrast, Ricky Shirah is a friend to public schools. He’s put in endless hours as a volunteer and supporter of Kathleen Middle and High School. He believes in the changes we’re trying to make here in Polk and in Florida. He won’t go to Tallahassee just so he can grovel to Richard Corcoran. Ricky is loyal, fiery, passionate and persistent. He’s in nobody’s pocket. That’s what I want in an elected official. I’m proud that he supported me as a board member; and I’m proud to support him. Ricky is, above all, loyal to Polk County and to your kids. Take a look at this video and see for yourself. Isn’t it time we had somebody representing Polk County...

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