Our first referendum on the hateful Florida model, part 1: Ron DeSantis is the Florida educational establishment. Just look at his top supporters.

Our first referendum on the hateful Florida model, part 1: Ron DeSantis is the Florida educational establishment. Just look at his top supporters.

It’s official: Ron DeSantis will enthusiastically continue Florida’s unique brand of oppressive top-down test-punish-fraud education. If you like paying testing companies to hurt kids, you’ll love Ron DeSantis. If you like Betsy DeVos, you’ll love Ron DeSantis. If you like Kelli Stargel, you will love Ron DeSantis. If you like that Tallahassee sneers at your choice of any school that isn’t a charter or voucher school, you’ll love Ron DeSantis. If you like VAM, 7069, politically rigged school grades, lousy pay, strangled funding, and endless unfunded mandates from Tallahassee, you will love Ron DeSantis. And you should vote for him. If you’re a public education stakeholder, and you like inflicting pain on yourself, Ron DeSantis is an ideal sharp object. The tell for all of this isn’t what’s in the collection of ancient, nonsense talking points he calls an “education plan.” It’s in how the political and bureaucratic Florida education establishment rushed to fluff him. See this story. Key quote: As yet another signal of DeSantis being embraced by establishment Republicans, his campaign on Thursday rolled out a list of endorsements for his education policy. Primary among them are former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose eight years in Tallahassee stressed educational reform and who was the last conservative defender of Common Core, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who abandoned his own gubernatorial ambitions and backed Putnam in the primary. The teacher-hating people in that story complaining about the teacher-hating “bureaucracy” that they themselves built are the same teacher-hating people who tried this year to create yet another new bureaucracy to exclude charter schools from meaningful oversight by local School Boards. That was the point of Amendment 8. The fact that they tried to bury their real intent in other stuff is the reason it got tossed off the ballot. They are the same people who think teachers should be punished based on this equation related to their test scores. DeSantis mostly wants to be on TV. So I suspect he doesn’t actually know anything about education — and doesn’t care. The intellectual staleness of his “plan” is pretty clear proof. That’s a big problem for any governor. Governors are the most important education officials in the country because education policy decisions are overwhelmingly made at the state level. That’s why Betsy DeVos is so ineffective in her awfulness. She doesn’t have all that much power. A governor does. And DeSantis will outsource that power to the people...

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The importance of questions: Why K12 matters to becoming a better employer and steward of public trust

The importance of questions: Why K12 matters to becoming a better employer and steward of public trust

If you can, take a moment to watch this video from the June 19th Polk County School Board work session, starting at about 2:57:30. That’s the moment I asked my fellow board members to join me in asking the State Attorney’s Office to review the K12 matter. None of them opted to join my request. Lynn Wilson wasn’t at the meeting. I particularly want you to note Sarabeth Reynolds’ comments starting at about 3:25:30, which don’t just relate to K12. If you don’t have time to watch, she’s expressing concerns about the burdens she believes School Board questions place on staff. This is clearly a reference to me, although I don’t think she actually mentions me by name at any point. I think it’s safe to say that Sarabeth and I both won election in 2016 as part of a movement that wanted real change in the oversight approach of the Polk School Board.  I think it’s also safe to say that since our election, we’ve chosen divergent paths in our approach to governing. That divergence culminated on June 19. Put a pin in Sarabeth’s comments on June 19. We’re going to come back to them. They are fundamental to understanding the current philosophical/governing divide among your elected School Board members. In my view, this divide relates to organizational self-criticism. It relates to the imperative to never stop striving to become a better employer and steward of public trust, while recognizing that we will fail from time-to-time. If we’re going to make real, permanent progress with bus driver/teacher shortages and employee quality of life concerns, the leadership of this institution must become more self-critical, more transparent, and far more willing to listen to its own stakeholders. That’s how we will become a better employer and better steward of public trust. I’ve tried to drive that ethic of continuous organizational improvement and leadership accountability as a board member. And I think we’ve seen some progress, even if it’s begrudging at times. I’m hopeful that any new board members will join in the pushing. A very helpful investigation and review As it turns out, the State Attorney’s review of the K12 matter proved every bit as valuable and helpful as I hoped it would. I am very, very glad I asked for it. First, it confirmed that no money changed hands on what would have been an illegal $1.8 million contract. Having established...

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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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