The perils of thanking power, pt 1: In fairness to Kelli Stargel, how would she have known?

The perils of thanking power, pt 1: In fairness to Kelli Stargel, how would she have known?

Take a look at this brief clip from Tuesday’s Polk School Board work session. Board Member Sarabeth Reynolds makes a familiar point about relationships with legislators: “You catch a lot more flies with honey.” The context for Sarabeth’s statement is our board discussion of the new taxpayer-funded, no-oversight grifter school vouchers that your state government is about to create. I’ll talk about that in part 2. But the statement itself has more general application; and I think Sarabeth has fallen here into a common trap for public officials. She’s confusing personal relationships with power relationships. “Flies with honey” is good advice for personal relationships, which are rooted in affection and love, as anyone in a strong marriage can tell you. Power relationships are very different relationships. They are not marriages or friendships or even co-worker collaboration. They decide the distribution of public goods. They are about who eats and who serves; who thrives and who suffers. So Sarabeth’s statement makes a great jumping off point for exploring why the Florida Senate education budget is so much less bad than the governor and House budget. The image below shows the difference. Click to enlarge. The Senate budget is circled; and this Ledger story has phone numbers and email contact for legislators. I’d urge you to call them and tell them to support the Senate budget. And as you consider this “flies with honey” notion, it’s useful to consider why Sen. Kelli Stargel felt the need to say this publicly in yesterday’s Ledger story about the budget: State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on education and was responsible for including a lot of the increased funding. Stargel said she “chose to prioritize funding to public schools. The Senate president and the appropriations chair agreed.” Note the use of the word “chose.” She made an active, publicly beneficial decision that she has not made in the past. Why? If you thank someone for hurting you; they will keep hurting you To answer that question, let’s imagine Kelli Stargel’s decade-plus in the Florida Legislature from her point-of-view. Since her election to the Florida House in 2008, Stargel has pretty routinely done the bidding of legislative leadership, which itself was doing the bidding of political donors with particular interests. In many cases, these actions on behalf of distant and powerful interests harmed or weakened local institutions, such the Polk School District,...

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Five children: some thoughts on a sad 10 days

Five children: some thoughts on a sad 10 days

Five children from the Polk County School District family have died in the last 10 days. All were between nine and 13-years-old. Three were killed in traffic-related accidents. One died in an accident at home. And another committed suicide. Some of these cases have made news. Others haven’t. I’m not going to name the children because I don’t want to invade the privacy of grieving families. Please keep them in your thoughts. Four of the five attended Polk District schools at the time of their deaths. The fifth was homeschooled, but had recently attended one of our schools. The five school communities affected by these enormous human tragedies are: Lake Marion Creek Middle Crystal Lake Elementary Crystal Lake Middle Rochelle School of the Arts Winston Academy Between them, those five schools serve roughly 4,000 children. That’s 4,000 children and several hundred staff who may have lost a dear friend or a child with whom they’d built a deep emotional bond. Yet, they are expected to take attendance and give high stakes FSA tests this week as if nothing has happened. The collection of meaningless data in Florida is pitiless. So please keep these school communities in your thoughts as well. Here are a few random musings, from the point-of-view of an elected School Board member, concerning the enormity of losing these lives before they’ve really started. — In a School District of roughly 105,000 kids, the death of children occurs distressingly often. I should have understood that when I ran for office, given the simple math of operating what amounts to a medium-sized city every day. But I didn’t understand it. Not really. Not as viscerally as I do now. In coming to understand it, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Superintendent Jackie Byrd conduct herself in these situations far more often than I would like. And I can tell you that she does so excellently. Comforting parents and school communities in these moments of grief is a particular skill for Mrs. Byrd. She represents the School District with empathy and grace in moments of grief. — The death on display in Polk in the last 10 days offers a realistic cross-section of the truest dangers that children face in this world: three traffic accident deaths, one unknown accident at home, and a lethal act of self-harm carried out before puberty. Mass shootings traumatize the imagination; but the most relentless...

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A proposed School Board resolution concerning Pastor Tiger, state voucher school oversight, and public safety

A proposed School Board resolution concerning Pastor Tiger, state voucher school oversight, and public safety

I will be asking the Polk School Board at our Tuesday meeting to adopt the following resolution concerning the events at Kingdom Prep; the lack of oversight of voucher schools laid out in the Orlando Sentinel’s “School without Rules” reporting; and expanding the mandate of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Grand Judy to include voucher school oversight and safety. Full background on the Pastor Tiger story and its implications for voucher expansion are below. If you agree with this resolution, I would encourage you to contact your School Board members and urge them to support it. Here it is: *** Whereas in October 2017, the Orlando Sentinel published an exhaustive investigation of the lack of oversight of schools that receive state-sponsored private “scholarships,” otherwise known as vouchers. This report was titled “Schools without Rules.” Whereas the second paragraph of that article stated: “The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.” Whereas, neither Step Up for Students nor state government, both of which facilitate these vouchers, took any substantial action to respond to the issues raised by “Schools without Rules,” including the risk of sexual abuse. Whereas, in February of 2019, 15 months after “Schools without Rules,” the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Charles “Pastor Tiger” Aguon, 34-year-old headmaster of Kingdom Prep School in Auburndale on sexual abuse charges. [Pastor Tiger is not the same person cited in the Sentinel reporting. — ed. note] Whereas, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was quoted in the The Ledger saying Pastor Tiger spent time “grooming” his alleged victim: “While Pastor Tiger (Aguon) was a role model, he was grooming this boy and touching him in an inappropriate manner,” Judd said. “We are significantly concerned and curious to know if there are any other victims. We want the parents and grandparents to speak with their children, ask them questions.” Whereas, receiving vouchers/scholarships overseen by the state and Step Up for Students were important steps for enrollment at Kingdom Prep, according to the school’s website. Whereas, Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Kelli Stargel and other education and government leaders propose to redefine Kingdom Prep and schools like it as public schools and provide them taxpayer money with no oversight as part of a massive voucher expansion in Florida. Whereas,...

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How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids, part 2: “Unacceptable” funding means “unacceptable” staffing and “unacceptable” protection

How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids, part 2: “Unacceptable” funding means “unacceptable” staffing and “unacceptable” protection

This is a very important passage from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas report. Key sentence: “Unlocked and opened gates were regularly unstaffed for long periods of time on the MSDHS campus. School administrators cited a lack of personnel as the explanation for the unstaffed open gates. This explanation is unacceptable.” The possibilities that Kelli Stargel kills First, this passage lays out the potential for a smart expansion of Polk’s uniformed Guardian program. For those of you who don’t know, our Guardian program is a compromise that provides our elementary schools with a layer of uniformed, armed protection and helps us comply with state law. (Our middle and high schools already have school resource officers.) Polk’s Guardian Program does not arm existing teachers or staff who have teaching or disciplinary duties. We had a robust public discussion about that. And we chose to create new positions, gave them distinctive uniforms, and gave them active shooter response training through the Polk Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Judd’s office and our HR staff did yeoman work getting these roles staffed and trained in time for the opening of the school year. The elementary Guardians patrol the grounds, monitor who is coming and going, etc. The response from the elementary schools has been good. The kids and adults seem to like having them around. I suspect it’s a very boring job most of the time; but I hope, in complying with the state, that we’ve provided a layer of deterrence, although I suspect it’s mostly theater. I would be open to expanding the Guardian program to secondary schools — middle and high schools — if the Guardians were used to staff and control access points all day, as mentioned above in the MSD report. And if they had no disciplinary, investigative, or instructional duties to distract them. In this way, they would be little different than the police we hire for crowd control for big athletic events. That would balance the armed staff safety risk equation that I have written about at length, most recently here. However, I’d prefer that we follow the urging of my Polk School Board colleague Sarah Fortney: provide a social worker to every one of our schools. I think that would be money better spent. But I assure you, there is no money for either expansion. Kelli Stargel has seen to that. Moreover, there is no pipeline of mental health services and social...

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How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids more each day, part 1: Of Pastor Tiger — and why the MSD grand jury should investigate Step Up For Students oversight of voucher schools.

How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids more each day, part 1: Of Pastor Tiger — and why the MSD grand jury should investigate Step Up For Students oversight of voucher schools.

Kingdom Prep in Auburndale is what I call a “voucher school.” It’s a private school, largely dependent on Florida’s various privately-funded voucher schemes for its financial lifeblood. Jeb Bush’s legacy foundation, Step Up for Students, oversees it — sort of, but not really. Mostly, Step Up just makes sure Kingdom Prep gets paid. Your Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Kelli Stargel have just decided to redefine Kingdom Prep as a public school, without any of the burdensome fake accountability like school grades or basic oversight. Here’s DeSantis’s quote: “To me, if the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the district managed school that you’re zoned for, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to a public Magnet, a public Charter, if you take a tax credit scholarship and go to a private school or if you use an ESA for homeschool, to me that is all the public’s commitment to make sure that our kids have the best education.” This is the intellectual framework to justify taking away your tax money from your public schools and giving it to schools like Kingdom Prep. More on that in a moment. But first, some background: Sheriff Grady Judd: “While Pastor Tiger was a role model, he was grooming this boy…” A few weeks ago, in early February 0f 2019, the Polk Sheriff’s Office arrested Charles “Pastor Tiger” Aguon, the 34-year-old headmaster of Kingdom Prep, on charges of lewd molestation of a student. Here is the The Ledger’s story. Read the horrifying details, as Polk Sheriff Grady Judd laid them out: “While Pastor Tiger (Aguon) was a role model, he was grooming this boy and touching him in an inappropriate manner,” Judd said. “We are significantly concerned and curious to know if there are any other victims. We want the parents and grandparents to speak with their children, ask them questions.” PCSO investigators conducted an emergency forensic interview with the teen, who said Aguon simulated sex with him and touched his penis numerous times, with a specific occurrence in November and another in December. During a monitored phone call between Aguon and the boy Tuesday, the teen told Aguon he felt uncomfortable and did not like when Aguon kissed and touched him. Aguon then asked the boy, “Oh, the loving on you?” said Judd, referencing the phone call. After the teen said he didn’t like it...

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Strengthen the strategic plan. It’s the most powerful instrument of comprehensive and lasting cultural change

Strengthen the strategic plan. It’s the most powerful instrument of comprehensive and lasting cultural change

This coming Tuesday, your Polk School Board will be holding our first strategic planning retreat of the new year and new board. I plan to advocate strongly for my vision for a strengthened strategic plan and superintendent evaluation criteria. My plan would reduce 67 evaluation areas into 20. And it would make those fewer evaluation areas far more relevant to the overall health of our organization than they are today. That streamlined, enhanced efficiency makes it a better structure and plan than we have today. Click the image below to zoom in on a high level view of my proposal But there’s a much deeper reason that I’m focused so strongly on this. The superintendent is the proxy for the organization I have learned as a School Board member that if I want to formally evaluate the overall health of your School District as an organization, and facilitate positive systemic change and development, I have to do it through evaluation of the superintendent. That’s because senior system leaders — like virtually all district employees — answer to the superintendent, not to the School Board. We do not employ them; and we cannot reward or counsel them on our own. The Florida education world never ceases to remind us of this. Thus, the superintendent position must function as a proxy for the health of the organization as a whole. Yet today, the structure of the Polk superintendent’s evaluation guarantees that that vast majority of what our organization does and how it functions goes formally unevaluated by your elected School Board. An inadequate structure The Polk School Board’s 2018 superintendent evaluation criteria form is divided into two parts. These parts are not of equal value. Here is the first page of “Part 1: Behavioral Indicators.” (Please forgive my brainstorm scribbling. I used this sheet to do some thinking.) There are seven sections in Part 1. They are: Board Relationships General Leadership Staff Leadership Curriculum Leadership Relationships with Stakeholders Fiscal Responsibilities Professional Growth Together, they contain a total of 62 points of evaluation, in which board members assess the superintendent’s behavior — not organizational performance — on a scale of 1-4. I don’t find most of these points of evaluation very precise or particularly relevant to assessing the health of the organization. And those that are relevant don’t matter much to the evaluation. That’s because we also evaluate the superintendent on five basic...

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