The pointy end of the sword: from the Starbucks Rebellion to the Red Weekend, Polk County is leading. And so am I.

Let’s get one thing straight, right up front. This is very much a campaign article, as well as the annual celebration of the Starbucks Rebellion, the birth of our movement. See my shiny new re-election slogo. Contribute here if you’d like to. 

Let me also be clear: all education employees and stakeholders (bus drivers, paras, nutrition workers, parents, volunteers etc.) are included in “teachers” and the “future of public education.”  Sometimes you have to shorthand things on campaign gear. So please bear with me on that; and do not feel excluded. We need everybody.

If you want listen to what I’m about — about where I see the Polk School District and the state system at this moment, I would encourage you to watch the following video of my speech from Tuesday night’s amazing and thoroughly successful School Board meeting. The multi-level politics and governance of public education are extraordinarily complex — both in Polk County and beyond. I tried to explain it all here and lay out a constructive public vision. One key excerpt:

The day is never gonna come — never — that if a teacher at one of our schools is thrown out of a class because of VAM; and no leader is there to comfort her or him or to help them move furniture; and they call me, that I’m not gonna go. Never.

The day is never gonna come — never — that our people get a 9:30 p.m. email two days before a rally accusing them of a strike that did not exist and saying “we’re going to fire you” — or “we can” at the state level; that day is never gonna come without me immediately going to war on their behalf. It is my most fervent hope that the next time that happens that every leader in this room stands next to me when I do it.

Short of that, I’m willing to work with anybody at any time.

I don’t have an opponent right now, exactly. My previous opponent announced he was dropping out over the Red Weekend. But I think he’s still technically in the race. And as we’ve seen, when you’re the pointy end of the pointy end of the sword, people of power tend to point back.

Maybe they’ll drop someone on me right before qualifying with a billion dollars for mailers. Who knows? I welcome all political competition always; so let’s get prepared to compete, even if we eventually don’t have to.

If you believe in the fight for humane and honest public education; if you care about responsive and transparent government; if you like what you’ve seen of my leadership; follow this link so you can contribute to keeping me around to annoy Richard Corcoran and fight for the humanity of everyone in the public’s school system. 

Public pressure works like nothing else does

And if you doubt that we’re having an effect everywhere in Polk County, consider this Tampa Bay Times story about the much overdue death of disastrously stupid bonus programs for teachers.

TALLAHASSEE — While the early negotiations of the 2020 legislative session have only just begun, one major education development already seems settled: No lawmakers are interested in creating a new teacher bonus program proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

When asked Wednesday whether the Legislature had ruled out a new bonus program, the lawmaker in charge of crafting the Senate’s education budget, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said: “We have.”

Budget chairman Sen. Ron Bradley, R-Fleming Island, also said Wednesday that he thinks lawmakers should focus on salaries.

Dearest Floridians who want salary increases for our educators, not stupid and counterproductive bonuses, Polk County says “you’re welcome.” Here’s my “eulogy” for “Best and Brightest” at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, too.

Bonuses are dead because you killed them. Public pressure and engagement works. It’s the only thing that works if you want fundamental changes. It’s also why we shouldn’t thank anybody in Tallahassee. You wouldn’t thank an oil company for cleaning up an oil spill. Tallahassee hasn’t even really started to clean up the toxic mess that 20-plus years of Jeb-and-Punish has left us.

But if you think it’s an accident that Legislative leaders are pushing Kelli Stargel to the forefront on this salary thing, it is not. She’s frantically trying to rewrite her record as an anti-public education conduit for the worst people in politics because she has to come back here and live. And everybody knows her record now. Public pressure works.

It worked during the Starbucks Rebellion. It works today. Remember, always, this is your public education system. Own it.

The Red Weekend was the logical progression of the Starbucks Rebellion

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a sort of quasi-national holiday. For me, it has also become a Polk County national holiday, a day of celebration and reflection.

Four Super Bowl Sundays ago, Wendy Bradshaw and I held an impromptu public meeting at high noon at the Lakeside Village Starbucks in Lakeland to organize around removing then Sup. Kathryn LeRoy from office. I had hoped that 10 people would show up. We got 90 or more, representing both public education professionals and the public.

All were disgusted, not just with the allegations against LeRoy, but with the overall culture of contempt for employees and incompetence demonstrated by the top leaders she brought had here. All of us rebels were disgusted by the direction of our state legislators. All were ready for organized activism. All believed in human-centered public education. Together, we formed Citizens for Better Educational Leadership, which eventually morphed into the core of my campaign for School Board.

And we have not let up since. And if you think it’s an accident that the Red Weekend happened in Polk County, it is not. The full house of passion and constructive fire at Tuesday’s School Board meeting comes right from the spirit of the Starbucks Rebellion.


And this:

Are the logical outgrowth of the self-respect and civic-minded activism of this:

Sometimes, when you’re in middle of hard human problem that you care a lot about, it can be difficult to perceive incremental success.

Activism is an intense and draining experience. It is important, if we are to sustain and grow this movement, that we take a moment to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and enjoy ourselves. The fight is always there to return to. It must inspire us, not consume us.

So as I always do on Super Bowl Sunday/Starbucks Rebellion Day, I implore everybody who has had a role in changing the direction of this district and the state of Florida’s education system to take a moment today to smile and enjoy some well-earned satisfaction. Then we’ll get back at it next week.

In the meantime, here are some cool pictures from the last couple weeks in your public school system, as well as from the Red Weekend and Rally in Tally.

Medulla Elementary’s awesome float and volunteers at Lakeland’s MLK Day parade. Medulla does this every year.

Performers at Bartow High School’s “Night of Scenes and One Acts,” with teacher and director Naomi Kenney. They used the event to raise money for traveling to the state competition. Also, I’d never really understood how beautiful the historic Bartow High auditorium is. Many more people got to see it closely at Tuesday’s night board meeting, which was moved there to accommodate the crowds.


This is from the annual Youth Fair celebration of all things agricultural. I was able to take in some of the equestrian events and bask in the scent of livestock. That’s Winter Haven High School teacher Christy McCullough instructing.

Winners of the Polk County Commission’s annual MLK essay contest. And the regular performance from the great Jazmin Ghent, a now sadly former Polk County music teacher pursuing her music career full time. She was voted best new Jazz Artist of 2017 by Smooth Jazz network. She always comes back to perform.

Two very different pictures of Gelimar Rodriguez, who is an ESOL para at Kingsford elementary and a student at Polk State College in my final semester before internship. Can’t wait to have her as a teacher. And just some random photos from the rally.