The Red Weekend, part 2: the comedy and tragedy of Melonygate — and your leadership class

The Red Weekend, part 2: the comedy and tragedy of Melonygate — and your leadership class

Let us do some deep forensic analysis together on the language Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade used last week in her official capacity as an elected legislator, during a taped official committee meeting, to recommend that the governor remove a Polk County School Board member from office. Here’s the tape: In the transcript that follows, note the singular, masculine pronouns in bold. Note the specific, named geography. Note the definite article. The verbs. And the positive desire to be “on record.” “I’m a believer in Home Rule…but we have a school board member in Polk County, and I’ll go on record, who most likely needs to be removed and the governor has not removed him….Time after time, he just disrupts the whole School Board and teachers and the association.” Now, please see this exclusive investigative report about the gender makeup of the Polk County School Board. It took literally minutes of work. I think it’s a credit to journalism, if not handwriting. (Personal note: the governor probably should remove me from office for that combination of haircut, ratty blazer/funeral tie, and weird shirt. That look is an atrocity. I know. I apologize.) Ok, having uncovered the gender makeup of the board, let’s look at Melony explaining what she really meant when she said: “but we have a school board member in Polk County, and I’ll go on record, who most likely needs to be removed and the governor has not removed him…” This is from the funniest news story ever written: “I never said Billy Townsend — it was never about him,” Bell said as she prepared to enter a meeting. “It’s throughout the state of Florida — it’s not one school board member. I think a decision needs to be made from city or county, however, I believe in term limits. “This bill, I don’t feel like the whole state of Florida should decide the term limits in Polk County. I think it should be county by county, because some smaller counties have really bad issues of trying to get school board members to run. They just don’t have people who want to step up to the plate and want to be out in public.” Bell continued that she is friends with Townsend, and that he knows she is a champion for education, but that she’s received phone calls about the behavior of some board members. She said...

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The Red Weekend, part 1: the great and happy re-branding of Polk County

The Red Weekend, part 1: the great and happy re-branding of Polk County

How do Floridians see Polk County educators and its public today, in the aftermath of the Red Weekend? A model? An inspiration? A cross-partisan political path forward toward a humane and honest state education system? Yes, they see us as all of those things. I’m not kidding. Media — and people on social media — across Florida have been raving about the courage and energy of our people. And our wider community. FSU Physicist Paul Cottle wrote a beautiful homage to Polk’s math and science teachers as the Red Weekend unfolded. Go read it at the link below. He gave it this title: “The Polk County educators I met this summer are gifted and passionate experts. My advice to their community and state policy-makers is to do whatever it takes to keep them happy.” (It’s worth noting that Board Members Kay Fields and Sarabeth Reynolds boycotted Cottle’s long-planned visit to Polk to interact with the board and our people, for reasons I still don’t understand.) Immediately after the rally, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a spectacular op-ed piece by a former teacher and current business consultant now running for School Board in Sarasota County. His name is Nick Guy. I don’t think I know or have met him. But he’s smart; and he’s looking to Polk County an example and a leader. Here’s a long excerpt for the op-ed: This is no longer a political issue; it’s a moral one. The tip of the spear in recent days materialized somewhere many would have never imagined a few years ago. But today that story is much different. Polk County’s leap to the forefront was developing long before Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s legal arm of the Department of Education sent a threatening email intended to intimidate the approximate 1,200+ Polk staff preparing to head to our capital. When reality kicked in and his ability to fire them was exposed as nonexistent, it ignited something across the education spectrum. Polk’s enthusiasm was contagious. So enthusiastic was the education community in Polk, a rally was held in Lakeland the same day by those that couldn’t make it to Tallahassee. Around 550 people showed up. When the 13 buses from Polk arrived in our capital, their group walked into a crowd erupting with applause and chants of “We are Polk.” I spoke briefly with a few teachers and leaders from Polk asking how they built such...

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We. Are. Polk: deepest pride; fact-finding; and the public’s need to converse with its Silent 4 board members

We. Are. Polk: deepest pride; fact-finding; and the public’s need to converse with its Silent 4 board members

I want this picture blown up, framed, and proudly and prominently displayed in the entry to the Polk County administration building in Bartow. I feel swelling pride every time I see it. It’s iconic, as a friend of mine from out of state rightly said. How awesome is it for Polk County to be iconic in this way? What an ethos for Polk County Schools to embrace: fearlessness and feistiness in service of helping your child develop. By the way, that sign is also great writing. Active verbs; no passive voice. Clarity and power and concision. Meaning in every word. If that’s you in that picture, email or call me. If you wrote that sign, email or call me. I want to thank you personally. billy.townsend@polk-fl.net [So that took like 30 seconds: This is from the sign-maker — and when I asked if I could share her name and school] Good afternoon Billy Townsend! My name is Gelimar Rodriguez and I’m the woman who is in the picture that Stephanie posted with the “You can’t scare me, I teach in Polk County” sign! Thank you so much for sharing the picture; I am overwhelmed with all the support I am receiving for this sign! I am an ESOL para at Kingsford elementary and a student at Polk State College in my final semester before internship! Again thank you so much for sharing! #POLKSTRONG…I would love my school to be recognized and my incredible administration, Sue Bizerra and Amy Santangelo! Likewise, take a look at the moment the Polk County contingent arrived at the staging area for Monday’s rally. This video has been shared almost 900 times since I posted it on Facebook. In person, the moment was even better and louder. I can’t understand how any Polk County resident, or anyone who is part of the Polk District, or any Polk County legislator, elected official, or economic development official can look at that scene with anything but inspiration and pride — whatever your party or ideology. I can’t understand how anyone could feel anger or fear or resentment or annoyance about it. It’s like we live in different universes; and I don’t know how to reach you. But I want to reach you. Help me understand. Fortunately, the broader public seems to almost unanimously live in the same universe I do. This podcast I did with Ryan “Teacher Voice”...

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A transformative 36 hours. Updating and analyzing the “collaborative” threats made to teachers and staff.

A transformative 36 hours. Updating and analyzing the “collaborative” threats made to teachers and staff.

Late update:  The superintendent and sheriff called a press conference at 5:15 pm. The elected board was not invited or consulted as a group. I found out about it from media and attended. All that said, I was pleased with the press conference. The superintendent made it clear that nobody in Polk County is going to punish any of our people for Monday. The superintendent struck the right tone of support for our people. The public needed to hear that the unelected district staff and sheriff say with confidence that they have coverage in the schools tomorrow. My son will be in school tomorrow; and I feel comfortable being in Tallahassee while knowing that. I also want to thank the sheriff for his support. He is simply reassigning detectives for the day and not billing the district for it. He was very supportive of our teachers and people and what they’re trying to do. And he seemed genuinely excited for the chance for law enforcement to interact with our kids in really positive manner — talking about career opportunities etc. I hope people were able to watch it. I think it was what we needed to hear right now from the unelected district leadership. We still have many, many important issues to address that relate to this incredibly important event in the history of public education in Polk County and in Florida. A very big one is how the elected board and unelected staff interact. But for now, I’m focused on making tomorrow successful in Tallahassee and Polk County. —————————— The last 36 hours have revealed to everyone that the Polk County public and Florida public, which owns the Polk County and Florida public education system, emphatically supports the women and men who suffer to serve children and families in a governance system that hates and threatens and blackmails them daily. The public is aching to deliver a humane and collaborative public education system that develops children and deals honestly and fairly with parents and employees alike. I already knew this. But I’m paid to pay much closer attention than 99.9 percent of people can; and I live this battle every day. It’s much harder for the public to see all of this with clarity. The public just wants schools that treat its kids like human beings so they can reach their potential. All the complexity layered on top...

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Richard Corcoran just fired Lisa Miller, Florida’s best ESE advocate. Why? Because he’s a bad person with power.

Richard Corcoran just fired Lisa Miller, Florida’s best ESE advocate. Why? Because he’s a bad person with power.

My fellow Polk County School Board member Lisa Miller is a former teacher and the parent of a profoundly disabled child, who requires constant care. I consider Lisa the most knowledgable, compassionate, and effective real world ESE advocate in the state of Florida. As a courageous and giving person and parent, who has somehow managed the full-time jobs of caregiver and school board member, she is a model for all of us. Lisa also volunteers this expertise freely to the state of Florida — and has for years. She was recently re-elected as vice chair for the Florida Advisory Committee on Exceptional Student Education. And then, even more recently, she was fired from this volunteer position. Why? Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who fired her, wouldn’t say. Here’s how Lisa put it in a recent Facebook post: I have served on the state of Florida Advisory Committee on Exceptional Student Education for several years. I was recently elected as vice chair of this committee. I will not be able to continue this volunteer service after receiving notification that my term was not renewed by our current education commissioner. The bylaws state there are no term limits and the terms run 3 years and renews every two after the first term. The only conclusion that I have is that the tough questions that were asked were not favorable of the current climate at the Department of Education. I served on the sub-committee with the fewest members. We were charged with discussing students on ACCESS curriculum. These are the most significantly disabled students in our schools. I served next to a principal of a private center school and a representative from the Juvenile Justice Department. There are very few people in education with the knowledge and understanding of our ACCESS students. I advise our advocates for this population to be even more vigilant in their efforts to make sure these students have a seat at the table when decisions are made. Lisa was advocating for the most vulnerable children in our society at the state level, in practical and realistic ways. Richard Corcoran likes to brag about his Christianity. But deeds reveal. I think Richard Corcoran fired Lisa Miller because he is a fundamentally bad person who is here to hurt you and your kids because he thinks it advances his political career somehow. The Florida education way: punish people for doing their...

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