You’re invited to a Math-and-Sciencepalooza at the 7/23 School Board roundtable

You’re invited to a Math-and-Sciencepalooza at the 7/23 School Board roundtable

When we started the new School Board roundtable meetings, one of my priorities was to periodically bring in specialists to talk with us about ideas and points of view we might not be able to otherwise hear in regular work sessions and business meetings. So I’m thrilled to welcome FSU Physics Professor Paul Cottle and UCF Physics Teacher-in-Residence Adam LaMee to Polk County for our roundtable on Tuesday, July 23. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. in the Superintendent’s Conference Room at the main administration building in Bartow. Egalitarian evangelists for Science and Math Paul and Adam are passionate advocates for meaningful, enriching science and math education that prepares as many students as possible for the rigors of math and science in college — and also provides lasting benefits for students who aren’t math and science majors or don’t go to college at all. It is well known in Florida education circles — though not terribly much discussed — that the state is not doing a very good job with Science and Math education. Access to in-person courses in high level sciences like Physics is declining. (In a piece of good news, Polk County has actually expanded access to in-person Physics classes in the last couple years. That is bucking a statewide trend.) Paul Cottle writes about these issues often on his excellent science education blog, “Bridge to Tomorrow.” He and I met virtually, trading posts and discussions on Twitter. And you can listen to Adam talk about that on this NPR “Florida Matters” discussion from last year, which Paul then wrote about in this article.  In other places trying to buck the trend of diminished Science and Math experiences, Paul and Adam have helped do the bucking. Both men work closely with local districts. And both emphasize bringing meaningful science and math education to a wide, diverse array of students. Both are particular advocates of encouraging girls to study more math and science. And both champion a hands-on approach to science. Both teach a model called “Studio Physics.” And I’m excited to report that they are bringing some toys. Calling all math and science teachers who can spare a couple of summer hours This promises to be a fun discussion, which I hope will lead to lasting partnerships with the district and perhaps some enhancements that help us reach more kids and align them more effectively with the...

Read More

Dear Gov. DeSantis: Corcoran is the Taj Mahal of mistakes. He makes you vulnerable.

Dear Gov. DeSantis: Corcoran is the Taj Mahal of mistakes. He makes you vulnerable.

As you read this, keep these two charts in your head. And when you’re done, go read this fantastic article by Ryan “Teacher Voice” Haczynski of Hillsorough County.  —— We Florida voters are famously divided. The presidential and governor’s elections always seem close, divisive, and epic. But if you look closer, you will see two issues that thoroughly unite us — Republican, Democrat, and NPA alike: Our local kids, teachers, and schools need more resources than the Governor and Legislature have given them. And we are willing to tax ourselves to provide them. 24 of 24 counties did so last year, including Polk. Red counties, blue counties, Trump counties, Hillary counties; it didn’t matter. We don’t hate our local school kids and teachers; and we all recognized the need for Kelli Stargel Unfunded Mandate taxes to try to keep public education alive in this ridiculously governed state. We completely reject Richard Corcoran, as a leader and politician. He combines the worst instincts of Betsy DeVos and Barack Obama on education policy. A dirty little secret is that Obama and DeVos really don’t disagree that much on education. They are in the discredited, bipartisan “reformer” camp, which for 20-plus years has fought to overtest kids and punish the teachers committed to work with them for little money. Corcoran won his legislative seat in Land O’Lakes with less than 10,000 votes. (By comparison, I won 140,000 to become a Polk County School Board member.) He managed to parlay that tiny election into a speakership because your legislators are sheep with very little self-respect. He then set about running for governor in one way or another for his entire 2-year term as Speaker of the House. He built his speakership and campaign on a platform of harming local communities and school districts and their stakeholders. He was the prime architect of House Bill 7069, which is designed to kill as many public schools in as many local communities as possible so the kids to be outsourced to Ralph Arza charter schools and Pastor Tiger voucher schools, with your tax money. 3-percent Richard In a shocking move, Corcoran’s teacher-hating grift proved unpopular with everyone, especially Republican primary voters. Corcoran never polled over the low single digits in the governor’s primary. Keep in mind, this was a primary in which Florida Republican voters clearly wanted some alternative to Adam Putnam, the presumptive nominee. In...

Read More

Your state Board of Education is coming to Lakeland. How will you engage them? Here are some ideas.

Your state Board of Education is coming to Lakeland. How will you engage them? Here are some ideas.

Your Florida Board of Education, the worst state-level public education governing body in America, is coming to Polk State College’s Lakeland campus on July 17. The meeting starts at 8 a.m. in the Technology building. The Board of Education is the state School Board, except that it never has to face the voters. The governor appoints its members. And of course, that’s a problem because Florida has a state-centered, not locally-centered, school system. Most education governing power is concentrated in Tallahassee. The Legislature and BoE determine budgets and punishments. The endless high stakes tests your kids take are state tests. The BoE does not allow local boards to raise or lower taxes on their own. Most Polk staff are essentially state employees. Local board policies must conform to state law and BoE rules. So, as a public education student, parent, or stakeholder, it’s in your interest to treat your Board of Education and your Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran like your local School Board. You don’t get to vote on them; so it’s important to engage them in other ways. Wednesday offers you a chance, on multiple levels. You can demonstrate A group of state activists are taking this opportunity to picket the meeting. They will be demonstrating over BoE’s terrible stewardship of Florida’s public education system and the leadership of Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who has been a relentless enemy of public education and the people who participate and work in it. As an anti-public education legislator and staff, Corcoran is one of the key reasons Florida has a worsening teacher shortage. He is one the main reasons your kids spend a month on high stakes tests that do not help them or prepare them for anything. Here is the link to the event page. I have no idea how many people will come. The activists see this as the beginning of a presence at every BoE meeting — the beginning of real engagement with the unelected body that holds all the power in Florida education. You have to start somewhere. And they’re starting in Polk. I welcome that. You can try to speak to the BoE Now let’s be clear. The BoE does not want the public to engage its members or Corcoran. The last time I attended a BoE meeting, as a parent and School Board candidate in 2016, they sicced a bouncer on me. Why? I had to...

Read More

“I’ll crack your face open punk boy…you gonna see what it is to be a snitch”: what Florida’s corporate choice “movement” really sounds like

“I’ll crack your face open punk boy…you gonna see what it is to be a snitch”: what Florida’s corporate choice “movement” really sounds like

Ralph Arza is the freely chosen voice of both the Florida Charter School Alliance the BridgePrep charter schools. That is his only importance to the people of Polk County. But it still makes him, probably, the most important and powerful education lobbyist in Florida. You may have read about Arza’s heavy-handed efforts to jam through BridgePrep in Polk by harassing two female Polk School Board members about their vote, while ignoring me. You may have also read about the racist, sexist, violence-threatening audio tape that forced him to resign from the Legislature some years ago and plead guilty to misdemeanor witness tampering. Because of that tape, Gov. Ron DeSantis kicked Arza off a campaign fundraiser last year — because DeSantis considered him too racist. Below is a helpful summary from the Miami Herald.  “Arza resigned as a state representative in 2006 after he and a cousin left threatening messages on the voice mail of a fellow lawmaker who had filed an ethics complaint alleging that Arza used racial slurs when discussing Miami-Dade’s black schools chief. Arza had previously denied calling Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew a “n—-er,” but admitted that he used the word in recorded voice messages left for state Rep. Gus Barreiro. Arza blamed the incident with Barreiro on alcohol and denied that he was a racist, but pleaded guilty in 2007 to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and received 18 months probation. He is now a lobbyist.” I have now, finally, listened to that tape. It consists of five messages. Arza himself acknowledges leaving only the first two messages. The final three, in various accounts I’ve seen, are attributed to a cousin named Paulino Barbon, Jr. But Arza and Barbon were acting as a team, together at the time they left messages. This is from a reprint of a Miami Herald story about Arza’s guilty plea and sentencing in 2007. At least one of Barbon’s calls was made from Arza’s phone, and the men admitted they were together when the calls were made, according to court records. I confess that I have difficulty identifying two different voices on the tape; but the audio also isn’t great. You can make your own judgments. Perhaps your ear is better than mine. But even according to the official account, the voice said to be Barbino violently threatens to punish a “snitch.” It threatens to “crack your face...

Read More

Billy Townsend’s record. Take a look and make your own judgments.

Billy Townsend’s record. Take a look and make your own judgments.

This is the public’s seat, not mine. You have to decide if you’re better off with Billy Townsend on your School Board. I’ve done exactly what I told you I would do during the 2016 campaign. I’ve told you the truth; publicly fought for kids and educators; and driven positive change in an institution that often resisted it. So I’m not asking for a leap of faith anymore. I’m asking you to make your own informed judgements about my record as your District 1 board member. Please take a look and judge for yourself. Billy’s individual accomplishments and efforts as board member and activist I believe the following would not have happened without me. Led the grassroots movement that removed failed superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and led to the hiring of Jackie Byrd Changed the perception of the Polk School Board from a “laughingstock,” as one state lobbyist put it to me, to a School Board on the rise, notwithstanding Florida’s broken model of education. Convinced the School Board and senior leadership to commit $8 million in recurring money for teacher and worker salaries. Set a new standard for Board collaboration with the people who do the hard work in our district. (See link for background.) Through collaboration with the Polk Education Association, not pointless conflict, I successfully changed the position of the entire School Board and district leadership to end the foolish 2016-17 era impasse and deliver modest raises. Committed $8 million in recurring money to raises that the old School Board had refused to commit. Restored masters degree pay for teachers that the district fought to avoid paying. Ended destructive district relationship with highly-paid, anti-teacher Tallahassee labor lawyers that helped create the impasse. Forced real negotiation between union and management that set the tone for productive ongoing relationship. Made the elected School Board a force for constructive oversight and accountability Changed longstanding culture of passive board oversight of this $1.3 billion organization that the public owns. Publicly challenged leadership behavior when private discussions failed to deliver change and results. Relentlessly asked — and continue to ask — the questions the public needs answered. Publicly identified people whose behavior and leadership were harmful to Polk’s kids and this district. Many are no longer here. They’ve been replaced by better, more honest people. Created board consensus to add work climate and organizational culture to the district strategic plan, spurring much-needed leadership action. Convinced the board to end the School Board Attorney’s automatically renewing...

Read More

Swimming hard against the stream in Polk, part 1: A district, and a superintendent, on the rise

Swimming hard against the stream in Polk, part 1: A district, and a superintendent, on the rise

Please watch this outstanding year-end wrap-up message from Polk Superintendent Jackie Byrd. It recounts Polk district successes from last two years. But more importantly for me, it signals a new confidence and purpose in facing longstanding human challenges that face our district and others. I’m very excited about it. Key quote: “We are truly a district on the rise. That’s why it’s time to dig in and address some of the biggest challenges facing our school-based personnel and students.” This pivot toward a confident self-criticism has been one of my top organizational goals as a board member. I’m thrilled to hear it articulated. Mrs. Byrd goes on to discuss the important new comprehensive behavior response plan unveiled last week, which I’ll come back to in a moment. 67 salmon swimming against the Tallahassee grifter current But first, I have an analogy to further detail what Mrs. Byrd means with “on the rise.” In Florida, all 67 county school districts are like salmon swimming upstream against the current created by the grifters and Pastor Tigers and Arzas and “legislators” in Richard Corcoran’s Tallahassee. If that current does not change, we will, eventually, run out of strength, disgorge our eggs, and die. All of us, from Monroe to Orange to Escambia. That Tallahassee current is inexorable. And it has a goal: death. We need to be clear-eyed about this. It’s our job, as public education advocates and leaders, to keep swimming as hard as we can at the local level, to stay alive, so that when the current finally changes, we’re able to take full advantage. Because these are political questions, not educational questions, only you, the public, can truly save community-based public education. You’ve already begun to. The public’s current has already changed. It supported all 20-plus local educational tax referenda across Florida in 2018, including Polk’s construction referendum. Despite that, the grifters in Tallahassee are pushing their luck and their grift — as grifters are apt to do. In doing so, dear public, they’re flipping you the finger so they can give your money to Ralph Arza charter schools and Pastor Tiger voucher schools. I wish I was exaggerating. Here’s Richard Corcoran from yesterday announcing that he wants the authority to seize your public schools and give them to grifters. We know all about this in Polk County. We’ve been through the Kelli Stargel School Kill List — and...

Read More