Dre Graham Lead
Dakeyan “Dr. Dre” Graham (left), Band Director and Music Teacher at King High School; Dre, accompanied by his student escort, Brehnan, when accepting the HCPS TOY award.

From the moment I witnessed Dakeyan “Dr. Dre” Graham accept his award at the Excellence in Education awards this past January, I knew he had to be a guest on the podcast. I reached out to Dre and timed our conversation to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week, and during the interim we all learned that he is now one of the five finalists for the entire state of Florida.

Within a few minutes of meeting for the first time to sit down and record our conversation, I immediately sensed what others–especially his students–love about him: affable and authentic, Dre’s passion was palpable. We both laughed and smiled a lot during this podcast episode; we discuss his rapid rise over the last few months, how much his mentor and my colleague, Cheri Sleeper, nudged him into the profession, and how important the arts are in educating the whole child. Enjoy the conversation!

Scroll down to see the video of Dr. Dre being surprised when it was announced he is one of the 2020 finalists for Florida’s Teacher of the Year. As always, thanks for listening, everyone!

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Under the Friday Night Lights: Cheri Sleeper (left) looks on with her then first year mentee, Dre Graham (right); this is the image Dre discusses during the podcast.

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Florida teachers just took another one on the chin from the Florida Legislature

Remember the tail end of last year when Rep. Chris Latvala, the chair of the House PreK-12 Appropriations committee, went on record stating, “I don’t anticipate the type of bills that will dramatically change the education system, as we’ve done the past few years”?

He couldn’t have been more dead wrong.

SB7070, introduced just days after session began, sailed through the process and was recently touted as a crowning legislative achievement by Governor Ron DeSantis‘ office. Setting aside the fuzzy math being used by our legislators that was recently covered in the Florida Phoenix, the legislation wrought numerous changes that only minority special interests and lobbyists wanted to see pass.

Whether it’s arming teachers, using the public’s money to provide private school vouchers to religious schools, subverting the will of local voters, or just flat out ignoring the wishes of Florida’s majority, the Florida Legislature did what it does best–pass legislation no one wants or is asking for.

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YAY! We finally passed completely unconstitutional legislation to ensure that convicts and crackheads can teach kids about how dinosaurs were our pets 5000 years ago!

Instead, teachers all across Florida got a legislative session that will only exacerbate the current teacher shortage and make everything much worse for the tens of thousands of educators all across the state, let alone the millions of students who will be impacted by these disastrous decisions.

Despite the return of phrases such as “historic funding increases” in the news and on the DeSantis press release, the truth is that even with this new FEFP total that is close to $7700, it would still be nearly $1000 shy of an inflation adjusted $7126 per-pupil amount from more than a decade ago, something that has been discussed at length here and elsewhere.

But guess what? Costs have risen and the increases will barely cover expenses.

There’s a reason why 20 out of 20 counties/school districts across Florida voted to tax themselves to cover the financial shortfalls from Tallahassee, and it’s precisely because these citizens realize the value of our public schools and the funding they require to keep up with routine maintenance, technology upgrades, or salary enhancements to local teachers and ESPs. And how does the Florida Legislature react? By trying to co-opt the windfall and force districts to share the funds with charter schools, many of whom are for-profit managed and will simply siphon off much of that money to their bottom lines.

Meanwhile–and as if the Florida Legislature hasn’t done enough to tilt the playing field already–an issue that has largely flown under the radar is that for the last several years the Florida Legislature has continued to give more and more of the PECO dollars to the charters, even after already forcing the districts to share revenue with a provision in HB7069 two years ago. Back then, traditional schools received $50 million, and charters received $50 million. And while that may seem equitable, it’s a lot less money when we consider the fact that there are over 3600 traditional public schools and just over 600 charters statewide. Last year, they gave traditional schools $50 million, and provided charters with just over $140 million, even though they have schools that are only 5-6 years old on average. This year? Well they just went ahead and gave them all of the PECO dollars, a cool $158 million.

So guess where cost overruns outside of categorical spending will come from? The BSA, or Base Student Allocation. But while everyone is cheering the $75 increase–which amounts to a 15,857% increase over last year’s 47 cents, a number I’m honestly surprised the governor, FLDOE, or legislators haven’t put on billboards yet–many forget that with the increased costs much of this will be eaten up and not go toward salaries. Here in Hillsborough, for instance, that portion of the budget would mean a $16.5 million dollar increase if every single student attended a traditional public school. They don’t, which means the number is smaller. Yet even if it were that number, it costs our district $17 million per year just to ensure step movement on our regular pay scale.

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Oh! Every teacher in Florida needs a sizable raise? Silly us! We thought you asked us to CUT your pay, you know, because you’re making too much already.

And that massive loss of gross earnings that nearly 10,000 teachers were fearing? Yeah, that happened too. Only the Florida Legislature could take a really bad idea and make it SO much worse. Setting aside the faulty premise of the previous Best & Brightest program, there were two beneficial aspects:

1) to some extent, it was within the teacher’s control to be rated highly effective (although many have noted the wide disparities in these ratings across districts throughout the state) and to then either have the scores from years past or–like my wife and I did–simply retake the test to get the requisite scores. Ultimately, it was largely about taking initiative and demonstrating individual excellence;

2) even if the scores were not there, virtually all teachers across the Sunshine State got something. If rated “Effective,” last year teachers would earn $800, and “Highly Effective” received $1200. The proposed House version of the updated program this year would have scrapped the scores and given all E rated teachers around $1100 and all HE rated teachers a bonus of $2300. Unfortunately for all of us, the Senate version was adopted, and that one is chock full of terrible ideas for how to “reward” teachers…

A one-time $4,000 recruitment bonus for new hires who are considered “content-experts” (Yet have never taught?! Sort of like the fresh out of college kids who got $6K because of test scores, right?!).

An “anybody’s guess” bonus attached to cockamamie schemes that are largely beyond the control of any given teacher at a school that now has to move up 3 percentage points over the two previous year’s school grade data (Yeah, good luck getting that…here’s your lottery ticket).

A “recognition” bonus of who knows how much based on the “how-much-of-the-previous-two-categories-did-we-spend-money-on-let’s-use-the-leftovers-for-that” plan. And oh yeah, the principal will decide. Nothing like putting him or her in a bad place or having teachers hating each other because they weren’t chosen.

In the end, this was another lousy legislative session for teachers and students all across Florida, regardless of how legislators try and spin this hot mess. There are several veteran teachers who have personally told me they are walking away after this year is over, and until the Florida Legislature actually starts listening to the people who serve our children on a daily basis things will never get better, and we’ll all be seeing more posts like Jonathan Carroll’s on Facebook.

Thanks for the pay cut, Tallahassee!

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This month’s guest post is the second by Seth Hopkins-Federman, the teacher and current doctoral student who wrote “Band-Aids for Broken Bones“.

It was a headline many weren’t expecting nor were aware of. One day scrolling through Facebook I happened upon an article titled: PTSD and Teachers. I looked at it with a puzzlement—isn’t PTSD usually associated with combat veterans or those involved in high impacting trauma? The inconvenient truth is now teaching as a profession is listed under the causes of PTSD.

In reviewing the research of teachers with PTSD, the findings are limited but the reports and studies that have been done are eye opening to say the least. As I last wrote, mental health professionals were seeing an increase of depression within educators but a truly disturbing statistic is that teachers diagnosed with PTSD has risen since the early 2000s, but the data is inconsistent due to the fact teachers are afraid disclosure will lead to job loss. The main culprits? Student and administrator behavior.

It’s becoming an everyday occurrence where you will see a video pop up of a student attacking or berating a teacher. The experience leaves behind scars that may not be just physical. Many teachers report being assaulted, emotionally abused, and left without the tools to deal with the trauma. But perhaps the most confounding statistic was the PTSD caused by fellow teachers and administrators. While we may view Horrible Bosses as a cautionary tale of corporate greed and power mongering, the research shows that a leader’s actions can have a profound effect on whether or not a teacher continues his or her career. It begs the question: how has adopting a business culture in a career centered around fostering relationships harmed the people in the profession?

As a writer, you’re often told not to put yourself in the story; however, this does hit home as I suffer from PTSD from a childhood trauma. While the details may sound like they’re from a Lifetime movie, it has taken years to properly deal with the triggers and furthermore understand the place the trauma has in my life. But notice how I said years. Some case studies show that teaching induced PTSD is never given the true assistance it needs. Teachers report that the recovery time allotted is usually told to be a day or overnight. We have to be the experts when dealing with student trauma, right? It’s unrealistic to expect that an employee can turnaround on a dime in regards to dealing with these events. This area of research is still relatively new but given the rise of cases and the recent influx of social media examples, we may soon be dealing with a new part of the teacher shortage epidemic.

Are you an educator looking to share your perspective? Teacher Voice welcomes guest posts on any topic/issue related to our profession. If you’d like to write a post, please email it to 1teachervoice@gmail.com. Thanks!

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Julie Hiltz, NBCT
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Joshua Newhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considering the last Teacher Voice episode featured some of my friends who are fellow literature lovers, I thought we should expand the conversation to other bibliophiles. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve always had a soft spot for librarians/media specialists. In fact, I almost pursued my MLS degree while at USF, but the classroom beckoned and I never looked back. Having worked with a number of teacher-librarians over the years, I thought it strange that these people are not considered teachers by those who are outside public education. So I sat down with friends Julie Hiltz and Josh Newhouse, two media specialists here in Hillsborough County, to discuss their critical roles in the #HubOfSchool, the #TeachingIs social media awareness campaign to help the public understand exactly what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century, and a few other issues.

Thank you so much for listening! Please be sure to share with other teacher-librarians or anyone who doesn’t know what it is like to work in this essential role at a school.

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It’s 2019, we’ve got a booming economy, and I’m about to take a 13% pay cut.

According to Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel, last year just over 9200 teachers in Florida qualified as Best and Brightest Scholars, the teachers who were both rated highly effective and had 80th+ percentile scores on the SAT or ACT. Between the $6,000 for the “scholar” designation and the $1,200 bonus for being highly effective, the net $7,200 represented an increase of over 13% to my base pay of $54,000.

At no point, however, in any of the announcements from either Governor Ron DeSantis or Senator Manny Diaz, has there been any mention of grandfathering in the previous recipients. Instead, it would seem nearly 10,000 teachers working in the Sunshine State–which already ranks 45th nationally in terms of pay–are about to take a substantial pay cut.

To be blunt, these bonus schemes are a horrible way to increase teacher recruitment and retention in the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage, especially considering one never knows how long they will last. But teachers are desperate to earn more money however they can, and that is the primary reason my wife and I leapt at the chance to take the ACT in the fall of 2016 when I returned to the classroom after spending time as a new teacher mentor. We both passed the necessary benchmark and have received the money for the last few years, but now it would seem we might potentially see a loss of $14,400 between the both of us.

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What’s worse, we both feel responsible for encouraging many of our friends and coworkers to take the test, only to know that they too will face devastating pay cuts if the Florida Legislature’s latest version of Best and Brightest does not earmark money for those who have previously earned it. After all, the way HB7069 had written future dates and expanded criteria into the legislation seemed as if these bonuses were here to stay, with many (if not most) of the recipients planning their finances around these dollars coming in perpetuity.

Shame on us all for forgetting that this is Florida.

But let’s be honest, Best and Brightest was never a good idea. There is zero correlation between how well a person teaches and his or her scholastic aptitude. My original SAT scores from when I was 16 never would have qualified me for Best and Brightest, but at 41 when I sat down to take the ACT on that fateful Saturday morning, I was highly motivated to perform my best due to the economic incentive. Did passing the test help me become a better teacher, though? Absolutely not. Beyond the money, the only thing the test gave me was a sense of accomplishment for attaining my personal goal of scoring in the 99th percentile.

Yet here we are again, pitching a new cockamamie version of Best and Brightest program to help 45,000 lucky teachers with even more fickle metrics beyond their control such as a one point uptick in school grades. It seems glaringly obvious that these bonuses are largely concocted to circumvent collective bargaining / local control of funding by individual school districts, as well as to avoid having these dollars calculated into our paltry pensions from FRS. And just to add insult to injury, the state even goes so far as to direct the local districts to pay their portions of the payroll taxes from the lump sum, in effect taxing teachers twice.

The Florida Legislature needs to do much better than this. In the midst of statewide teacher shortage, our elected officials should start by taking all $400 plus million and sharing it with all education professionals who work with students regardless of whether or not they are in the classroom. ESPs, guidance counselors, media center specialists…anyone who has direct contact with kids on a daily basis deserve so much more than what they currently earn, especially when we take into account that Florida ranks 37th in terms of affordability (it’s the 13th most expensive state in which to live). While Senator Rader introduces bills each year to raise the starting teacher salary to $50,000, his idea is routinely ignored by his fellow legislators. Instead, we will probably continue to see more bonuses such as Best and Brightest, and if the Florida Legislature obstinately continues down this road, the least it could do is not penalize previous recipients by significantly cutting their current earnings.

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Frustrated Teacher
The declining mental health of teachers is an often ignored piece of the puzzle when it comes to why so many leave the profession or so few choose to enter the classroom.

The second guest post of 2019 is finally here! This is a brief bio of the author:

Seth Hopkins-Federman’s career as a teacher started as a way to make sure he wasn’t a starving actor. Through the years, he has taught English and Reading at several different levels and has presented at both state and national conferences. He has finally found a way to substitute his love for the stage with a profound and passionate love for the classroom. He is currently working on his doctorate in Education Leadership with the goal of becoming a striving force in education reform or finding a way to successfully pay off all of the student loans.

It’s not like you haven’t seen the meme splashed all over the walls of Facebook:

A parent is eagerly trying his best to get a loved one to school. After the frequent tries he finally exclaims, “but you have to…because you’re a teacher!”

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Jokes aside, the social emotional piece that is missing from our schools lies not only with the students but with the teachers as well. In the past decade, social health services for teachers have seen an increase of 40% intakes since the implementation of Common Core and higher accountability measures related to evaluation. While it hasn’t been confirmed, there are new suggestions in the data that teachers have been more prone to suicidal thoughts than dentists who are regularly thought to be the profession with the highest suicidal thought capacity. In reviewing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it doesn’t take a scientist or psychologist to see something is not being met. The question is why aren’t we talking about it?

In doing my research, I have found that teachers aren’t necessarily leaving the profession for the common reasons we think. In a review of some of the major strikes in the 2000s, most teachers said pay wasn’t the base need. Instead, it was respect and validation. Can this truly be matched with a pay increase? Research suggests it might, but it deals more with the organizational culture and the approach to how problems are dealt with. We all know that the teachers’ lounge is where we go to kivelt (as my grandmother would say) about our students. But the conversations go from kivelting to beotching (as my second graders in Brooklyn would call it). The conversation doesn’t move to productive solutions just constant complaining. So who’s to blame? Or better yet: why do we need to blame?

It education is going to continuously fall into the cycle of broken bones mended by Band-aids, we have to recognize that our Band-aids are blame accusations and not proactive solutions. Districts need to recognize that class sizes are marring actual learning, school leaders need to be transparent about the way school discipline works, and teachers need to learn more about deescalating than aggravating. This all comes back to a simple social need that all sides are forgetting: validation. Let’s all validate the obvious: this is a tough time to be in education. The phrase lose-lose is unfortunately becoming way too common place in decisions by any stakeholder. Research suggests that if education is to improve, the blame game needs to stop and validation needs to begin. If we can’t begin that cultural shift, it doesn’t matter the test scores or suspension rates, public education will soon see it’s broken bones evolve into organ failure and, ultimately, death.

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Rob Brown (left), Art Roberts (center), Me (right): three nerds who love literature and teaching.

To use the current lingo of the kids, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is LIT! Considering this is episode “42”, I knew I wanted to sit down with my great friends, Art and Rob, who are English teachers at my school. We talk about why we love literature, its value in today’s day and age, as well as some of our favorite authors and poets. Please listen and share with other teachers or fans of literature in general.

Thanks again for listening, everyone, and have a great week!

P.S. – Here’s the article from The Atlantic I reference in the event it piqued your interest: “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers”

And here’s the brief clip with Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, about how and why we must change our education system to focus on what makes us uniquely human:

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Aaron Feis, left, lost his life saving children; Scot Peterson, right, effectively did nothing.

Today is Valentine’s Day.

It is also the painful first anniversary of the tragic school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and ended the lives of 17 people.

Three of those who lost their lives that day were educators who sacrificed their lives to protect their students.

Three teachers who cared deeply about our children and their future.

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We live in an era of mass shootings that show no sign of slowing down. Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 85 school shootings that have killed a total of 223 people, including teachers and staff. On average that means there have been over four school shootings a year, with each of those killing just over three people per occurrence.

But here’s the thing…

How many traditional “first responders” died in all of those school shootings over the last two decades?

Zero.

According to the recently released Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report, only one School Resource Officer (SRO) was wounded across those 20 years. Here are just a few notable quotes from the study’s findings:

“School personnel were most frequently involved in stopping attacks; school resource officers were less so.”

“High school attacks were stopped 11 times by administrators, teachers, and staff.”

“School administrators, teachers or staff members were sometimes among the first individuals killed.”

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Chris Hixon, Navy veteran and teacher who died protecting students at MSD.

Educators may have been hired to teach the next generations that follow their own, but in an era of mass school shootings we have all become the real first responders. Even if a school is lucky enough to have an SRO or SSO (School Safety Officer), one person is not enough to stop a killing spree that will last only minutes at most. It takes administrators, teachers, and ESPs to work together and communicate when there are threats to student safety. Most of the time this vigilance is enough…and yet the average across the last two decades states that four times this year, it won’t be.

And the odds are that it will be school personnel who sacrifice their lives for the children, not the school resource officer.

This isn’t necessarily something that has only happened since Columbine either. Just a few days ago was the 31st anniversary of the first school shooting in the Tampa Bay region, which happened at Pinellas Park High School in 1988. Three people were shot by the young man amidst a scuffle in the lunch room: two were injured, one was killed, all were site-based administrators.

The reason these facts are being addressed is to highlight a simple fact: if educators are truly the first responders in a world of mass shootings that happen with some regularity at schools, the risks we take for our children and profession should be duly compensated.

First responders, as they are traditionally defined (fire, police, sheriff), receive a retirement multiplier of 3.0 from the state of Florida, which they undoubtedly deserve. Therefore, if a firefighter, police officer, or sheriff’s deputy works for 30 years, the Florida Retirement System pays them a pension based on 30 years times the multiplier, meaning they receive 90% of their highest five years averaged together.

Scot Peterson, for instance, now gets to take home a monthly pension of $8,702.

But an administrator, teacher or ESP? Our multiplier is 1.6, just barely over half of what traditional “first responders” receive and deserve. The top of the pay scale here in Hillsborough is $66K, a far cry from the $101,879 dollars Scot Peterson received to ride around campus on a golf cart all day until the moment when he was actually needed and did nothing. Meanwhile, a teacher in HCPS with 30 years of experience would receive only 48% of his or her final salary, netting that person a monthly benefit of $2,640.

How is this fair?

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Scott Beigel, the third teacher at MSD who died saving the lives of students.

Here’s the solution: at a bare minimum, all site-based school employees–whether administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, education support personnel…anyone who directly has contact with kids and could potentially stop the next school shooting–should have their retirement multiplier pushed up to 2.0 so that a 30 year career receives 60% of the highest five years’ average. Considering the Florida Retirement System (FRS) is routinely touted as one of the best in the nation with nearly 85% of future liabilities already covered, surely there must be a way for the Florida Legislature to increase funding to the program to raise the multiplier to 2.0

And if our legislators cannot or will not at least lift the multiplier, the least they could do to compensate our additional risk as the real first responders at schools is to give us back the 3% we’ve been forced to contribute to our own paltry pensions since 2011.

If you read this and are an employee at a school site in one of our 67 counties, or a public education advocate who thinks those who protect children deserve more, please call or email your legislators to ask them to raise our retirement multiplier.

Related: The Day After… – students share their thoughts and concerns, hopes and fears in class the day after the Parkland tragedy.

Related: I’m Angry – guest post by a fellow teacher describing the initial surge of anger she felt after what happened at MSD.

Related: About Those Teachers with Guns… – brief write up containing data after surveying students and fellow faculty members–specifically those who are military veterans–about how they feel regarding arming teachers.

Related: About Those Teachers with Guns: Redux – guest post by another fellow teacher with many important points legislators should consider when weighing the big picture of public education in Florida.

 

 

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The first guest post of 2019, Carol Cleaver’s words will undoubtedly be familiar to any of us who have been in the classroom. She shares part of the secret to her success as a teacher, and asks us to reflect on our own practice and what guiding directive(s) we may employ with our students. Feel free to comment below, on the Teacher Voice Facebook page, or on Twitter.

What Is the Guiding Directive for Your Classroom?

It’s Important

After 14 years of teaching, classroom management isn’t a huge problem for me- but of course, I didn’t start out so capably. I’ve always credited my successes in behavior management to a relentless commitment to my guiding directive. Early on, I chose one simple phrase that would guide every action that happens in my classroom. Creating your own guiding directive, and being consistent about it, is one of the best possible ways to ensure a well-managed classroom.

My first year of teaching, I landed in an 8th grade Science Classroom. Anyone who has taught middle school is aware of the constant trials and tribulations that beset this population of students. At no other time in their lives will they care so much about the way they are perceived by their peers. They will do almost anything to curry favor with popular kids, and at the same time, blend into the crowd. The focus on social status above all else often contributes to a lot of negative behaviors- gossip, name calling, showing off. I wanted to quell the stress I saw on the hallways of our school; but didn’t want to put off the kids by constant nagging and issuing judgment either.

I decided to employ a rule that I had learned in Sunday School. The rules for speaking are this:  “Is it Kind?  Is it Necessary? Is it True? It must be all three things, or you may not say it.”

I made myself a little poster, and carried it into my classroom. I spent a few minutes with each class period going over the rule. I spent the next week or so correcting them every time they got out of line. “Was that necessary?” or “That wasn’t kind, was it?” I committed to it, and came back to it, many times each day.  I made them repeat the rule out loud after me. Several times. The rule applied to everyone, and was non-negotiable.

In a few weeks, something amazing began to happen.  Students started correcting each other. I began to overhear phrases like “was that kind? Was it necessary?” from my students in their desks. I didn’t have to say anything- they were catching themselves. Nobody took it personally. They all knew that was the rule, and that it absolutely must be followed in my classroom. The “offender” would normally back track from what they were saying, without even arguing the point. On the rare occasion the point is argued, other students in the class will say to them “even if it is true- it has to be all three. You can’t say it unless it is also kind and necessary!”

And then the real payoff came. I began to realize that because of my classroom rule, I had created an area free of gossip and drama. Students knew they could depend upon that. Anytime they came into my room with some bit of news like “did you hear about that fight?” or “you won’t believe what this other teacher did” they were immediately cut off with a reminder “is it kind or necessary for you to interrupt class with this? You must follow the rules for speaking in this classroom.” And they did.

Students began to relax in my classroom. They began to take risks and grow in confidence, because they knew that any type of negative talk would not be tolerated. Students also knew that I was someone who meant what I said, because I wouldn’t say something that wasn’t true. If they asked me a hard question, they knew I would tell them the truth.

Over the years I have been teaching, I have used this rule as my guiding directive for every single class I teach. I have taught grades 6-12, and have found that this rule works for all age groups. I don’t know if it’s because the rule is so good, or if I am so committed to it, but it works.  Some of the kids from that first year are past college now, and have found me to let me know that they “still remember the rules for speaking.”

What are you “famous” for to your students? What is it that you do that your students can depend upon, and will remember?

Thanks for reading, everyone! If you are an educator and would like to write a guest post for the Teacher Voice blog, feel free to message me through the Contact feature or send me an email directly to 1teachervoice@gmail.com

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“I feel strongly that people need to speak up because silence is a tacit approval.”

The first official new podcast of 2019 features Lois Horn-Diaz, the 2017 Teacher of the Year for Polk County Schools. With her wide and varied background, Lois taught children in many ways for over 30 years in public education. We sat down at the beginning of the month to discuss how she became a teacher, what it was like to win Teacher of the Year honors for an entire district and meet others from around the state, and why she is such an outspoken critic of what public education has become in the last 15 years. Please listen to this engaging conversation, be sure to share with others, and use your own voice to speak up on behalf of all children and educators across the Sunshine State.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Carol Lerner, retired educator and the chair of POPS Manasota

This podcast is long overdue. Recorded last summer, I sat down with Carol Lerner to discuss her organization and advocacy yet never published this episode due to prioritizing political candidates leading up the election. The content, however, makes this an ideal podcast to listen to and share with others, especially with the 2019 legislative session just around the corner.

On this episode, Carol discusses the aims of the POPS Manasota organization; provides an excellent overview of the pernicious influence of corporate charter management companies, specifically Academica; walks the audience through the tax credit scholarship program that diverts would-be tax dollars away from the state’s general fund and toward private schools with no accountability; and closes out our chat with how much “dark money” is influencing school board races, particularly in Sarasota county.

If you’d like to learn more about POPS Manasota or join its cause if you live locally in Manatee or Sarasota, you can Like or Follow their Facebook page, follow along on Twitter, or reach out to Carol directly by emailing popsmanasota@gmail.com.

P.S. – If you’d like to learn how much “dark money” is being used to infiltrate local school boards to further along the privatization efforts by the corporate charter companies and their legislative lackeys, watch this highly informative video below.

relationships

Contrary to Sean Combs’ claim that “it’s all about the Benjamins,” I would argue that life is all about relationships. As teachers, we have relationships with lots of people in our daily school lives, none more important than with our students. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the bulk of my success as a teacher is due to the meaningful and lasting relationships I have fostered with my students, certainly much more so than any curriculum I may have imparted to them during our shared time together.

While I only worked as a new teacher mentor for a single year, the two most important pieces of advice I offered those who were just beginning in the classroom–whether fresh out of college or starting a second career–was: 1) be your most authentic self, as kids–especially high school students–recognize phoniness better than most adults; 2) get to really know your students as individual human beings. By taking a genuine interest in them, their journeys up to that point in life, and where they’re headed based on their goals and aspirations, teachers can forge a strong, important bond with that child. As I told my mentees, the rest will always come with time and work itself out provided that they put those two pieces of advice into practice.

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days because of two messages I received almost back to back. Over the years, I have received many nice notes, letters, cards, and emails expressing gratitude for our relationship. And what I’ve learned in the first 15 years in the classroom is that we never know how our words and actions will resonate with our students, which is why I always do my utmost to be an exemplar of a life well lived. I was deeply honored and grateful, then, to receive this short essay on leadership from a graduate of last year’s class who is currently at the United States Naval Academy. While she could have written about virtually anyone and how that person exemplifies leadership, she chose me. Her words were truly humbling:

In my junior year of high school, I was required to take a course known as the Theory of Knowledge. This class was a introspective curriculum which mainly focused on self-reflection and relies heavily on the teacher’s interpretation and dedication to the class. It is in this class that I saw one of the purest forms of leadership within the teacher. Mr H. was new to the program and thus took on a large amount of responsibility in order to enable our success.

I would argue that the majority of my enjoyment within the class stemmed from Mr. H’s ability to spark an intense curiosity and passion within all of his students. It was not through overbearing demands, but rather a nurturing of individual abilities. One of the most important traits that I learned through H was to listen, even when you didn’t always know how to respond. Compassion never fails. The ability to sympathize and lend an ear can often be more powerful than one’s own words. As an especially exasperated high school student, H’s ability to listen to the complaints of fifty teenagers and still make everyone feel like an individual proved unique.

Besides listening, a good leader understands when intervening is necessary. Obviously, the public school system does not stand as the pinnacle of premier education. Unlike most people who just accepted the flaws of a large structure, Mr. H continued to seek new ways to reform and better the environment he was in. From interviewing other teachers on a podcast, to speaking his grievances at school board meetings, H understood the need to take a stand. This determination to better his community at a large scale and still treat people as individuals was contagious. Most often leadership is done first through example.

At the purest form H never stopped showing how much he cared. How much he cared about people, knowledge, work, and life. These traits have greatly impacted how I approach situations, as well as my interactions with others. Through him I saw someone devote themselves to others, which in the end, defines leadership.

Then, only a day later, another former student from my time at Durant tagged me on Twitter to tell me the following:

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Another random, timely gift from the universe

I responded to him to thank him for his kind words as well as to share that I do indeed remember him. By my rough estimation, I have taught over 3,000 students at this point in my career. I may not be able to remember all of their names (especially those that were from more than a decade ago), but I often recognize their faces despite the years that have passed. Regardless, these small blessings are one of the many, many reasons I love being a teacher.

My wife and I do not have children, and that is a big reason why we truly love our students as if they were our own kids. I believe that love infuses our classroom and the interactions we have with all students, which is why I consider the relationships we build with them so critical for their future success. Being a teacher is an important job, but being good toward other human beings who are sharing this sojourn with us through this space in time, who have been given the same gift of life that has been bestowed upon each of us, is the pinnacle of what it means to teach. Regardless of a student’s grade average or mastery of content, it’s how we treat them with an inherent dignity that will forever resonate with them. As Maya Angelou famously said, “…people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.”

Let’s ensure that our students feel loved.

P.S. – And, as always, if you are one of my current or former students reading this, thank you for being a part of my life. All of you mean the world to me.

Love,

– H.

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SCHS IB Class of 2019 surprised me on my birthday last August by having me come down to the cafeteria before bursting into screams and singing Happy Birthday, none of which would have happened had I not loved these students.

 

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Happy New Year!

I hope that you and yours enjoyed the holiday season and spent it surrounded by family and friends. School is now only a few days away and I wanted to share a brief update about the Teacher Voice blog and podcast as we move forward into 2019 and the second half of the current school year.

As is my usual habit, I spend a great deal of time during the winter (and summer) break reflecting on how I can improve as a teacher and, more importantly, a human being. Many of the books I read the last few weeks also led to much introspection about the quality of my life at the current moment and how it could be improved. One of the many realizations that I came to during the last couple of weeks is that I have devoted entirely too much time to Teacher Voice.

One of the most common questions that fellow teacher friends asked me during the first year and a half of the Teacher Voice project was some variation of how do you do it all? To be honest, “doing it all” had a cost, the biggest of which was a loss of time that I typically devoted toward self-care and self-betterment. In the first year and a half I wrote over 70 pieces for the blog and published over 40 episodes of the podcast, but I was sleeping less and found myself increasingly struggling to give my absolute best to those who matter most as a teacher–my students.

In an effort to restore my sanity and get back to basics, I am significantly scaling back what I will be doing on Teacher Voice. At most, I will write no more than two posts per month, and I will only publish one podcast during each month. Furthermore, I want 2019 to be the “Year of the Teacher,” mainly because I felt that the second half of 2018 focused exclusively on guests who were running for public office that would impact public education. Though I immensely enjoyed the conversations with those candidates, I’d like to share the voices and perspectives of those who are most often ignored by our elected officials–the educators themselves.

But here’s where you can help, fellow educator! I would still like the Teacher Voice project to become what I originally intended: a sounding board for those who are in the profession to share their perspectives and ideas by writing guest posts for the blog or being guests on the Teacher Voice podcast. Does this sound like you, dear reader?

There is still one podcast that I have yet to publish from last year, and I hope to have it published by next week. The first teacher guest podcast was recorded a few days ago, and that should follow later this month. But if you would like to write a guest post for the blog or appear on the podcast yourself, please use the “contact” feature at the top of the page or email me directly at 1teachervoice@gmail.com.

Thanks again for your interest and support of the Teacher Voice project!

– Ryan

P.S. – Be sure to Like or Follow the Teacher Voice Facebook page if you haven’t already. While I will not be creating as much original content moving forward, I will still share relevant public education news on that platform. You can also jump directly into the conversation by following me on Twitter as well.

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As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

With the recent release of the MSD Commission’s report, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made headlines when he publicly performed an about-face on his position regarding arming teachers. On the heels of Gualtieri’s announcement in support of having teachers packing in the classroom, Polk School Board Member and vocal critic of the Florida Legislature, Billy Townsend, wrote this compelling piece loaded with reasons as to why this notion is a terrible one.

Upon seeing Billy’s publication, Julie Hiltz, NBCT, a fellow friend of public education and colleague here in Hillsborough County, had the following to say on Twitter. In an effort to have others read and share her words, I asked Julie if her statement could be published as a guest blog post here on Teacher Voice. Please read her words and share them with others on social media or, better yet, compose an email to your local legislators in both the House and Senate, asking them to stop ignoring the will of the people who overwhelmingly told polsters this past spring that they do NOT want teachers armed around their children.

So much is wrong with this idea of arming teachers I don’t know where to start. But since I have a chance to piggyback on this thoughtful, well researched piece I’m going to take my shot.

This is idea is not just stupid, it’s impractical.

1. There is a legitimate teacher shortage, as well as shortage of paraprofessional staff. It’s been that way for a decade. Lack of personnel ripples from the traditional classroom into all facets of school work and increases stress, trauma, and fatigue for students and staff.

Those stressors increase the likelihood of “bad people doing bad things” and decreases the likelihood of “good people doing good things.” We adults try but it’s exhausting and we frequently fail. Ask my kid how much patience and energy I bring home to him.

2. Even if you fully staffed every existing traditional classroom and support position you’re still undermanned. So many districts have had to cut those “extra luxuries” like mental health support, nurses, behavior specialists, teacher aides, and yes- librarians.

Who exactly in most schools still has a job where they would even qualify by statute to be armed? My kid’s in Pasco Schools and they cut librarians years ago. I truly believe the lack of a certified librarian does more harm to more kids than “not enough weapons” on campus.

3. Assuming you have all your traditional classroom AND support teacher and paraprofessional positions filled you’ve now created a situation where you’re sending a message that some lives are worth more than others. Charge in, custodians and librarians!

I work with kids and adults most hours of the day but as the librarian expected to be a first responder I’m, what… disposable? An acceptable potential loss? A stop gap? And I know I won’t be paid hazard pay or otherwise compensated because it’ll be “other duties as assigned.”

4. If the Florida Legislature wants me to act like a first responder than they’ll have to change the law to treat me like one. Stop taking 3% out of my paycheck for retirement, exempt me from jury duty and protect my home address, and stop requiring my Union to recertify annually.

5. Most schools districts are against the plan. They’ve voted (and revoted) as representatives of their constituents to not arm teachers. Apparently that’s not good enough for the Florida Legislature. Again.

If history is any indication of how this will go down, Tallahassee will make a law requiring the program and the citizens of the state will have to push a ballot amendment to counter that law because most of Florida doesn’t want it either. (See class size amendment)

6. That’s not the job you hired me for. You hired me to support literacy and technology. You hired me to create a safe environment for learning and both personal and professional development for kids and adults. You hired me to connect people with resources- material and human.

I don’t even fully do that. I haven’t been able to for years. I have to close my library for testing or class coverage. I have to sit in mandated trainings instead of planning or teaching with colleagues. I have to monitor student behavior in shared spaces and mediate conflict.

I have find a way to stock my shelves with books to support new curriculum (Common Core/FL Standards anyone?), engage students in reading relevant texts for personal growth and enjoyment, and replace well worn classics & favorites on a budget that hasn’t changed since 2001.

So, no. Stop coming at me with “you need to carry a gun to protect the children.” I’m already doing that the best I can. I’m protecting them from the fears and frustrations that abusive testing brings. I’m protecting them from giving up on themselves when everything gets hard.

I’m protecting my students from being hungry, being cold, being lonely, being bullied, being judged too harshly for reading a book that’s just for fun, being afraid to ask for help or being seen as weak for their compassion. I’ve got enough to keep me busy.

If you are a classroom teacher, you know exactly where Julie is coming from; if you are someone who has never been in the classroom, this gives you some small semblance of an idea of what it is like to wear so many hats/have too many jobs that they eat away at the core mission of what educators are here for. Even as I wrote in the original post back in March, when polling my own students, site administration, and even the military veterans I work with on daily basis, the overwhelming opinion was NO teacher should be armed or asked to carry a gun on campus, regardless of what kind of background checks and training he or she may have completed.

 

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Ahira Torres, former U.S. Marine and current HCPS elementary teacher

After interviewing Scott Hottenstein last year for a Veterans Day edition of the podcast, I wanted to speak to another veteran this year to begin an annual tribute to the men and women who serve our community and country, first as members of the military, then as public school teachers.

This year I reached out to Ahira Torres, a former U.S. Marine and current 5th grade teacher who commanded the attention of the audience about a year ago at a local school board meeting when she spoke. The United States Marine Corps celebrates its 243rd birthday this weekend, as that branch was founded on November 10th, 1775. We chatted about why she became a Marine, the values that particular branch of the military instilled in her, and how those values and experiences are infused within her classroom and the way in which she teaches.

Thank you so much for listening to this Veterans Day edition of the Teacher Voice podcast. Please share with others, especially those who have served in our armed services and then continued their public service as educators.

Here’s a short clip of Ahira speaking at that school board meeting nearly one year ago.

 

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Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican Gubenatorial Candidate

Although I already wrote a piece titled “All I Want for Midterms” that encourages others to vote for Andrew Gillum as a check against one-party rule, I read this comment on Facebook and thought it is an excellent overview of what has happened to public education during the last 20 years of GOP rule. Therefore, if you are a teacher who has already voted for Ron DeSantis or, more importantly, if you are about to vote for him on Tuesday, fellow teacher Kim Cook would like you to remember the following:

For those of you who are saying you won’t vote for Gillum, please consider the following:

The Florida legislature and governor’s office has been Republican for 20+ years. In that 20 years, we have seen nothing but bill after bill with the sole intent of destroying public education. The vast majority of those bills have been signed into law by the governor. Here is a review of the legislation:

1. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush introduced the FCAT in order to track student “progress” ignoring the fact teachers are entirely capable of assessing their own students.

2. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush then started using FCAT results to grade schools, falsely equating low socioeconomic schools with “bad teaching.”

3. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked passing the third grade FCAT with retention and the 10th grade FCAT with high school graduation–despite research that clearly demonstrated this would be detrimental to students and communities.

4. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked school grades to money–awarding “A” schools with more money and “F” schools with less.

5. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott connected student test scores to teacher evaluations, otherwise known as VAM.

6. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott imposed a tax on educators by requiring them to contribute 3% of their salary to their pensions; however, that 3% goes into the general fund, NOT the pension.

7. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott changed the pension plan by requiring new hires to choose between the defined benefit pension and the 401k plan within the first nine months of their careers. Any educator who doesn’t choose by the required date automatically goes into the 401k plan, undermining the financial health of the defined benefit pension.

8. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed a law that decertifies any teacher union that falls under 50% membership, making that district’s contract and salary schedule null and void. Unions for first responders were exempt from the law (they are mostly men who vote Republican after all).

9. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation creating the “Best and Brightest” program. B&B bypasses providing the money to districts so that it can be put into salary schedules. The B&B money is considered a bonus, so it doesn’t count towards teachers’ pensions. The money also cannot go to “non-instructional personnel”–educators like media specialists (I teach ALL day every day, but nope, I’m not eligible), guidance counselors, deans, etc.

10. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that allows voucher schools; thus, tax dollars go to private, often religious, schools, that do not have the same accountability measures as public schools. They have expanded the program just about every legislative session.

11. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott have created laws to turn over public schools to for-profit charters. We have an entire district in Florida that is now a “charter” district.

12. Many Republican members of our legislature own or have a vested interest in charter or voucher schools and testing companies, yet they pass legislation that pads their wallets.

13. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that requires school districts to harden schools, yet didn’t fully fund the program. They also allow “non-teaching personnel” like me, the school librarian, to carry guns.

14. The Florida legislature fully intends to continue to destroy our pension bit by bit. My state senator, Keith Perry, admitted this. He told us that the state had no business running a pension program.

15. From Ceresta Smith: The Republican legislature and Rick Scott made Bright Futures Scholarships harder for non-whites to receive as they upped the bar on standardized tests, which provide advantage based on class and race.

16. The Florida legislature and Rick Scott took professional service contracts (sometimes referred to as “tenure”) away from teachers hired after July 1, 2008.

Most likely, our legislature will continue to be Republican dominated. If we don’t have a Democratic governor to veto the legislation that will continue to destroy public schools, destroy our salaries, and decimate our pension, we are sunk. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting on my pension in retirement. I don’t know what we’ll do if it’s not there, or if the state tries to pay us off with a lump sum, as other states have done.

If all Gillum does is veto destructive legislation, he’s still better than having DeSantis who will rubber stamp every horrible anti-public education bill the legislature sends him.

Thank you for reading. Please be sure to share with other teachers who still have not voted, and encourage them to vote for Andrew Gillum, even if only for pragmatic reasons. As noted in my own piece, although he would not have been my first choice, I still supported him because one party rule never works in the long run. We must bring some semblance of balance back to Tallahassee, and we can start doing so by electing a Democratic governor who will need to seek common ground and compromise with our GOP-led Florida Legislature.

Spyglass
When you look into the future of education, what do you see?

Friday afternoon I had the good fortune to speak to my middle brother Brad for over an hour and a half after school. He is a busy world traveler who works as a high level executive for one of the world’s major technology companies. He and I are alike in many ways, although our professional lives diverged when it came to what we chose to do.

But he is deeply committed to education, whether providing one for his own children, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the people on his team, or constantly learning himself, he thinks a great deal about what education is and what it will become in the future.

Our conversation largely revolved around what will happen to education when machine learning/artificial intelligence can supersede our own cognitive abilities. What will we “teach” our students then? Brad then sent me this short two-minute clip of Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba, sharing his vision of education in the future.

Yesterday morning, I ranted a bit about this on my personal Facebook page, and here are a few key passages:

Every teacher I know laments what public education has become: a non-stop testing regime that has largely sucked the life and joy out of education. People my age and older had the good fortune to “learn how to learn” for lack of a better phrase. With tests and “data-driven instruction” being the hallmark of today’s education—all in an effort to demonstrate what a student “knows” (or perhaps how well a student “tests”)—we’ve created a rather inhumane system in which teachers and students are the central components of a commodified, monetized education machine.

What happens, however, when machine learning and AI become more advanced than us? What will education look like when computers can “know” anything instantaneously, make calculations faster than any human, or anything else that machines can (and will continue to) do better than the most intelligent, most capable of us?

Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba (China’s Amazon, basically), believes that we need to educate our children about what makes us human—to be creative, to think critically, to empathize with others, to work collaboratively—and get away from teaching “knowledge” for which machines will inevitably have far more computational power than any of us.

While I might not see this radical shift during my tenure/career as an educator, I think I’ve been doing some of this in my own classroom for the last 7 years at least: focusing on the human experience; trying my best to exemplify love, compassion, gratitude, generosity, and patience; genuinely caring for each and every student who becomes a part of my life; inspiring kids to love learning intrinsically/for its own sake; using mindfulness techniques to manage stress while being in tune with one’s own mind…the list goes on and on, but it is these soft-skills that are far more important than the “facts” they can look up on Google at any given moment by consulting their smartphones.

Having slept on it and thought about this challenge all day yesterday–and as much as I love the ideas put forth by Jack Ma–I don’t think he’s completely right (or at least his comments don’t provide enough nuance for the entire educational experience). While I would concur that education fundamentally needs to be about teaching kids how to learn, adapt to and thrive with change, as well as focus on what makes us inherently human, there is still a place for some fact-based knowledge.

Here’s Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame to share why (it’s cued up to start at 7:16, but the whole talk is worth watching):

As a teacher of the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, Theory of Knowledge, I am fortunate enough to teach the kind of class that Jack Ma talks about: one that instills the value of conceptual and critical thinking while constantly asking “how do we know?”

Knowledge is tricky and complex. It is dynamic and we can never know anything with absolute certainty. And while Jack Ma has a clear / important point about fact-based knowledge being important in our world for the last 200 years since we started compulsory public education in the West, I agree with Ken Jenning’s point that the bits and pieces we carry around in our heads (in TOK we call this “personal knowledge”) is critical for our own self-identity and our shared cultural heritage.

Hopefully the future of education falls somewhere between these two views. Either way, the future of education is perhaps a return to the past: a time when we didn’t incessantly test our children in the name of accountability and to make a quick buck; a time when we focused on educating the child how to be human rather than a machine that simply produces particular outputs based on the bubble sheet in front of him or her.

What do you think the future of education has in store for us? Share your thoughts below or comment on the Teacher Voice Facebook page.

Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener, NPA Candidate for House District 64, along with his daughter and son

The latest episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Andy Warrener, the NPA/Independent candidate in a three way race for House District 64 that covers northwestern Hillsborough and parts of Pinellas county. I specifically wanted to chat with Andy about public education issues and the rest of his campaign platform because, like me and about 1/3 of all Floridians, he does not belong to a political party.

Beyond the issues, we also have a substantive discussion about why he is running without party affiliation, why so many people are choosing to leave their previous party, and how the growing number of independent voters are starting to coalesce around grassroots organizations such as Unite America. Please listen and be sure to share with others, especially those who live in HD64!

If you’d like to learn more about Andy and his campaign, you can visit his website FloridaForAll or Like/Follow his page on Facebook. Be sure to hurry, though; early voting is in full swing and election day is Tuesday, November 6th!

P.S. – Andy also supports the Strengthen Our Schools initiative and was even the person who suggested the term be 10 years (rather than 15 or 20) so that it might be more palatable to Hillsborough County voters. Here is a clip of his speech from the August 24th special board meeting. The referendum can be found at the very end of the ballot; please vote YES!

For my entire voting life, I have never belonged to either major political party. There are parts of both platforms that I appreciate, but the political fracturing that began with Newt Gingrich and the subsequent polarization that has crippled our country and the parties themselves during the last 25 years has only cemented my belief that we should all be putting people over party politics.

Clearly I am not alone, as those who are choosing to leave their party affiliations or registering for the first time without a declared party are growing, and political independents now outnumber both those who identify as Democrat or Republican. It’s also the reason grassroots groups such as Unite America, whose slogan is “country over party”, are trying to organize fellow political moderates/centrists in an effort to bridge the divide that has opened up between the two major parties.

As an independent voter, I have voted for people on both sides of the aisle. This year, however, I voted for more Democrats than at any point in the 20 years I’ve lived here in Florida. In fact, the only Republican I voted for on this year’s ballot is Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County. As a Social Studies teacher who has lived under one party rule in two states (first in Rhode Island under a Democratic majority, then in Florida under the GOP for the last two decades), I will unequivocally state that one party rule never works–it always leaves segments of the population feeling underrepresented and unheeded.

My votes this year are an attempt to be pragmatic and bring balance back to our state government, especially in light of how Florida’s closed primaries disenfranchise all NPA voters. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano noted that we are only one of nine states that uses a completely closed primary system, which in turn fosters “a rabid form of group-think during the primary season.” And whereas independents would have been more likely to support more moderate candidates and perhaps change the shape of the general election, instead we are left with choices that are on the fringes of the left and right respectively.

The first time I saw Philip Levine speak in person, he said something that resonated with me: “I’m not left, I’m not right, I’m forward.” As someone who wants a candidate that can build bridges rather than burn them, I thought Levine’s entrepreneurial spirit and experience as a business developer and owner would draw moderate, business-minded Republicans, while his tenure as Miami Beach mayor that brought many progressive reforms would have made inroads with Democrats.

But my ballot only allowed me to vote for judges and school board members…

That’s not to say that I do not like Andrew Gillum; I like him a great deal: he’s charismatic, knows the issues, and has had a solid campaign platform since day one. And most importantly to me and millions of other public education advocates all across the Sunshine State, Gillum has a laser-like focus on public education and the lack of funding that has brought the system to its knees after 20 years of Republican rule.

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Since 1998, this has been the GOP-led Florida Legislature’s directive.

While this has been written about numerous times (About Those Stubborn Facts; Numbers Don’t Lie), the most salient fact everyone should know is that in 1998 when the GOP took full control of our state government, Florida ranked 27th in per-pupil spending; 20 years later, Florida has fallen to 44th in the U.S. Back then, Florida spent $6,443, but to have kept up with inflation our current level of funding would need to be $9,913.

It’s now $7,408, over $4,000 below the national average.

And it’s not just public education. Florida ranks dead last in the entire country when it comes to investing in public services, despite the fact that we are the third most populous state with a one trillion dollar economy. In fact, by just about every single metric possible Florida has gotten worse on rankings lists during the last 20 years of Republican reign. Unless you’re part of the richest 1% of Americans (and Florida has a high concentration), a major stakeholder in a large corporation, or a politically connected individual, things have only gotten worse for you.

If you are a “values voter” who has voted Republican in the past out of personal conviction, you have done so to your own economic peril, especially if you work in public education in any way. I am not advocating voting for Democrats because I believe wholeheartedly in every aspect of their platform; instead, I do so out of sheer pragmatism and a need to bring balance back to our state government so that it will be more responsive to the needs of its people rather than an entrenched establishment that only cares about the special interests that fill its campaign coffers.

I believe in compromise. I believe in seeking a middle ground when it comes to policy making decisions.  I believe in representation that is truly responsive to the citizenry. And I believe the only way we are going to get back on track is by electing Andrew Gillum as our next governor and hopefully getting close to even in the Florida Senate. While the House is too lopsided to bring parity in one fell swoop, especially in light of the gerrymandered districts in which we all live, any seats that are picked up will benefit us all. Florida is a great state and could be so much more. Let’s all vote to ensure we have a balanced government starting Wednesday, November 7th.

P.S. – If you’ve read this far and also live/vote in Hillsborough, please support our schools by voting YES on the Strengthen Our Schools initiative that I wrote about previously in Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The “Numbers Don’t Lie” Redux and Hidden Benefits: The Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough County. Our students and staff deserve so much more than the Florida Legislature has given us!

Christmast Morning
Hopefully this will be my reaction when I read the results of this year’s elections the next day.

Fentrice Driskell
Fentrice Driskell, Democratic Candidate for House District 63

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features Fentrice Driskell, a Harvard and Georgetown Law School graduate, partner at Carton Fields law firm in Tampa, and the Democratic candidate for House District 63.

Although she always knew that running for public office would be in her future, she did not realize she would run so soon. We discuss her impressive resume, why she’s running, and what she would like to do in Tallahassee. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in HD63.

Want to learn more about Fentrice? You can check out her amazingly alliterative website, Fentrice For Florida, of find her on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

Debbie Katt
Debbie Katt (far right), Democratic Candidate for House District 57

The latest edition of the Teacher Voice podcast turns away from school board races and back toward the state level, featuring Debbie Katt, a software engineer from the Valrico area who is campaigning for the HD57 seat vacated by Jake Raburn-R.

Among the priorities Debbie would like to address in Tallahassee, public education funding is the top of her list. We also discuss her vision for sensible gun control; a regional approach to investment in the Tampa Bay area’s transportation infrastructure; how funding for the arts has been decimated in recent years, and the negative financial impact that brings to other local businesses. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in House District 57.

As we discussed during the podcast, if you’d like to learn more about Debbie or her platform you can visit her campaign website. Debbie is also on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her on social media.

Thanks again for listening and supporting the Teacher Voice podcast, everyone!

P.S. – Sorry for the background noise in the first half. Apparently librarians get real rowdy once they go on break in the staff lounge…but I guess that’s to be expected after being quiet all day!

My father was a business man before he retired. He understood the value of investment, especially in the companies for which he worked or outright owned. And while it may be a platitude, he drilled into me the concept of “you gotta spend money to make money.”

After living in Florida for over 20 years and witnessing the growth in Hillsborough County, I am amazed at what we have accomplished with the little tax revenue we’ve generated over that time. As our population grew and the economic base expanded, it has largely been a wash. But the last several years we have had a Florida Legislature willing to cut services to the bone, especially public education, all in the name of saving pennies for families.

The time has come for the citizens of Hillsborough to band together, pass both referenda (schools and transportation), and make a real investment in our local community.

Regardless of how any individual feels about either of these sales tax increases, the truth is it will cost each of us–on average–about 50 cents per day to pass both. All told, this will generate well over $400 million dollars per year between the two, the vast majority of which will be immediately reinvested in our local businesses and create a virtuous cycle of economic activity.

In the video above, I spoke about how the infusion of capital outlay money for the school district means that those dollars will largely go to local contractors to install new HVAC units, repair roofs, build new schools, paint old schools, upgrade technology, etc. When the district spends that money locally, those companies in turn can then reinvest in / grow their own companies by hiring more employees and giving them raises, which those employees will then inject their wages back into our local economy, thereby collecting more additional tax revenue which can be used for additional projects that require spending more money, and over and over…hence the virtuous cycle.

It is evident that many people from all walks of life and both sides of the aisle are realizing that this is an opportunity to invest in Hillsborough County in ways we haven’t seen for a long time–if ever. Beyond having the Tampa Bay Times already endorse both the transportation referendum and school referendum, even more telling is having groups such as the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and pro-business conservative Republicans such as Ken Hagan back the sales tax increase to support schools.

Business leaders know that this investment in our community is long overdue. They realize that the potential for a virtuous cycle of economic activity is one of the many hidden benefits that are being overlooked by naysayers. Investing in our students and schools, as well as our transportation infrastructure, will only continue to lure more people and businesses to Hillsborough County, expanding our entire economic base and generating more momentum in the virtuous cycle.

Please join me and many others in voting YES on November 6th to support our entire local community here in Hillsborough County.

P.S. – If you’d like to learn more about how to help our students and schools, please visit the website for the parent-led coalition, Strengthen Our Schools, or check out the HCPS information page. You can also learn more about the All For Transportation referendum here.

Previous Related Posts: About Those Stubborn Facts…; Numbers Don’t Lie; Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The Numbers Don’t Lie Redux

Virtuous Cycel
Let’s Create a Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough! Vote YES on 11/6 for both

Karen Perez
Karen Perez, Mental Health Counselor and HCPS School Board Candidate, Countywide District 6

Continuing the back-to-back episodes for the Hillsborough School Board Countywide District 6 race, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Karen Perez, the other finalist who made it past the primary and into the general election on November 6th. Karen and I sat down earlier this week to talk about her career as a mental health counselor, why she is running for school board, and what her priorities will be if elected. Please listen to what she has to say and share with other voters!

If you’d like to learn more about Karen, you can visit her campaign website, check out her page on Facebook, find her on Twitter, or meet her in person at one of the many campaign events around Hillsborough County.

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On this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast, I sat down and spoke with Henry “Shake” Washington, one of the two finalists who made it past the primary and into the general election on November 6th. Although Shake has already been endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times, I invited him on the podcast so that voters could hear from the man himself. We discuss his 42 year career with HCPS, why he decided to run for the School Board, and his vision for the future. Please listen to what he has to say and share with others!

If you’d like to learn more about Shake, you can visit his campaign website, Like/Follow his page on Facebook, or meet him in person at one of the many upcoming campaign events around Hillsborough County.

The above video contains my complete comments on the lack of taxation. Please watch for context for what is detailed below.

It is no secret that school districts all across the Sunshine State have been forced to squeeze blood from a stone by the Florida Legislature for over two decades, and especially since the Great Recession. As noted in the first “Numbers Don’t Lie” piece, Florida went from 27th in per-pupil spending in 1998 to 44th in 2018. Had we kept pace with inflation alone from 20 years ago, Florida would need to spend $9,913 per student. Instead, we currently spend $7,408.

But it’s far worse than simply not keeping pace with inflation. When Ernest Hooper and I were interviewing candidates at the Tampa Hob Nob a few weeks ago, HD64 Rep. Jamie Grant–by his own admission–stated that the three areas of the economy that have actually outpaced inflation were health care, higher education and K-12 education. This effectively compounds the problem, because not only has the Florida Legislature refused to make a meaningful investment in public education, their decision to be parsimonious has made the reduced spending power of those scant dollars that much more signficant (assuming his statement is true).

Hillsborough County is not the only county seeking tax referenda. It’s happening all over the state, which John Romano wrote about recently in the Tampa Bay Times. Going back to this past March, citizens of various counties are 12 for 12 in voting for some type of tax referendum to support their schools. Clearly voters are starting to understand that Tallahassee has gotten us all into these messes because of its ideological zeal for reducing taxes.

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The Great Taxation Paradox: No one wants to pay, yet we need the services they provide.

People who stand against the tax referenda do so for two principal reasons: 1) they claim “we’re taxed too much already”; 2) they believe Hillsborough County Public Schools has mismanaged its funds. Let’s examine these claims in detail:

“We’re Taxed Too Much Already”

Regarding the first claim, this is typical response from just about anyone when the subject of raising taxes is mentioned. The facts, however, do not support this claim. If anything, we are taxed too little in a state that is experiencing such rapid population growth. The lack of taxation is directly linked to: the unwillingness to investment in public education by the Florida Legislature, resulting in students and staff sweating in schools; the traffic congestion we get caught up in on a daily basis; why Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has one of the lowest deputy-to-citizen ratios in the state, etc. Simply put, there’s not enough money to go around.

Mitch Perry’s excellent piece in The Florida Phoenix last month detailed why so many counties are seeking various school and transportation referenda and, most notably, linked this report that highlights two key facts that were addressed during my comments to the school board:

1. Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to “tax burden” (i.e. per-capita tax revenue generation).

2. Hillsborough County ranks 52nd out of 67 counties in Florida, which means we have the 15th lowest tax burden in the second lowest state in the U.S.

To say that “we are taxed too much already” is a preposterous statement that clearly ignores these facts and traffics in hyperbole when one considers the actual numbers.

HCPS Mismanages Its Funds

When it comes to the second claim about HCPS mismanaging its funds, it must be addressed in two parts. First, there are the optics of some of the board’s more questionable spending decisions over the last three years. Many critics often cite spending nearly a million dollars on the Gibson Report, nearly a million dollars for new school board offices/relocation of Human Resources from its original location to the Instructional Services Center, remodeling/refreshing the audio-visual equipment in the board room, etc. All told these items add up to perhaps $3 million across the last three years, which amounts to approximately 0.00033% of its total annual budget per year.

This is clearly a case of picking out a few trees while missing the entire forest.

Fiscal Stewardship
It took many painful cuts to get to this point, but Hillsborough citizens should be reassured that HCPS is doing its best with what little funding it receives from both state and local sources.

In truth, however, Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great job of reigning in its deficit spending during the same period. This fact is all the more amazing when one considers the significance of this in light of continually declining purchasing power when dollars are adjusted for inflation. Many citizens of the county, for instance, may not realize that there has been a sharp reduction in “PECO” funding (Public Education Capital Outlay, the source that pays for installation and maintenance of HVAC systems, building and repairing schools, upgrading technology, etc) for several reasons:

1. At the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the Florida Legislature–the governing body that effectively caps the tax rates that can be applied by school boards–reduced the millage rate from 2.0 to 1.5. Despite the economy recovering and now thriving, Tallahassee has never raised the millage rate back to pre-recession levels.

2. In addition to the millage rate never being restored, outgoing Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, famously quipped “Hell, no” in 2017 when asked if the Legislature would leave tax rates alone and allow rising property values to raise additional funds for education. Despite the Senate being okay with such a sensible compromise, the Grover Norquist anti-tax zealots in the House held firm and rolled back the rates even more.

3. Much of the revenue generated for PECO comes in the form of utilities taxes, including landline telephones, which hardly exist outside of businesses any longer. Therefore, a lot less money is going into those particular coffers at the state level.

Put this all together and what we get is a perfect fiscal storm that looks like this chart.

Capital Funding History
And people wonder why there is no money to fix A/C or otherwise repair our schools

While no one ever likes paying taxes, I would argue that there is a cost of paying too little. Having lived in Florida for just over 20 years now, I have watched our schools deteriorate and our roads fall apart while simutaneously becoming more clogged thanks to two decades of rampant, unchecked sprawl that has had little oversight and even less funding devoted to overcoming these challenges. I would highly encourage anyone who is reading this and lives in Hillsborough County to share this information with friends/family and vote for both of these referenda so that our citizens no longer have to live with the disastrous decisions being made by the Florida Legislature.

Furthermore, especially when it comes to the school district referendum in particular, please bear the following in mind: 1) the referendum can only be used for capital expenses; 2) there will be an oversight committee comprised of six citizens who have no connection to the district and will oversee how the money is spent on projects; 3) for the average Hillsborough citizen, the additional tax will mean about 17 cents per day. Undoubtedly, there will be naysayers who still want to vote no for their own personal reasons regardless of these facts. To them I paraphrase Voltaire by saying we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Our students, our schools, and our future depend on it.

Referendum Details
For more details, click here.

 

Lare, Joanne, Luke 2

This week’s episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is the follow-up special edition featuring the other slate of officer candidates for leadership of the Florida Education Association. Joanne McCall, Lawrence “Lare” Allen, and Luke Flynt are running for President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer respectively. As with the previous podcast, the candidates share their histories and why they are running, their vision for the future of FEA, as well as why teachers and ESPs should join their locals. Please listen and share with others, especially those who will be delegates at the FEA DA next month.

If you’d like to learn more about Joanne, Lare, and Luke, you can visit their website, and follow/interact with Joanne (@joannefea), Lare (@LareAllen83), and Luke (@laflynt) on Twitter.

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Backside of the Leadership! Vision! Integrity! Mailer
LJL - Front
Front of the Leadership! Vision! Integrity! Mailer

 

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About a week ago, ABC Action News caught up with the Florida Department of Education’s Commissioner, Pam Stewart. The reporter in the video had been trying to get an official comment regarding the on-going saga of teachers who are losing their jobs due to not being able to pass one of Florida’s teacher certification exams.

Bear in mind, however, that many of these teachers have already demonstrated their skills in the field, had been rated “Effective” or better, had developed a rapport with the students they serve…yet were let go nonetheless.

This truly is “must see television”:

To provide some context, ABC Action News has been investigating this issue for about a year and a half, starting in March 2017. They had updates to this story in July of that same year, May 2018, again this past July, and culminating in this report from last week.

The shortest version possible of what has happened is this: in 2015 Pearson debuted new tests and pass rates quickly plummeted. Many teachers discuss their struggles with the mathematics portion of the General Knowledge Test, despite the majority of these teachers not even teaching math. Ever.

The one year I worked as a new teacher mentor coincided with the new, more challenging tests, and it was almost always the General Knowledge Test that was holding back first and second year teachers. One of my mentees, for instance, couldn’t pass the essay portion of the GK. She hailed from Puerto Rico, taught Spanish, was adored by her students, yet had to pass a meaningless portion of a test that had no real bearing on her ability to teach Spanish.

Compounding this problem is the statewide (national, really) teacher shortage. More and more “new” teachers are people who are making the transition to a new career, not a young person entering the profession from college. If someone hasn’t used their math skills in 10 or more years, they will have eroded significantly.

And, again, if a person is hired to be an art (or any subject not related to math) teacher, should she need to be able to do the following?

Test Questions
Sample Questions from the GK test, courtesy of Jeff Solochek and the Tampa Bay Times

In the midst of a teacher shortage crisis, one would hope that the state would offer some temporary reprieve on some of the testing requirements, especially the General Knowledge Test that seems to be the biggest barrier to staying in the profession. What’s more curious is that Florida does this to no other profession. No one who is going to take the bar exam to be a lawyer has to also take this test. It seems logical that if a person can earn an undergraduate degree such as a B.A. or B.S., s/he has the basic skills necessary to work in any professional domain.

Eliminating the GK test would not necessarily mean it is easier to become a teacher. A person still would have to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination and a Subject Area exam, and rightly so. A candidate should be able to know and understand the laws that govern the profession, the ethical obligations they hold as teachers, and demonstrate mastery in the content the educator will teach to students.

But having to prove you went to college 10 or 20 years after the fact by taking and passing the “General Knowledge” test? Absurd.

https://giphy.com/embed/i3lbNZhnB1Jle

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(Sweet Incredible Hulk GIF that wouldn’t embed. You know you want to click the link.)

Other questions arise with this approach as well:

When these teachers who have already been deemed effective during their first few years lose their jobs, who replaces them? Who will connect with those students? A long-term substitute? Pam Stewart realizes that teachers aren’t growing on trees, right?

Why do only traditional public school teachers have to pass all these tests to earn their certification? Charters and private schools can hire people with no credentials, yet the FLDOE will kick good people to the curb because they have rusty math skills?

In the end, Commissioner Stewart’s horrible handling of this reporter is telling in three ways: 1) she’s hangry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s hangry; 2) the FLDOE clearly does not want to discuss this issue, with her even going so far as to offer a deflective answer about turnaround schools; 3) she clearly has never, ever–not once–understood nor empathized with the plight of teachers and ESPs all across the Sunshine State who routinely sacrifice their lunch time for their students on an almost daily basis.

But, hey, like the Tampa Bay Times editorial board recently wrote, “No wonder there’s a teacher shortage in Florida

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Carole, Fed, and Andrew
Carole (left), Fed (center), and Andrew (right) are looking to “Transform Action Into Power”

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features three guests that comprise one of the election tickets running to become the leaders of the Florida Education Association. Fed Ingram, Andrew Spar, and Carole Gauronskas are running to be the President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer respectively. We sat down earlier this summer at the AFT Convention for them to share why they are running, their vision for the future of the FEA, and why teachers and ESPs should join their local unions. Please listen and share with others, especially those who will be delegates at the FEA DA next month.

If you’d like to learn more about Fed, Andrew, Carole and their candidacy, you can Like/Follow their campaign page on Facebook, and follow/interact with Fed (@fedingram), Andrew (@VUEPresident), and Carole (@cgauronskas) on Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Backside of the #GoForIt Campaign Card
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Front of the TAP / #GoForIt Mailer

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Bill Person, HCPS School Board Candidate, District 1

As the picture above states, Bill is the right person at the right time. He narrowly lost to Susan Valdes in 2016, and he is the best candidate in the race due to his wide and varied background. First he served our country in the United States Air Force, then he served Hillsborough County, intially as a teacher, then school site administrator, and finished his career at the district level as a general director. After serving Hillsborough for over 40 years, he is asking the voters of District 1 to help him help us all one more time by coming back and serving on our local school board.

Bill’s main opponent is Steve Cona. His campaign was caught up in controversy last week over emailing HCPS teachers at work and soliciting donations, but his campaign’s actions and subsequent statement–which may as well have come from the man himself–calls into question the ethics of the candidate.

Cona Logo
And yet the campaign logo looks so wholesome…

First and foremost, there is an HCPS district policy that prohibits anyone employed by the district to campaign on a school site. While technically Mr. Cona does not work for the district, the same rule applies to sitting school board members as well. If elected officials are expected to be exemplars, shouldn’t the candidates also adhere to the same policies put in place by the governing body of which they are campaigning to join? It only seems logical. Bill has adhered to these policies in good faith, yet the Cona campaign persisted in sending emails at least three times.

Second, and far more problematic, is the statement issued by the Cona campaign:

Cona Statement

The very first line in the statement is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst, and here’s why: Enjoli White, the candidate liaison for Craig Latimer’s office at the Supervisor of Elections, said that voter email addresses are primarily collected when voters register to vote by mail, and even then it is optional to provide an email address. Two of the teachers, Laurie Rodriguez and Aron Zions, have registered to vote by mail yet never provided an email address at all, let alone a school district email address.

And LoraJane Riedas? She’s never even registered to vote by mail, making it impossible for the Cona campaign to have obtained the emails in this way.

The second half of the statement is true. There were a total of 74 SDHC email addresses listed among the 212,426 voters; expressed as a percentage of all possible email addresses the Cona campaign could have sent direct solicitations to, it is 0.00000348%.*

Questions immediately come to mind:

How could these teachers and numerous others have received these emails when such a minuscule percentage of all voters even used their work email addresses?

And if his campaign did not get these email addresses from the Supervisor of Elections list, where did they come from and how did the campaign get them?

Something about this doesn’t add up at all.

Leaving aside the issue about the possible illegality of this situation and focusing on the ethical implications should leave every District 1 voter wondering about Mr. Cona:

If his campaign is willing to issue patently false statements, what else is next?

Should voters be concerned about his connections to the construction industry when we all know massive growth is coming to Hillsborough County? His candidate finance search reveals money coming from construction company CEOs all over the state of Florida, not simply here in the Tampa Bay region. Susan Valdes willingly bent the rules by breaking the cone of silence to help her political donors, so is it possible that Steve Cona might be tempted to do the same? One would hope not.

The last thing District 1 voters and all of Hillsborough County needs is another unethical elected official.

Bill Person, on the other hand, is the candidate who wants to truly do business in the sunshine. He is the one who brought many of the corruption charges against Susan Valdes to light, and every citizen in Hillsborough County should be grateful that he did. Bill is a stand-up guy who will always be honest with his constituents and fellow board members, and we need that now more than ever.

If voters would like to learn more about Bill Person, they can listen to his appearance on the Teacher Voice podcast, Like or Follow his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, or check out his campaign webpage. But time is of the essence and the most important thing any voter can do is VOTE! The primary ends on next Tuesday, August 28th, and hopefully all will choose to “elect the RIGHT Person.”

BP Flyer

*Disclaimer: only the candidates and their campaigns have access to this data, and the Bill Person campaign manager requested the list to verify the numbers and claims.

 

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In the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

If you are a voter who lives in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, you need to vote for Mike Alvarez. He is the clear choice who brings a unique perspective as a former U.S. Marine and current small business owner. If you haven’t already heard from the man himself, he was on the Teacher Voice podcast earlier this summer, which you can listen to here.

You may have received one of these political ads in the mail for Susan Valdes in the last few days, and I’d like to call every voter’s attention to the least suspect part of the mailer itself: who sent it.

It is a well known fact that Susan Valdes filled nearly half her war chest with campaign contributions from for-profit charter management companies in her most recent District 1 School Board election. What may be unknown to the general public, however, is that in order to earn the endorsement of outgoing HD62 and overwhelmingly revered representative, Janet Cruz, Valdes had to promise not to take any donations from these companies.

Valdes lied.

Susan Valdes has quite the track-record of being an unethical elected official. There are numerous reasons that have been previously covered here, but this mailer is a case-in-point for how she will dance around the promises she has made in order to gain a political advantage.

Back to who paid for these mailers…

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Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name?” In this case…EVERYTHING.

Rather than accept donations directly from the giant for-profit management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc, Valdes is now having her mailers paid for by a PAC called “Florida Federation for Children”. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because of “American Federation for Children”, the organization started and promoted by none other than Betsy DeVos.

In a Tampa Bay Times article from four years ago, Kathleen McGrory discussed what a massive influence this political action committee was having on local and state elections across Florida. Two years ago, Sue Woltanski of Accountabaloney wrote two pieces about the Florida Federation for Children. One of the most salient quotes in the first of the two articles says the following:

Accountabaloney Quote
This is who is supporting Susan Valdes. Do voters in HD62 want to support this PAC?

And if any voter wants to see how heavily funded this group is by Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children PAC or numerous for-profit charter management companies, all he or she has to do is look at the campaign contribution list. All told, between DeVos, Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, this adds up to over 2.3 MILLION DOLLARS.

That sure does buy a lot of influence, and the last thing any constituent needs is another legislator being led around by special interest lobbyists.

The choice is clear for any voter in House District 62: Mike Alvarez is the candidate voters want to serve the interests of the people of his district, Hillsborough County, and all of Florida. Susan Valdes, on the other hand, wants to help faceless corporate profiteers who are trying to privatize public education to pad their bottom lines with public tax dollars. She is a disgrace to public education advocates locally and across the Sunshine State, and the Tampa Bay Times erred greatly when they endorsed this charlatan (UPDATE! Janet Cruz has rescinded her endorsement of Valdes)

But it’s not too late. If you live in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, vote for Mike Alvarez! And even if you don’t live in the district but know others who do, please share this important and critical information with them, their family members and friends.

P.S. – And if any voter needs one final reason as to why Susan Valdes does NOT deserve his/her vote, never forget Valdes’ “foolishness” when she openly mocked teachers and ESPs who poured their hearts out to the HCPS School Board. If she is so openly hostile to the people who work with our children every day, imagine how dismissive and disrespectful she will be to the constituents of HD62.

Susan Mailer Edited
This is what the flyer should have said if she/it were being HONEST

Ernest Hooper
Ernest Hooper, Columnist and East Hillsborough Bureau Chief, Tampa Bay Times

If you live in the Tampa Bay area–and perhaps anywhere in Florida–the man above needs no introduction. Ernest Hooper has been sharing his thoughts with readers for many years, always concluding with his characteristic “that’s all I’m saying.”

I have had the honor of knowing Ernest for about a year now, and how our relationship started and since blossomed is nothing short of serendipitous. We first met through a chance introduction at a local coffee shop last fall. We shook hands, I told him that I was a fan, and we parted ways. But life seems to find ways for us to keep crossing paths and building on our friendship.

This past March, Ernest was the keynote speaker at an Alliance for Public Schools event showcasing increasing graduation rates in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. He spoke eloquently about how he started as a journalist because one of his teachers encouraged him to join the school newspaper after reading his sports stories. Before he left, I reintroduced myself, complimented him on his speech, and told him a little bit about the Teacher Voice blog and podcast.

After exchanging emails a few times, he asked me to take part in his Sunday Conversation piece, and I eagerly agreed. We met at a local restaurant and, although the actual interview only lasted 30 minutes, we talked for well over two hours about public education, the Florida Legislature, the coming elections, and just about everything in between. I walked away even more impressed with Ernest. Our wide ranging conversation revealed him to be an extraordinarily inquisitive, insightful, intelligent and humble human being.

Serendipity struck again this past Monday when I found Ernest in the same coffee shop. He asked if I had plans for the next day, and when I said I had none he invited me to attend the “2018 Political Hob Nob” hosted by the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce at the Tampa Convention Center. How could I say no?

Before we entered the ballroom, Ernest asked me if I had a notepad. I left everything in my car so he supplied me with the long type that journalists often carry, and he officially “deputized” me as a journalist. Ostensibly, he was there to write an upcoming column about which candidates for the Florida Legislature would take the FEA pledge to fight for raising teacher salaries to the national average by 2023; Ernest had a vested interest in this story, though, because his son Ethan had started his teaching career in Orlando county the day before.

We were men on a mission.

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The one picture I had the presence of mind to take during the event, mainly because I was engaged in the moment, the conversations, and watching Ernest work.

For over two hours, I was Ernest’s wingman as we walked the room, shaking hands, asking questions, and listening to answers. I kept a tab of who would take the pledge and who would not, but I will leave that for Ernest to tell you about when his column is published on Friday, August 24th. Regardless of their political affiliations, most of the candidates wanted to support public education and were very cordial.

Most, but not all.

Easily the most salient interaction I witnessed involved one in which a candidate said more with what was not said. Ernest approached the candidate, asked about the pledge, and the candidate in question did not know what the national average for teacher salaries is (just shy of $60K), what the average salary is for Florida’s teachers (a little under $48K), or that our state ranks 45th in teacher salaries when compared to the U.S. Instead, Ernest was rebuffed twice: the first time over having to pay for the table to be at the event and that the candidate had to talk to people who could offer support via their vote (Ernest and I were the only ones talking to this candidate); the second time, only a moment later, when the candidate’s aide clearly ushered someone over to take our place. We were dismissed with a “call me for an interview.”

As a Social Studies teacher and active citizen, this was the most shameful, disheartening display from a potential public official. Regardless of whether or not Ernest and I (or anyone for that matter) live in this candidate’s district, this person potentially represents Hillsborough County and all of us. To see a fellow citizen turned away with a dismissive “just a journalist” attitude is the wrong tact to take for any candidate or elected official.

We pressed on.

I had to take my leave from Ernest before I really wanted to, but I needed to get home. I thanked him for the opportunity, and kept the radio off on my drive home to reflect on our time together. While meeting the candidates and networking with future legislators was indeed fun, the biggest takeaway from the experience was simply spending more time with Ernest and learning from his gracious nature. He introduced me each time as his friend first, then as a teacher. He encouraged me to give cards away for Teacher Voice. He invited me into the discussion often, allowing me to share my expertise with the candidates, both in terms of my personal experience as a classroom teacher and as informed public education advocate.

If you don’t know Ernest, I hope that you are fortunate enough to one day meet the man behind the column. He’s quick with a smile, has a great laugh, an affable nature, and is genuinely listening to what others have to say. Just walking around the room for those two hours and talking to him in between candidates was about the best way I could have spent my Tuesday afternoon.

And I can’t wait for serendipity to strike again.

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The notepad that Ernest gave me when he “deputized” me as a journalist.

 

 

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Dr. Stacy Hahn, USF Professor, HCPS Board Candidate

The latest episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Dr. Stacy Hahn, one of the School Board candidates for District 2 of Hillsborough County Public Schools. With a 26 year career in public education, first as a special needs classroom teacher, then as a professor at the University of South Florida (Go Bulls!) preparing new educators, Stacy Hahn hopes to bring a career’s worth of education experience and advocacy to the HCPS School Board.

During this episode we discuss her career, the local and national teacher shortage, how to draw people into the profession by restoring its respect through teacher autonomy and leadership, her work at a local community school, and several other issues that have cropped up during her campaign.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Stacy Hahn, please visit her website. You can also Like/Follow her Facebook page to keep up to date with her news and campaign events, or join in the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

Support Public Ed

When the Teacher Voice project began over a year ago, another name under consideration was “Teaching Matters”. It was alluring due to the double meaning, but in the end Teacher Voice won out when asking family and friends for feedback. That said, the original essay I wrote is below, and in an election year it is even more imperative that we work to elect legislators and school board members who will support our students, our profession, and will invite us to be part of the conversation for how to improve public education for all stakeholders involved in the process.

While riding up an escalator up to the next level at a mall nearly 30 years ago, my father turned to me and asked me a question: what do you want to do when you grow up? It took me by surprise when he said these words, and I didn’t have an answer at the ready. So I thought about it for a minute and said, “I think I want to be a teacher.” He frowned a bit and told me that I was too intelligent, would be wasting my time and talent, and concluded with “You should think about going into business.” His response left me more than a little perplexed, especially considering he was married to a teacher himself.

Many years later, I never intended to be a teacher. After finishing my B.A. and while working on my M.A., I was pondering whether to go to law school to earn a J.D. or to continue my graduate studies and earn a Ph.D. and become a university professor. But none of that ever happened because I stepped into a classroom as a substitute teacher and never looked back. It only took me a few weeks before an epiphany struck me in a way that all but solidified my career choice—teaching matters.

Teaching matters is a simple yet profound idea, and one upon which we can all agree despite the current political climate here in Florida and across the U.S. What person would disagree with this notion? Aren’t we all teachers in our own way? We teach our children lessons long before they ever set foot in school, and long after they graduate. We teach them by what we say and, far more critically, by how we act. Surely, then, we can all agree on the importance of teaching.

Teaching is so much more than a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge, though—it’s also about inspiring students to pursue their dreams, encouraging them to give their best effort at all times, providing emotional support when their lives are experiencing turmoil, instilling an insatiable inquisitiveness in their minds to ensure they will be lifelong learners, and caring deeply about each and every single one of them as individual human beings who are worthy of dignity simply for having been born—and none of these things that teachers do can ever be measured by a VAM score.

Teaching matters, ultimately, because we care about our kids, our future.

Teaching as a chosen profession, however, is on the decline, especially here in the Sunshine State. I don’t need to quote recent headlines about the national teacher shortage, or about how our legislators are flummoxed by how to address the challenge, or about how Tallahassee has been squeezing blood from a stone and leaving every school district in the state financially hamstrung due to the insufficient funding for education. And while I could offer numerous potential solutions to our legislators about drawing “the best and the brightest” minds into the profession and keeping them here—such as raising the salaries of teachers from the lowest quintile in the U.S. to at least the national average, which itself already lags behind the average of all college graduate salaries by 20 percent—I’ll offer only two that won’t even cost the legislature any money at all: 1) respect the profession; 2) let us help by sharing our expertise.

Many of our legislators are evidently fond of maligning teachers: we’re lazy, or evil, or whatever other negative, sweeping generalization they’d like to heap upon us on any given day. Would our legislators say such things about our police officers, firefighters, social workers, or other public servants who have dedicated their lives to a career that strives to help individuals and our society as a whole? If our representatives and senators want to solve the riddle, it begins first and foremost by acknowledging the that teaching matters and that the tens of thousands of educators who walk into classrooms are worthy of their respect for all that we do for our kids and our future.

Equally as important, legislators should be tapping into our expertise. Virtually all of them have never been in the classroom, yet they act is if they know what’s best for our students. The general consensus about what constitutes being an expert is having at least 10,000 hours of experience in any given field, which means approximately 11 years of teaching if we were to only count time spent in front of students. If we were to include all of the hours spent outside the classroom that are dedicated to developing lesson plans, grading assignments, maintaining records, attending faculty meetings, engaging in professional development, earning additional certifications and advanced degrees, the number would probably drop to 5 years. Thousands of us undoubtedly fit this criterion, and I’m confident many would be willing to lend a hand to provide insight into the challenges our educational system faces.

I don’t think that our legislators are going to suddenly respect us or ask us for our informed opinion any time soon, however, which is why this open letter serves as a clarion call to every teacher in our state and beyond. We need to do what we do best, which is teach. But not only must we teach our students, we must teach our legislators about the issues we’re all facing. We can do this by sending emails and letters while they are in session and, perhaps more importantly, starting to build relationships with the legislators representing our individual counties by requesting face-to-face meetings to have engaging discussions and exchanging ideas.

We all know that teaching matters. It’s time to work collaboratively to do what’s best for our kids and our future.

 

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Vote for Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein for District 6, Hillsborough County School Board

In the final weeks of July, the Tampa Bay Times released its list of endorsed candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board. While I do concur with the editorial board’s picks for District 1 (Bill Person), District 2 (Stacy Hahn), and District 4 (Melissa Snively) (click the links to learn more about these candidates or donate to their campaigns), I believe the board does not see the intangibles possessed by Scott Hottenstein that make him the best candidate for this role.

Although the Times called Scott Hottenstein a “teacher in the district” and “first time candidate,” that is not how we should view Scott at all. Having interviewed nearly all of the District 6 candidates for the Teacher Voice podcast, what stood out were Scott’s attributes from his previous employer: The United States Navy. We shouldn’t view Scott only as a teacher; instead, we should see him through the lens of a career Navy veteran with half a lifetime of leadership who also happens to have five years of classroom experience.

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“Mr. H” and family during his Navy career

Here’s why anyone who cares about Public Education here in Hillsborough County should vote for Scott Hottenstein:

  1. 24 year career as a Navy Officer, culminating as Lieutenant Commander and second in command of his entire base on Sicily when he retired. Quite simply, the man would not have advanced through the ranks without demonstrating tremendous leadership capacity.
  2. Successfully navigated and excelled in a large bureaucratic organization (U.S. Navy) Being a school board member for the 8th largest district in the United States, then, would be an easy transition in which Scott could use his intelligence and communication skills to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our students.
  3. As second in command of his base, Scott also had experience managing budgets that numbered into the tens of millions, all of which filtered through multiple revenue streams, much like our own school district’s $3 billion behemoth budget that includes local, state, and federal funding. Surely his past skill set in this regard will scale up for his primary job of being a sound fiscal steward of our tax dollars.
  4. Scott is a public servant, plain and simple. After dedicating over half his life to serving his fellow citizens as a United States Naval Officer, Scott willfully chose to become a teacher and continue his public service by educating the next generation. Scott left his post in the Navy with numerous security clearances and easily could have commanded a six figure salary working with a private company that does contractual or consulting work for our nation’s military. Instead, Scott chose to spend his days teaching 7th grade Civics at Barrington Middle School, coaching track, initiating a chess club and a school government chapter, and even manning the school when it became a shelter during Hurricane Irma. Scott is the very living embodiment of servant leadership.

In summation, Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein is an honorable man of integrity who has always sought to give back to his fellow citizens, first in the Navy, now in our schools. He has earned my vote for the above stated reasons as well as running his campaign on small donations, and a grassroots effort powered by student volunteers so they can gain first-hand, real world experience with civic engagement. But I am only one vote, and I would encourage all of residents of Hillsborough to vote for him as well. Scott dedicated the first half of his life to our country, let’s help him dedicate the next phase of his public service to Hillsborough’s students and their future.

If you’d like to hear from Scott Hottenstein himself, here is his interview on the Teacher Voice podcast; we discuss his Navy career, why he became a teacher, and why he wants to run for the Hillsborough County School Board. You can also learn more about his campaign platform and/or make a small donation at his website, Like or Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Please consider voting for Scott Hottenstein and sharing this post with other friends and family who live, work and vote here in Hillsborough County. #VoteVeteran #ElectATeacher

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Scott, his wife Laura, and their two sons, William (left) and Iain (right)

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Nick Guy
Nick Guy, District 1 Candidate for Sarasota School Board, along with Heather, Reese, and Riley.

In Nick’s own words, he’s about principles, not politics.

The former teacher turned IT analyst wants to help his former profession and all students throughout Sarasota county, mainly by fighting back against the march of privatization of public education that has been happening during the last decade. He is in a formidable race against an incumbent who is largely funded by “dark money” pouring in from PACs that have ties to voucher and for-profit charter proponents.

If you’d like to learn more about Nick Guy, you can check out his website, Like or Follow his Facebook page, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Be sure to check out Nick’s cool commercial below, please share the podcast with other Sarasota voters / public education advocates, and have a great weekend, everyone!

Charlie Kennedy
Charlie Kennedy, former high school teacher, District 2 Manatee County Schools Board member

All over the United States this election season, numerous teachers are running for office on the heels of the wave of teacher walkouts that happened in states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. Long before that, however, one of Charlie’s students challenged him to run for his local school board in 2014.

To his surprise, he won.

Charlie first appeared on the Teacher Voice podcast nearly one year ago, which provided listeners with his backstory and his advocacy for public education in Manatee County and beyond. Now Charlie is up for re-election, has an opponent, and we sat down recently to discuss his accomplishments during his first term as well as what he would like to achieve over the next four years.

If you’d like to learn more about Charlie, you can read his blog/website here, Like / Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. And if you are a voter (or know one) who lives in Manatee County, please share the podcast with others.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Mike Alvarez, Democratic Candidate for House District 62, along with his wife Amanda and daughter Abigail

This week’s guest on the podcast is Mike Alvarez, a Democratic candidate for House District 62 here in Hillsborough County. He is a former U.S. Marine who is looking to continue his service to the public by helping his home town of Tampa, directly addressing issues such as public education, mental health, and veterans. Mike learned first hand as a child that public schools are necessary to thrive later on in life, and wants to ensure his own family and all children also have the same opportunity to receive a high-quality free public education.

If you are a voter who lives in HD62 and would like to learn more about Mike, his campaign, or the endorsements he has already received, you can learn more at his website or Facebook page. If you do not live in HD62 but know someone who does, please share this podcast with him or her, especially if they are planning on voting for Susan Valdes.

Thanks again for listening and sharing with others, everyone!

P.S. – Although she is not pictured, Mike and his wife Amanda recently welcomed their newest addition, Madison, to their family. Click the Facebook link above to see pictures and/or Like/Follow his page.

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Waterset, the newest Charter Schools USA located in Apollo Beach, Hillsborough County

Two weeks ago today, on June 28th, I attended my first Charter Schools USA board meeting at Waterset, the newest CSUSA school that was built in the Waterset development on the south side of Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County. Nestled among a sprawling development that includes a clubhouse and homes for the upper-middle class residents of the area, Waterset is a handsome facility with state of the art technology and classrooms that are surely meant to lure in unsuspecting parents who only want the best for their children.

Before getting to the meeting itself, let me unequivocally state that I am not opposed to charter schools or school choice on principle. As an International Baccalaureate teacher at an A rated magnet school here in Hillsborough County, it would be dishonest of me to take a stand against school choice when I work at a choice school. And if the Florida Legislature adequately funded public education here in this state so that all choices could receive equal funding, I would probably have little to rail against.

But this is Florida, after all, and our elected officials clearly have a pet project of underfunding traditional public schools while shoveling money at charters and vouchers. So rail against this inequity I must.

 

When Al Shanker first proposed the idea of charter schools in 1988, they were meant to be a place that allowed teachers to take control and offer innovative approaches to students who struggled with traditional education. He wanted professionals who knew best to be unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape, allowed to propose and administer their own programs, and flourish alongside students who needed their help. It’s a noble idea, yet one that has been co-opted and corrupted by corporate interests.

For those who are unaware of the charter taxpayer scam being perpetuated by several privately held companies—the two largest of which are Academica and Charter Schools USA—the following is a brief primer (although you can listen to this excellent podcast with Pat Hall to gain a deeper understanding):

In 1996, Florida approved charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. By law, these schools are considered non-profit just like their traditional counterparts and are funded with taxpayer dollars. Many of the early charter schools were small operations set up by parents or other community members who wanted to serve niche student populations who struggled in traditional settings, just as Shanker had first proposed (Pepin Academies and F.A.C.E. are good examples of charters that are genuinely non-profit here in HCPS).

Somewhere along the way, however, this model has been perverted due to a loophole in the legislation, which has allowed for-profit charter management companies to create an industry that is bilking Florida taxpayers to the tune of tens (if not hundreds at this point) of millions of dollars per year. In essence, this scam works with three key players: real estate, construction, and the for-profit charter management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc. These companies have numerous subsidiaries that allow them to rig the game at the expense of us all. One LLC will purchase the land for cheap, another LLC will build the school, and, after the for-profit company has installed a technically “non-profit” board, this board effectively turns around and pays the for-profit management company for back office services, “management fees”, and exorbitant rental-lease agreements that are typically astronomical compared to what other buildings in the area receive on a per-square-foot basis. In the end, on average, these companies end up siphoning off nearly HALF of the public dollars meant for students and classrooms.

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Ryan Construction works alongside Red Apple Development, the construction LLC of CSUSA

Worst of all, Tallahassee’s incestuous relationship with these for-profit charter management companies are a direct result of the legislation we have seen in the last two years under House Speaker Corcoran. Manny Diaz, for example, one of the principal architects behind HB7069 that ensured more money was devoted to charters, draws a six figure salary for Doral College, a for-profit institution affiliated with Academica, the largest of these profiteers in the Sunshine State. Hello conflict of interest! Florida ethics laws are clearly a joke to these elected officials.

***Back to the CSUSA Board Meeting***

When I walked into the meeting, I was greeted by Kerianne, a woman who works for CSUSA and travels the state to act as a board liaison on behalf of the company. Although technically a public meeting, it was held in a fairly small room that included a long table with chairs around it and only three empty chairs for onlookers. Clearly these meetings are not well attended, which I am sure they would prefer.

The meeting itself was fairly quick, and the people I met were all quite friendly. I have no doubt that the administrators and parent-facilitators at the table (as well as the teachers and staff who work at these schools) genuinely want the best for the students they serve. Ultimately I believe anyone who works directly with children on a daily basis are simply giving back to the next generation and their local communities. But there were a few highlights that are noteworthy:

  • The CSUSA board liaison, Kerianne, effectively ran the meeting. The board members are simply there to go through the motions and rubber stamp everything.
  • One of the items approved regarding SB7026 was described as “lots of boilerplate insert school here”, which contained information for how CSUSA would handle school safety initiatives. Some districts are allowing them to “piggy back” on their SRO or SSO initiatives, but other counties are resisting and telling the charters to pay for officers themselves (HCPS has told them that they are responsible for the cost). CSUSA plans to use their employees as guardians or contract with private security firms if the need arises.
  • Most notably, the SB7026 legislation also includes provisions for addressing mental health, but if CSUSA doesn’t receive enough funding from the state or districts for school psychologists or social workers, the schools are to kick the problem back to the parents for them to handle privately.
  • Rod Jurado, the board chair, noted that CSUSA has been speaking with Senator Bill Galvano (the Senate President in waiting) about “seeing what we can do to get into Manatee County.”
  • Board members apparently have term limits, yet were given extensions by a vote.
  • Noted that CSUSA will be opening (or recently opened) 9 new schools, serving 8500 students (sidenote: at $7408 per-student this means CSUSA will receive $63 million in new revenue, with approximately $28.3 million being added to their bottom lines—all at taxpayer and traditional public education expense).
  • A mention of growing concern about securing bonds for the new schools being built before the interest rates went up.
  • Review of school grades for the local CSUSA schools under the board’s purview; interestingly enough, they only discussed the three schools that received an A. Waterset barely earned a C with 337 points.

And, perhaps in an unintentionally ironic yet comical statement, Mr. Jurado explicitly made mention that the schools and board are non-profit, carrying on about how he nor any other board member receive a salary or stipend, and that they should all help correct this misconception when speaking to the public. I still wonder if he would have even said it had I not been in the room.

In the end, the board meeting is largely a ruse that is intended to look like an actual board meeting. Not once was there any discussion of any agenda items, and what discussion that did transpire was mostly explanations that were given to the board from the CSUSA liaison, Kerianne. Although other meetings typically revolve around “recruitment and retainment” of students to maximize profit, most of the money talk was confined to securing bonds for their new buildings, which are owned by the companies themselves and not the public that funded them. The entire enterprise is a racket, and all taxpayers in Florida should be aware and demand better from our elected officials. The Florida Legislature should legislatively close the loophole that allows these charlatans to legally steal from public education coffers that are filled with our tax dollars.

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The one page agenda, featuring a picture of a curiously homogeneous classroom

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Debra Bellanti, Democratic Candidate for House District 60, along with her husband, Anthony, and their daughter, Josephine.

As we continue the summer of podcasts, this week’s special guest is Debra Bellanti, the Democratic candidate for House District 60 of the Florida Legislature. While she is running as a Democrat, Debra is building a bipartisan coalition of mothers who are deeply concerned about the level of funding devoted to public education and how it affects our students’ safety. For these efforts and others, she has received numerous endorsements and distinctions.

In addition to discussing education, Debra also shares her views on several other issues that are critical for the entire Hillsborough delegation in general and her South Tampa community in particular. Please listen and share with other voters of House District 60 or concerned public education advocates!

If you’d like to learn more about Debra, you can check out her website here, like or follow her on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Sue Woltanski, Co-Founder of Accountabaloney and Monroe County School Board Member

This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Sue Woltanski, a mother, pediatrician, public education advocate, and now recently elected Monroe County School Board member. We spoke over the phone this past Thursday, one day after the FLDOE released the school grades, which happens to be her area of expertise and what prompted the creation of the Accountabaloney blog. For those of you who are parents and don’t know how school grades are calculated or ever wondered why we have so much testing here in the Sunshine state, this podcast will be particularly insightful.

If you’d like to learn more about Sue and her advocacy efforts, you can also like or follow the Accountabaloney page on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for tuning in, everyone, please listen/share with others, and have a great week!

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Phil Hornback, Democratic Candidate for HD 58

This week’s episode of Teacher Voice podcast features Phil Hornback, a small business owner, former bricklayer, and former public school science teacher. Phil is a hard working guy who wants to bring a common sense approach to Tallahassee by standing for the constituents of the community rather than the special interests who dominate our state’s legislative sessions.

Although our conversation focuses mainly on public education, Phil also discusses his personal history, why he’s running, as well as the other important ideas for his campaign. Please listen and share this episode, especially with those who live in House District 58.

If you’d like to learn more about Phil Hornback and his campaign, check out his website here, you can Like/Follow his Facebook page, or you can also follow him on Twitter.

Thanks for listening and have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

P.S. – This is Phil speaking at the HCPS school board meeting on June 5th about for-profit managed charter schools, a topic that we discuss during the podcast itself.

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Best Twitter Profile Pic Ever

This week’s Teacher Voice guest is well known in public education circles here in Florida, as I’d imagine just about anyone listening to this episode knows Jeff Solochek, education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and creator of the Gradebook blog.

This podcast is a special one year anniversary edition. Teacher Voice officially started on 6/17/17 with this first post, and I always knew I wanted Jeff to be a guest after appearing on the Gradebook podcast when I started the Teacher Voice project. On this episode we discuss how Jeff became a reporter, why he chose education, how his speed reading ability allows him to get through so many articles and write summaries on each, among many other topics. Anyone who knows and/or reads Jeff will really enjoy this episode.

It’s been an amazing first year of the Teacher Voice project. I’ve met so many great people doing the podcast, and all have a vested interest in our students, their education, and their future. Honestly, I still cannot believe the overwhelmingly positive response from others, both locally and across the state, and I look forward to what the next year brings. Thank you so much for listening to the podcasts, reading the blog posts, and sharing them with others.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads out there!

P.S. – If you haven’t heard the latest edition of the Gradebook podcast Jeff references in our chat, you can listen to it here.

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Nearly six months to the day after calling for Susan Valdes’ resignation due to her “foolishness” comment, the District 1 member of the HCPS school board has officially resigned to run for the Florida Legislature in House District 62.

Better late than never.

The following is an open letter to the constituents of House District 62 as well as a political playbook for her primary campaign opponents.

As noted previously in podcasts and other posts, Susan Valdes’ commitment to the Hispanic community specifically (and all minorities generally) is both noteworthy and laudable. No one can deny she has advocated for these students during her time on the board.

But numerous problems remain and all voters should beware her motivations, especially in light of her alleged “three P’s” comment and other troubling revelations from the last two years since she won re-election in 2016.

Three Ps

If I were a campaign manager for Valdes’ opponents, here are several points I would address every time when speaking to the constituents of House District 62 so that every voter knows exactly who Susan Valdes is and what she stands for:

  1. Campaign Contributions from For-Profit Charter Management Companies

Public Education is a tried and true campaign platform for any and all Democrat candidates and, typically, this party is the only one that has cried foul against the taxpayer fraud being committed by these for-profit charter management companies (learn more here). In essence, these companies establish “non-profit” boards to comply with the law, and these boards turn around and hire the company for management, back office services, pay them rental/lease agreements above and beyond market value, etc. Nearly half of the money doesn’t even get to the kids in the classrooms; instead, it goes to pad the profit lines of companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates.

All three of these companies gave handsomely to Susan Valdes during the 2016 election cycle and should call into question her advocacy for public education. While most Democrats are trying to defend it, she is silently cheering on its demise by taking money from privatizing profiteers.

2. Ethics Investigations

It’s no secret that Member Valdes has abused her power while on the school board, which led to the state of Florida opening up separate ethics investigations against her. Her family received free day care even though she was never technically an employee; it would appear she helped her friend and campaign manager get a job in the county for which she had no qualifications; she interfered with the open bidding process during the “cone of silence” to ensure that a local company–whose CEO donated heavily to Valdes’ re-election bid–had a second chance to change their pricing, resulting in a contract that still cost taxpayers $50,000 more than it could have had the district gone with the original bid winner, Arey Jones.

Now that she has resigned, however, those ethics investigations cease. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was enough evidence to merit the investigations by the state in the first place, and any primary opponent would be wise to constantly mention these investigations and not let her off the hook for her past transgressions.

3. Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Valdes’ Excessive Travel

As the linked editorial above notes, this has been a chronic problem since Susan Valdes was elected in 2004. In her first term she spent over $50,000 and, despite her pledge to be more mindful of it in the future, she never quit. She infamously made news again in 2016 when she spent over $14,000 from May of 2015 to May of 2016, which was more than the remaining six board members combined. This also coincided with the first time I spoke at an HCPS school board meeting, mainly because I was so distraught over her reckless use of taxpayer dollars at a time when the district was trying to shore up its reserves by cutting spending.

4. Susan Valdes – Career Politician

For the last fourteen years, Susan Valdes has served as a school board member for Hillsborough County Public Schools. This year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass legislation to enforce term limits on school board members, an effort that ultimately never passed yet was bundled into Amendment 8 by the Constitution Revision Commission (please vote NO on 8!). This amendment, however, also includes a provision that will allow for-profit charters to circumvent local school boards altogether, so despite its attempt to limit school board members to two consecutive terms–something many people across the Sunshine State want–it comes at too steep a cost to public education.

Now she wants to jump ship and try to “serve the people” (i.e. herself and her campaign contributors) of House District 62. The voters of this district should fully repudiate her and end her career in politics now before she wreaks more havoc on Hillsborough County. If you are a resident of District 62, please vote for one of her primary opponents; if you know someone who lives in 62, please share this post / information with that person.

Please vote in this critical midterm primary election.

Just vote for anyone other than Susan Valdes.

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For two decades the Florida Legislature has been squeezing blood from a stone

Three weeks ago the Florida Legislature’s Office of the House Majority put out this video in an effort to combat the bad press it had been getting over the 47 cent increase to the BSA, or Base Student Allocation.

After my own rebuttal to this reprehensible attempt to characterize all education professionals as everyone’s favorite disheveled ingrate, Frank, Politifact Florida weighed in on the matter to state that the House Majority’s video about the #47centmyth (boy, I love it when Corcoran and Co. coin hashtags) is “mostly false.”

So what did the Office of the House Majority do? Did it see the error of its ways and decide to use an archaic method to have the Florida Legislature return for a special session via roll call so that it could properly fund public education?

No, it made another video.

Let me save the reader a valuable 4 minutes and 27 seconds of life and sum it up: according to the Florida Legislature, the only number that matters is FEFP, which stands for Florida Education Finance Program. This is the number that we should all reference when talking about education spending so that we have a single measurement by which we can accurately discuss how much the Sunshine State spends “per-pupil.”

For the upcoming school year of 2018-19 that “per-pupil” number is $7,408.

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Everyone’s favorite lovable ingrate, Frank, is overjoyed with the Florida Legislature’s largesse.

As much as the GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to argue about what constitutes a fact, here are three numbers/facts that make it incredibly tough to argue against:

20 years ago, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil; adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $9,913 in constant dollars to keep up with rising costs.

10 years ago, Florida spent $7,126 per-pupil; again, adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $8,311.

Yet here we are, 20 years later, and we still haven’t increased per-pupil funding by even $1,000 from two decades ago. And all of this transpired under the watchful eye of a GOP-led Florida Legislature and Governor’s mansion that has refused to keep up with rising costs, let alone make a meaningful investment in our children and their future.

Numbers don’t lie, people. Inflation happens. And when the Florida Legislature touts the FEFP per-pupil number as the only one that matters, it opens itself up to even more criticism precisely because costs have risen the last two decades the GOP has been in power, yet the purchasing power of that money has simultaneously declined.

Despite Governor Scott’s, House Speaker Corcoran’s, and Senate President Negron’s claims that this year’s per-pupil spending is “historic”, “unprecedented”, and “record-level”, $7,408 lags the national average by over $4,000 and, as previously demonstrated above, its own inflation-adjusted spending by over $2,500.

Oh, and here’s one more number/fun fact for our GOP legislators: in 1998 Florida was 27th in per-pupil spending, putting our state at roughly the national average back then (27th in the U.S.); now, in 2018, just about every measure shows that we rank in the bottom 10 percent (45th or lower) of the entire United States.

And until we vote these people out, they will continue to squeeze blood from a stone…

P.S. – Is this more “Corcoran fuzzy math”? Not sure where this inflated number comes from, but it shows up briefly on the side of the bus in the new video (almost like a subliminal message) and $7,408 is never mentioned.

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Yipee! Even if this number were correct–it’s not–we’d lag the national average by ONLY $3,000!

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Sarah Fortney, Candidate for Polk County School Board District 3

Sarah Fortney is a science teacher with 33 years of classroom teaching experience, and she wants to bring that experience to the Polk County School Board. Any classroom teacher who listens to this edition of Teacher Voice will be able to relate to many of the struggles she describes. She hopes to change things for the better for every stakeholder in the education process, especially her future constituents in Polk County.

If you’d like to learn more about Sarah Fortney or her campaign, you can visit her site by clicking here. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (click either). And if you like what Sarah has to say, please share with friends and family who live in Polk County.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Lane Weaver, former Hillsborough County Public Schools student and recent Summa Cum Laude graduate from the Florida State University’s College of Education

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast welcomes one of my former students, Lane Weaver, who is about to embark on his new career as a high school Social Studies teacher in Orange county this coming August. He emailed me a few weeks back just to share the exciting news and update me on his life, so I invited him to join me for a conversation about his time as a student in HCPS, at Florida State, and why he decided to become a teacher and make a positive difference in the lives of his future students.

Are you a new or veteran teacher who would like to share your voice on the podcast? Please send an email to 1teachervoice@gmail.com and perhaps we can get together this summer.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday weekend!

April Griffin
April Griffin, Countywide District 6 School Board Member for Hillsborough County

Thank you, Mrs. Griffin.

This genuine expression of gratitude is long overdue, and I hope it sheds light on why I began the Teacher Voice project.

As I told Ernest Hooper a few weeks ago, the first time I ever spoke up about anything affecting our school district was in late February of 2016. I was concerned about the changes being implemented to the new teacher mentor program, a role in which I was then serving. The questions I sent to Marlene Sokol were reprinted verbatim on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, and my phone started blowing up when it was published online.

The following Monday, February 29th, I sat in a room with 24 other new teacher mentors, Mrs. Griffin, and one of the assistant superintendents, Mrs. McManus, both of whom came to hear out our concerns. Many of my peers were deeply bothered by the sudden change to a successful program, and rightly so. For the entire duration of the meeting, I sat mute, listening, taking it all in.

Toward the end of said meeting, Mrs. Griffin said a famous quote I had even used in my original email: in dark times we must speak truth to power.

I couldn’t agree with her more then, and I still believe this is the case now more than ever.

Several months went by before I spoke publicly at my first school board meeting. Emboldened by Mrs. Griffin’s endorsement of my voice, my wife and I addressed the board on November 1st, 2016. I even used the line and publicly thanked Mrs. Griffin that day.

 

 

This was then followed by a 75 minute conversation in January of 2017 with our Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, who encouraged me to use my “voice” by writing op-eds, reaching out to legislators, and other public education advocacy efforts.

I mulled this over for the next several months before finally taking the plunge, and “Teacher Voice” was born on 6/17/17 when I wrote my first post (be sure to come back for a special edition one year anniversary podcast with someone who every public education advocate knows!).

And then today this unfortunate piece appeared in La Gaceta.

To be honest, the publisher, Patrick Manteiga, should be ashamed for multiple reasons, least of which as a “journalist” he should try to steer clear of sensationalism in all of its forms. Although this bit of #FakeNews reads like a gossip column in the National Enquirer or, better yet, World Weekly News, he doesn’t even properly contextualize the comments being made when he decided to include me in this conversation.

And so to set the record straight, let’s recap:

On November 12th, 2017, I sent a joint message to both Melissa Snively and Lynn Gray, two of our other school board members who oversee HCPS. This was two days before the first planned rally of our local union, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, and, for the sake of full disclosure, I had asked them to make a motion to suspend the rules on employee comment so that all teachers and ESPs could be heard at the 11/14/17 school board meeting. This was after I had already written an open letter to the entire school board asking them to do the very same thing, because a few months earlier Susan Valdes had established a similar precedent by allowing a large number of speakers from the Hispanic community to bring their concerns to the board.

Time-Date Stamp

 

I had sent this message to them through this medium for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know if they would see it in time had I sent it via my regular school email; 2) I wanted to suggest that they make the motion and second it because they have often been the two members who publicly and frequently advocate for the employees of HCPS while on the dais.

Today, however, Mr. Manteiga made it sound as if this conversation had taken place on March 10th, which is patently incorrect and demonstrates a lack of fact-checking on the part of not only a “journalist”, but a responsible publisher.

The reason I even mentioned Mrs. Snively being chair and Mrs. Gray being vice chair was because I was asking their permission to make this suggestion in my public comments. Mrs. Snively never even responded to my inquiry–which calls into question the speculative claim that any Sunshine Laws had been violated–and Mrs. Gray only answered me nearly four months after the fact on March 10th of 2018. Therefore, if one were to watch my public comment on 11/14, he or she would see that I do not make said suggestion before that evening’s board reorganization.

Moreover, this was only one month after the very public spat between Members Griffin and Shamburger at a board training concerning communication, and the general public was quickly losing faith in the leadership of our school district.

Griffin quote

Questions remain, however. Did I break protocol by reaching out to Members Snively and Gray via the Facebook Messenger medium this one time? Possibly. But I did out of haste in trying to ascertain their opinion on the matter, as well as deference and respect to their position as elected officials.

Larger questions loom, though. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher who has an entire unit on ethics as an Area of Knowledge, I cannot help but wonder how these pictures of Member Snively’s Facebook account were acquired.

Was her account hacked and the claim that she left it open merely a ruse?

Even if it were left open, does any person, even an elected official, not have some expectation of privacy on a device that may be left logged in? For instance, if I were to leave my laptop open and logged into my Facebook page in a public forum such as a library, does that mean any person in said public forum has the right to walk up to my computer and use it as he or she sees fit?

What right did the person who garnered these pictures have to snoop through her account? It’s not as if all of these messages were displayed simultaneously on one page, so clearly someone had to select several message feeds in order to gain access to these conversations did they not?

As an elected official working to meet the needs of constituents in the 21st century, is it not reasonable to expect that many people reach out to Member Snively via Facebook Messenger to communicate their concerns? If so, is it not possible that the private information and issues of citizens from Hillsborough County have been compromised in what appears to be an unethical (illegal?) search of this device?

Again, what does Patrick Manteiga gain by publishing what amounts to a gossip column on his website or in his paper? Does he have any relationship with other school board members who might seek a political advantage by airing these messages? (I’ll save the reader the time by unequivocally stating that, yes, he does)

There are more questions I could generate, but they will only belabor the point. In closing, I want to again express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. April Griffin for giving me the courage and moral fortitude to speak truth to power. I started the Teacher Voice project to do just that, whether it be our local school board or the Florida Legislature, and I will unapologetically continue to speak up and out about critical issues that affect public education, our students and their future.

Sincerely,

Ryan Haczynski

P.S. – To all of my fellow colleagues who positively and directly affect the lives of the next generation of Floridians and U.S. citizens here in Hillsborough county and across the Sunshine State, may you enjoy a restful and rejuvenating break with your family and friends. Happy Summer!

 

 

The Truth Matters
Why, yes! Yes it does, Florida GOP!

Apparently the Florida GOP is tired of getting beaten up in the media by public education advocates who cried foul after the education budget increased the base student allocation by 47 cents. Pardon the bold, italicized wording at the end of the last sentence, it’s only to ensure that specific wording is employed to clarify any misconceptions. So, to combat this endless churn in the news cycle, the Florida GOP–you know, the ones who are always touting fiscal conservatism while budgets continue to balloon for everything except public education–have decided to waste more taxpayer dollars to produce this video that up to this point has been watched a whopping 472 times.

If you haven’t seen this gem, go ahead and waste five minutes of your life so you can see for yourself just how much the Florida GOP thinks of teachers.

On the heels of National Teacher Appreciation Week, the Florida GOP likens all of us a disheveled lout named Frank. Make no mistake about it, there is no way their opening analogy can be construed any other way. Apparently anyone who has the nerve to call out the Florida Legislature is, according to the GOP, perpetuating a “myth.”

For those who are unaware of the etymological roots of that word, it simply means “story” (and nothing more) in ancient Greek. We all tell stories, and this is the Florida GOP’s attempt to craft a narrative of convenience that clearly demonstrates their disdainful views about teachers, teachers’ unions, and our profession in general.

At the end of the video, when the narrator (myth-maker?) says that “the truth matters”, he talks about facts being stubborn things. So here are a few of which the general public should be aware:

1. 2007-2008 per-pupil spending was $7,126; next year’s will be $7,408. 11 years later, not even $300 higher. Can’t ignore inflation and the declining purchasing power of the almighty dollar…adjusted for inflation we should be at $8,311 just to have kept up.

2. But wait! It gets even better! As this chart indicates, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil in 1998-99, which was 20 years ago for our Florida GOP who struggle with math and logic (trust me, I’m a 99th percentile Best and Brightest teacher!). This was just shy of the national average for per-pupil spending at the time (27th in the U.S.), and we now rank in the bottom 10% of all states in the U.S. (45th). What happened during that 20 year period?

Oh yeah, the Florida GOP took over our state government.

3. Despite all the bombastic claims of “historic”, “unprecedented”, “record-level” public education spending, we lag the national average by roughly $4,000, which is clearly seen in this chart (one can also see we still haven’t even fully recovered from the Great Recession, one of the many reasons we’ve had teacher walkouts/strikes erupting in GOP-led states). Also, as another stubborn/fun fact, if we kept up with inflation from our 1998-99 spending, we would need to spend $9,913.

National Average

The fact of the matter is that the Florida GOP’s little video isn’t fooling anyone, least of all public education advocates. But it’s clearly a message intended to be seen by “working Floridians”, you know, that 45% of Florida’s population that is considered “working poor” and has clearly prospered so much under the Rick Scott administration, especially in rural counties where they have been left even further behind than before he began his tenure.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Florida GOP, but the only ones who are in the myth-making business is your party.

And, no, I’m not a Democrat or whatever else you’d like to call me in case you want to jump straight to ad hominem attacks.

P.S. – This is my favorite scene in the entire video. What the Florida GOP unwittingly included was a meeting of Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, three of the largest for-profit charter management companies who all donate heavily to the Florida GOP to ensure they will continue to siphon off tens of millions of dollars from the kids and classrooms to pad their profit lines. Sorry/not sorry about that stubborn little fact too.

For-Profit Charters
This message sponsored by the Florida GOP and their For-Profit Charter Management Overlords

Joanne McCall
Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall

This week’s guest on the latest Teacher Voice podcast is FEA President Joanne McCall. I reached out to Joanne on Twitter to invite her on the podcast, especially considering so many teachers across Florida have been wondering what our next steps should be in light of the wave of teacher activism that has been sweeping through many other right to work states. Though she did not mention a possible #RallyInTally, she shares some of the other FEA ideas such as the “Me Plus Three” campaign and what other locals can do to increase membership and activism as we move toward this year’s election season.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with other concerned education professionals and public education advocates!

P.S. – I tried my best to eliminate the background noise of the landline I called, but it may still be noticeable at times.

FEA Logo