While I highly doubt School Board Member Valdes will take this second call for her resignation seriously due to her megalomania, I hope you will listen to this very brief (4 minute) podcast as to why she needs to be removed from her District 1 seat.
Please share with others and use #TimeToResign
Oh, and if you’re interested in reading through the recall statute yourself, you can find it by clicking this link: Recall Statute
Thanks again for listening, everyone; have an awesome weekend!
If nothing else, I am a persistent person. When I get an idea in my head or set a specific goal, I can become doggedly determined until I accomplish what I set out to do.
On July 10th, about two weeks after I started the Teacher Voice project, I emailed Mike Schmoronoff*, the publisher of the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower Facebook page and asked if he would be willing to do an interview. He politely declined. Multiple times, in fact. But I kept asking every four or five weeks, and he finally relented provided I could preserve anonymity and he could listen to the podcast prior to it being published on Teacher Voice.
We covered a lot of ground in just under seventeen minutes. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders in Hillsborough County and beyond.
Thanks for listening, everyone, and have a wonderful week!
* NB – “Mike Schmoronoff” is a pseudonym used by the WB page, not the person’s actual name. Again, the conditions for me doing the interview called for strict anonymity.
This past week I joined in solidarity with the vast majority of teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools who chose to “work to contract.” For all five days we arrived to work at our appointed time and left when our day was over. Like many–if not most–Americans in the workforce, we left our work in the building and went home to spend time with our family and friends.
It may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in 14 years as a teacher.
Don’t get me wrong, going home each day and being able to spend time with two of my favorite people ever–my wife and my mother, who was in town for Thanksgiving–was incredible. We talked, we laughed, we ate delicious home-cooked meals, we watched shows together and just generally enjoyed each other’s presence and company.
But it was difficult because I hadn’t truly realized how plugged in I am to school virtually all the time. Whether it’s working on school stuff for my IB students, reading and doing research on education issues, advocating for our profession, representing HCTA, lining up podcast guests, communicating with elected officials, or writing posts for Teacher Voice, I clearly sleep, breathe, and eat education.
And I love it.
I also hate it in another sense, though. On the very first day of WTC I came home, put down my bag, said hello to my mother, and then immediately opened my laptop to send an email I thought about on my drive home. These habits have become so ingrained that I didn’t realize I was breaking my attempt to work to contract until my wife asked me what I was doing. I am glad she said something, because it immediately put me in a different frame of mind. I closed the laptop and walked away.
The rest of the week went well and I managed to keep my promise. I worked only the time I was scheduled. I enjoyed spending time with my colleagues before school when we picketed and walked in together every morning. I also had to prioritize my tasks in order to maximize my productivity. This was particularly difficult for me because when my students or coworkers ask me to help them in any endeavor I drop whatever I’m doing to answer the call. And while I still did this, I could see things starting to pile up.
Take the Theory of Knowledge Essay rough drafts I received on Monday. I wanted to try and read them by the end of the week. I should have realized how nearly impossible that goal was, but it motivated me to read and comment on at least a few while I could. But the more immediate tasks always came first. I had to teach. I had to write letters of recommendation that had imminent deadlines. I had to help get a necessary computer program up and running. I had to_____________.
And if you’re a teacher, too, you know that list of “I had to’s” is probably a mile long.
In the end, I feel like I was able to reclaim more of my personal life. I feel a little more rested, a little more balanced. I will probably try to work to contract as much as I can for the rest of my career, to be honest. But I also know there will be times when I have too much work to be done and have to bring it home.
The vast majority of teachers always do.
Because we know what’s at stake is too important: our kids and our future.
Nearly twenty years ago, I became enamored with the academic study of religion. During my first college class on the subject, REL2300: Intro to World Religions, I learned that one of the first true scholars of religion, Huston Smith, was instrumental in exposing Americans to the world’s faith traditions during the 1950s. The son of missionary parents, Smith was raised Methodist but his inquisitive nature led him to become a participant observer in numerous traditions across the decades.
While watching a PBS special that featured Professor Smith being interviewed by Bill Moyers, Huston relayed his experience living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than a month. When he completed his training as a novice monk, his roshi (teacher) told him a proverb that was the distillation of Zen Buddhist philosophy:
These three simple phrases gripped me immediately when I first heard them. So much so that they left an indelible impression on my mind and have become a personal mantra that I repeat to myself every day when I wake up, multiple times throughout the day, and again before I fall asleep. In essence, this Zen saying explains a great deal about who I am as both a person in general and a teacher specifically.
Infinite gratitude to all things past
As a human being, I am grateful for everything that has ever happened to me, good and bad. Every part of my past has culminated in who I have become in this moment. I am so thankful for all who have been instrumental in my life, starting with my parents, my brothers, the rest of my family and friends, and above all, my beautiful best friend and wife.
As a teacher, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have what I believe to be the best job in the world. Each and every day I am humbled by the thought of all of my students, past and present, who have become an integral part of my life. I treat my students as if they were my own kids and want nothing but the very best for each of them. I am also thankful for all of my colleagues. Whether a fellow teacher, administrator, or anyone who works with our students in any capacity, I am grateful that you have had a hand in shaping me into the teacher I am today.
Infinite service to all things present
Being a teacher means living a life of service and often putting others before ourselves. I am firm believer in the idea that the surest path to happiness and life satisfaction is one that is other-centric. While I can go overboard at times to my own detriment, I would guess this is the norm for many who work in the education profession. We all care deeply about our students and their future, which is why we work so assiduously to ensure their success in the present.
Infinite responsibility to all things future
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am such an optimist has everything to do with always keeping one eye on the horizon. Each new day that dawns is a promise renewed, an opportunity for all of us to become the best version of ourselves, especially those of us who work with students on a daily basis and teach them by both example and non-example alike. Ultimately, I feel a tremendous responsibility to all that the future will bring to the next generation of teachers, students, and citizens in Florida.
There is a wonderful synergy among these three phrases and they have fostered a personal change in me that I cannot quite put into words. What I’ve learned in the last twenty years of telling myself these words day in and day out is that they form a virtuous cycle: by being grateful for all things past, we are motivated to be of service to all that is present, and by taking care of the present, we demonstrate our responsibility to the future.
If you’ve read this far, I want to close by sharing one of my favorite short videos on gratitude. The imagery is from time-lapse photographer and videographer Louis Schwartzberg’s TED Talk on beauty, but the narration is by Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from my own religious upbringing and tradition, Catholicism. I hope that it serves as a reminder that we have so much to be grateful for not only on Thanksgiving, but each and every day.
Finally, thank you for supporting the Teacher Voice project. Even if we’ve never met in person, I am inspired, encouraged, and deeply grateful for you reading these posts and listening to the podcasts. I have been overwhelmed by the response Teacher Voice has received in the first five months, and I truly believe it will continue to become a platform for education stakeholders all across the Sunshine State.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends, everyone!
On the heels of another four charter schools being approved this past Tuesday, and as a rebuttal to the trope the school board members constantly offer the public, I recorded this brief rant on the massive proliferation of for-profit charter operators in Hillsborough County Public Schools.
If you are a concerned citizen and taxpayer, please listen and share.
And you know that ribbon-cutting ceremony for SLAM that Susan Valdes attended and then later approved two new SLAM schools? The management company, Academica, and its CEO, each contributed $1,000 to her reelection campaign last year on that May 25th date I mention in the podcast.
Want to know who else is getting paid what by any of these for-profit charter operators? Visit here.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Have an awesome weekend!
P.S. – Pat Hall, if you ever happen to see/listen to this podcast, I’d love to interview you so we can have a more robust conversation about this situation!
In the event I do not receive the full five minutes to address the HCPS school board today, I’ve pasted my comments below.
I learned much as a Religious Studies major at USF, and I want to share an important lesson with all of you. Functionally speaking, all religions share four key attributes: belief in an ultimate power, sacred narratives, rites and rituals, and a community of believers. Today I want to focus on the power of story.
One of my favorite professors, Darrell J. Fasching, passed away suddenly this past spring. He was in relatively good health and it was unexpected. Dr. Fasching was an ethicist, primarily interested how the stories we tell provide us with meaning and shape the contours of our lives. In several of his books he states: “human beings are not only story tellers, we are story dwellers.” Therefore, we don’t simply tell stories, we inhabit them. I’d like everyone to think about the story our school district is telling, the story we’re living out at this moment in time.
If you ask me and many, many others, we currently find ourselves trapped in a distressing chapter, lost in a labyrinth, groping along walls, fumbling through darkness, trying to make our way back toward the light. The journey will not be easy, but I have faith in our ability to find a way forward.
The story that is being told by the district is one of successes: rising graduation rates, fewer failing schools, students earning concordant scores, industry certifications, passing numerous AP and IB exams for college credit. While these are all admirable feats, this story is lost in the clamor of concern over the school board strife and lack of proper financial oversight.
Fundamentally, I think the school board and district administration don’t appreciate or understand human nature. Humans have an evolutionarily predisposition to gravitate toward the negative aspects of life; it has helped our species not only survive—but thrive—over the last two hundred thousand years. Psychological studies have demonstrated that if people have a positive experience, they will tell three people; if those same people have a negative experience, however, they will tell eleven people. Human nature, then, is not on your side. Though you may have a communications team working round the clock to tell the story of the good things that are happening—and there are indeed many—they are being swallowed up by the black hole of negativity hanging over Hillsborough county.
The district administration tells one story, but I can tell you with great certainty that the employees are living in a vastly different narrative. While the district touts itself on Twitter, dismayed employees of all stripes are told that the district will not honor its contracts, will not honor its pay scales, will not honor its word. Thousands of people who work with our students each and every day in the school houses all across this county slog through the days. The morale is the lowest I’ve ever witnessed in my first 14 years of teaching, yet we put on a brave face for our students so as to shield them from the damage the financial cuts have been taking. Employees are constantly demanded to do more while receiving less, whether compensation or respect. And though we suffer the ramifications of your poor planning and choices, we must watch as the bureaucracy balloons, all while being told we have no money.
And if this story weren’t bad enough, there is a far more pernicious plotline developing, one about which most citizens and education stakeholders are completely unaware. Between the lines of our current story there is a subtext that tells a tale of coercion, collusion, and corruption. A narrative that peeks into the darkest corners of the district to witness pay to play politicians ensuring their campaign contributors get their slice of the public pie. For those who are closely following this storyline, they watch aghast as this very school board rubber stamps contracts worth tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions. We wonder where the money has gone when in reality it is being siphoned off right in front of our very eyes, taxpayers being bilked in the names of crony capitalism and corporate welfare. Even today, the vast proliferation of for-profit charter schools continue; some of you undoubtedly attended the ribbon cutting this morning for the newly opened SLAM charter in Citrus Park. And then you came back here to approve two new ones in Riverview. Does the public know that Mrs. Elia did everything in her power to stem the tide against these for-profit charter charlatans? Does the public realize that we were winning litigation that would have closed the doors on these companies forever, only to call off the suit a few years ago because we were “taking the district in a different direction”? Surely those tens of millions of FEFP dollars could have ensured the contractually owed movement on the pay scale or bought a few air conditioners.
But as you know, I am ever the optimistic idealist. I believe we can turn the page on this dark chapter and begin to read the next one, which I trust will be positive. It begins with finding the collective will to make good on the promises you made to the employees. As those who oversee the budget, you should have been planning first and foremost to properly pay those who work with our children day in and day out. And if we have any hope to restore public faith so we can pass a referendum to generate new revenue, this dark chapter must conclude by removing from power those who have abused it, which is why I am asking with all due respect, Mrs. Valdes, for the sake of our citizens, taxpayers, employees, and above all, our students, that you immediately resign from the school board.
I am writing to all of you today with a small request that I feel will go a long way in restoring the community’s faith in your ability to oversee our school district. As anyone would surmise at this point, the growing cloud of consternation and rising chorus of concern about the state of negotiations between employees and top-level district administration will draw an inordinately large crowd to this coming Tuesday’s school board meeting. And rightly so. Many education stakeholders from across the county will be appearing at the lectern before the dais to address all of you, and we all need to have an opportunity to be heard.
It is for this reason that I am encouraging you to take a vote at the very beginning of the meeting to suspend your own rules regarding the time constraints for public and employee comment. It would be both unwelcoming and unwise to not listen to the constituents who have come to speak considering the current climate in our school district. While some of you might balk at such an idea, I hope you take into consideration the following:
1). When I went to speak on behalf of our school district’s needs for additional capital outlay funding in the form of impact fees at the Board of County Commission meetings this summer, both meetings were in the very grip of the Confederate statue controversy. The first time I spoke, there were 47 speakers who were signed up to about that single agenda item, and the BOCC suspended their own rules to allow our citizens to engage in their civic duty by addressing something important to them. Dr. White commended me for my patience because I was only one of three speakers who were there not addressing that issue, which meant I had to go after those speakers (I waited nearly two hours). The second time there were 106 speakers. Luckily, they let me speak first and I did not have to wait.
2). The HCPS School Board has already established this precedent themselves, most recently on February 7th, 2017, when board member Valdes made a motion to suspend the rules that was seconded by board member Griffin; the vote passed unanimously and the citizens who came to address the entire board spoke for over two hours. Moreover, speakers were still given their full time with 5 minutes for anyone addressing two or more agenda items or three minutes otherwise. Therefore, at this Tuesday’s meeting it is incumbent upon you to make a similar motion in the event that there are more people signed up for the standard 45 minute allotment (public comment) or 30 minute allotment (employee comment). Now more than ever, you need to listen.
And speaking of listening, this is my final request: please, on behalf of all Hillsborough county citizens and especially our employees, LISTEN. While a few of you always do genuinely listen to our concerns and address them with us privately or publicly, some of you clearly do not care about what we have to say and are downright inhospitable and rude: you look down or away, rifle through purses, play on smartphones or computers, anything other than engaging in eye contact with the person who is addressing the board. Or when you do look at us, you grimace, sneer, or make other facial expressions that clearly display your disdain, contempt, and utter lack of respect for the voters, taxpayers, and employees of this county. This dismissive attitude must stop so that we can all come together to face our challenges head on with perseverance and positivity.
I sincerely hope you consider this request. It is the right thing to do based on the current situation and climate in our school district. Our entire community is watching. It wants to be heard loud and clear on various issues. Please, let’s work collaboratively to restore its faith in our educational institution.
This week’s edition of Teacher Voice is a special salute to our service men and women who have dedicated their lives in uniform for our country. If you are a veteran and are reading this or listening to the podcast, thank you for your service. I, along with every other American, appreciates what you’ve done for us all.
Scott Hottenstein is a 24 year Navy veteran with 5 years worth of experience in the classroom. He has decided to run for the countywide District 6 seat in next year’s election. Please listen to the podcast to find out why, and share with others who may be interested in his platform.
Be sure to thank a veteran today if you personally know one!
This week’s special guest on the podcast is Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the Executive Director and Chief Negotiator for the Hillsborough Classroom Teacher Association. We had an engaging discussion about the state of affairs for public education in Florida, our current situation regarding bargaining here in HCPS, as well as how parents and the community at large can step up to help advocate for those who serve our students on a daily basis.
As always, please listen and share with other education advocates. And, if you are a teacher or education support personnel, please consider joining HCTA so our collective voice will continue to grow louder and stronger! (click the link above)
Today I had the opportunity to address the entire Hillsborough Legislative Delegation (minus a few members). I am grateful for their patience and attentional stamina considering they sat there for six hours and listened to local elected officials and well over one hundred constituents covering numerous topics. I tried to stick to the big picture concerns about education here in Florida, and my comments to them are below.
Good afternoon, Honorable Legislative Delegates. My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am honored and blessed to serve as a public school teacher. I am the Theory of Knowledge instructor and Extended Essay Coordinator for the IB Programme at Strawberry Crest High School. I also feel privileged to have this opportunity because it is not often I would be able to address all of you at one time. I am a Social Studies teacher who firmly believes in being an exemplar of civic engagement, which is why I took personal time to be here today.
I should preface the rest of my statement by saying I am an independent voter and public education advocate who cares deeply about our children and their future. I believe it is the fundamental right of all students in the Sunshine State to receive a free, high-quality education wherever their parents choose, but I am gravely concerned about the level of funding being dedicated to this endeavor.
Adjusted for inflation, our current funding levels are $1,100 lower than funding a decade ago. Many school districts including our own are struggling to keep pace with rising costs, most especially due to rampant population growth in eastern and southern Hillsborough.
Though it was only meant to be a short-term measure to help us through the Great Recession, we have never moved the millage rate back to 2.0. Now with the mandatory capital outlay sharing provision in HB7069 that deems some of this funding go directly to charter schools, districts throughout the state will now be further financially hamstrung.
I realize that some of you might reject this proposal for partisan reasons alone, but I am a moderate in all things who always seeks compromise and common ground so that all can share in prosperity. I would encourage you to revisit Senator David Simmons’ proposal to lift the millage rate to 1.7, if only to defray the loss of funding earmarked for our charter schools.
As has been noted previously by other elected officials, our state budgets continue to exceed our revenues. We cannot continue to dip into trust funds or other savings just because of the overwhelming anti-tax sentiment that prevails in Tallahassee. Trust me, I am as fiscally conservative and frugal as they come. But I would gladly pay more in property tax or otherwise if it meant we could move Florida education funding to at least the national average, which we currently lag by nearly $4,000 per pupil.
I am a saver and investor. I understand the business world; my father was a business owner and manager, and he lamented my choice to become an educator. But businesses know that by reinvesting a portion of their profits it helps the entire community prosper. By making a badly needed investment in our education system we will attract more people and businesses to Florida, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of economic activity and ensuring a bright future for all of our children.
Thank you for your time, attention, and leadership in the capitol. May you, your family, and all Floridians be well.
Exactly one year ago today, for the first time ever, my wife and I addressed our local school board here in Hillsborough County. We took a stand. We spoke out. We said what we did for many reasons that day, but two were of the utmost importance then and are still relevant today:
1) we wanted to address the protracted negotiations between the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and the district—something that has unfortunately become routine in the last three years—and to ask that the administration return to the bargaining table in good faith;
2) to stand in solidarity with our fellow teachers and educational support personnel who came to speak truth to power.
One year later, we are back in the same position. But this year is different. There is a movement that is gaining traction. Teachers are beginning to rally around one another to discuss their options and strategies for how to handle the challenges facing us all. A rising tide of solidarity is growing and I deeply believe that the ensuing wave of momentum will help us all prevail. Because at the end of the day this is about standing up for our students, our profession, and public education.
Now is not the time for us to be divided. HCTA and HSEF must work toward a common end because we all have a hand in the education process. From the bus drivers who transport our kids, the student nutrition specialists who feed them, the custodians who keep our grounds and buildings clean for all, maintenance men and women who ensure schools function properly, guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers who nurture our children’s well-being, the educational support personnel who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help everyone, the administrators who are providing leadership, all the way to the teachers working in the classrooms to educate them all—we are all in this together. We all have a part to play in helping our kids have a bright future by becoming educated critical thinkers and citizens of good character.
And, parents, you have a hand in this too. You entrust us to be the stewards of your children and their learning. We owe you a debt of gratitude for sending your children to our schools throughout the district each and every day. We realize that you support us, and trust that you will continue to do so as we take a stand for what is right.
If you’re reading this, please consider taking a stand with us on November 14th at the next school board meeting. We have our own power when we stand together.
This episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is an interview with Amanda Page-Zwierko, the executive director of Frameworks of Tampa Bay, an organization focused on bringing SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and life skills to youth throughout the Tampa Bay region and beyond.
Please listen and share with others who are interested in learning more about SEL and how it is helping students here in our own local school districts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Thanks for listening and sharing, everyone. Have a great week!
Today’s Friday Five is a mini-rant about the absurd position proffered by Governor Rick Scott at a teacher round-table recently. In essence, he blamed “the system” on why teacher salaries are so low here in the Sunshine State. This is the same man who cut one billion (yes, with a B) from education his first year in office, only to later tout the record investment in education a few years after when he put it back and essentially brought us to previous levels. Adjusted for inflation, even what we spend now lags the spending from a decade ago.
And after you listen, here’s the article if you want to read it for yourself.
Negotiations between Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association have stalled. Yesterday, as many readers will know, concluded with the district stating that they “could not responsibly give raises to their employees.”
I hope that the district leadership realizes the economic ramifications that will ensue, especially in light of so many employees not receiving the raises that are contractually owed.
It was nearly one year ago that I wrote an open letter to Superintendent Eakins, his Chief of Staff, Alberto Vazquez-Matos, as well as Stephanie Woodford and Mark West. The only other people who saw that letter were Jean Clements and Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, President and Executive Director of HCTA, respectively. I am publishing it today for all to read, mainly because I feel the economic arguments contained within still hold much merit.
Whether it’s the boardroom or classroom, leadership is a constant necessity. Leaders have numerous attributes, many of which are listed in the acrostic above. In addition to those, leaders must listen, be humble and authentic. Great leaders put aside their personal interests in order to benefit the masses. They put the needs of others before their own so that morale remains high and employees can be positive and productive. Above all, leaders must be collaborative and competent in order for the entire organization to succeed.
While this is only a partial definition of leadership, it gives us a good baseline for comparison. Are our elected leaders for the school district living up to these attributes? Have they been consistent exemplars of the servant leadership model that they espouse? The last few weeks of turmoil among the Hillsborough County School Board members have left many public education stakeholders confused and concerned, and many people with whom I have spoken during that time–from high level administrators downtown to my colleagues in the classrooms–have been flummoxed by their behavior.
Approximately three weeks ago, the school board members–with the exception of Lynn Gray–all but abandoned their oath of office: they pledged to defend the Florida Constitution, but without seeking any public input or comment decided they would not join the lawsuit against HB7069, which is unconstitutional on numerous counts. They claim it was the cost, yet that did not stop them from spending far more on the relocation of Human Resources, their individual offices, the Gibson report, et cetera.
Then came the board meeting on October 3rd, during which Susan Valdes uttered one falsehood after another in her ten minute diatribe that revealed she is either completely ignorant or incompetent, stating how she didn’t know if teachers of different ethnic backgrounds are paid the same; continually confused equity with equality; admitted to not knowing how A+ funding was distributed (all of which is public record and one would assume a board member would know after 13 years), and tried to drive the wedge between teachers and support personnel even deeper. This has been ongoing for months, and included other ridiculous comments such as teachers receiving $30,000 raises or not knowing that the FEFP was an average. Why do the other board members not rebuke her for these lies? Certainly they know them for what they are. Letting them pass for fact because it is being stated by a public official is downright shameful.
And then there was the public spat between April Griffin and Tamara Shamburger this week (at a training intended to foster collaboration and respect no less). Great leaders should always be great listeners; they must value the opinions of others, even when they disagree. It is the only way to build trust and move an organization forward. But having a dispute in a public forum that included expletives and resulted in being chided by a board member from Pinellas county who felt ashamed for Superintendent Eakins demonstrated how badly this situation unfolded.
All the while, 26,000 employees shake their heads, hold their collective breath, and wonder what will come next. Please do not embarrass us like this any longer. We are proud to serve over 200,000 children each and every school day. But it’s hard to take pride in where you work when so-called leaders behave like insolent children. We believe you can do better, but if you can’t, then please step aside so that others may provide the good leadership we need. Our children and their future is at stake, both of which are far more important than any given board member’s political career.
“I told my students that if you see something wrong don’t just complain about it, but stand up and do something.” – Charlie Kennedy, on how he went from classroom teacher to school board member based on living up to the advice he routinely gave his students.
This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast is an engaging discussion with Charlie Kennedy, the District 2 representative and current Chair of the Manatee County School Board. During our dialogue we cover various topics affecting education in his county and across the Sunshine State, from an upcoming special election vote to raise the millage rate in Manatee, to the coming consequences and legal battle against HB7069.
Please listen and share with any and all education advocates who may be interested!
Tomorrow will be an important day for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our school board will be holding two independent workshops discussing both the ramifications of HB7069 and whether or not the district will join the growing list of plaintiffs who have banded together in solidarity to tell the Florida Legislature that this law will not be tolerated.
The timing for these deliberations is perfect, mainly because we are only a few days away from October, which coincides with National Bullying Prevention Month. If ever there were a bully to which all public school districts in the state of Florida must stand up, it would be the Republican-led legislature in Tallahassee.
The Legislature, which is almost exclusively controlled by a core group of Republicans, is clearly interested in doing one thing: subverting our Florida Constitution. The legislators who hold our state hostage clearly have no interest in the will of the people, are beholden to moneyed interests that only care about padding profit margins, and will do whatever they can to keep diverting precious resources–in this case, tax dollars–away from traditional public schools to the for-profit charter industry, which in turn is beholden to just about no one.
My recommendation to join the lawsuit has nothing to do with being “anti-charter” as these legislators continue to argue. I’ve stated it before and will say it again: as a teacher, I believe it is a fundamental right for any single child in the U.S. to receive a free, high quality public education. Education is the engine of democracy, because it allows us to have informed opinions and engage in meaningful, respectful debate about how to solve the challenges we all face together.
Instead, my reasoning, which I first outlined in the “Suit Up!” post, has everything to do with my own fiscal and constitutional conservatism, something that our wayward friends in Tallahassee must have forgotten along their journey to the halls of power.
HB7069 clearly violates the Florida Constitution’s intent on having school boards who are freely elected and implement policy for their constituents. In short, the law takes away “local control,” which, typically at least, is a calling card of every conservative.
Directly related to this, the “Schools of Hope” provision for the charters allows state-selected charter operators to circumvent the application process, establish their own school boards, and effectively have NO oversight from local school districts.
The law violates the single-subject provision, in which any given bill submitted to the Legislature should only cover ONE subject; HB7069 by most counts covers 64 (!) various topics.
The law mandates that the local school districts share their capital outlay funding with charter operators in the area whether they demonstrate the need or not. And when it comes to the for-profit charters, this is simply more corporate welfare and crony capitalism.
It dictates how local school districts must spend their federally sourced Title I dollars, which is completely hypocritical on the part our Legislature, a body that continually lambasts Washington D.C. for infringing upon an individual state’s rights, yet is perfectly content to do the very same thing to county level government.
So now it’s our turn. We’ve been silent long enough. And the best way to defeat a bully is by banding together to stand tall and speak out. While the suit may be defeated in the courts or thrown out altogether, it’s critical that we send a unified, bipartisan message that tells the Florida Legislature that we will not tolerate local control being usurped. The Florida Legislature along with our citizens of the past cobbled together our state constitution. Let’s respect that document and ensure equity and justice for all.
At last Tuesday’s local school board meeting here in Hillsborough County, I addressed the board members and district leadership about a different topic but left the meeting feeling remiss for not having discussed the then upcoming bargaining session that happened this past Friday. The last time the two sides met was on July 25th, so it had been eight weeks since the they last discussed monetary matters; I was hopeful that the district would come to the table prepared to make an offer now that the final annual budget had been approved.
That hope was misplaced.
Though this was the first bargaining session I did not attend, apparently it was more of the same: our district coming to the table with the same threadbare excuse of not knowing about the budget and/or their funding. This time apparently the new concern is not knowing the impacts of HB7069 and Hurricane Irma.
Though I am only one person and this is only my personal opinion, I cannot help but strongly believe this was a huge missed opportunity for the district.
Like many school districts all over our state, Hillsborough County handled the challenge of Hurricane Irma with expertise and professionalism. We all pulled together and served over 29,000 of our neighbors who sought shelter from the storm in our schools during that tumultuous time. Our superintendent, Jeff Eakins, received much praise for his leadership and gracious gesture of paying employees a week in advance, and there was a momentary bump in morale among most district employees, especially the 15,000 or so teachers who work for HCPS.
On the heels of this positive press, then, the bargaining team should have been sent into the meeting with a viable offer rather than the same old song and dance we’ve heard the previous four times. While I cannot speak for the bargaining team or the rest of the union, I can’t help but feel that bargaining would have concluded if that they had actually come prepared to concede to the minor points that have already been agreed upon (NBCT bonuses, Renaissance pay, etc) as well as willing to give all teachers their year of earned experience AND pay back all of the missing Performance Pay monies from last year.
I firmly believe this would have been a win-win for the district administration. It would have capitalized upon and further increased the sorely needed morale boost among the employees, and it would have given the district even more positive press. Moreover, employees would have received their raises and retro in a more timely manner, rather than waiting until the very end of the year as we have the past two years.
Instead, we are all left feeling completely dismayed, especially in light of the fact that the district had came in under budget for payroll last year by $40 million, which would have easily covered all of these costs. But now we wait. Again. And all the while our faith continues to wane, our patience grows thin, and the morale boost evaporates.
As one of our local Hillsborough County school board members, April Griffin, recently learned while being a substitute teacher, students desperately want to learn more about how to be an adult and navigate everyday life. As adults, it is our responsibility to share the lessons we’ve learned in our own lives with the next generation. If you enjoy the podcast, please share with others so that they too may gain some insight for themselves or their children.
If you’d like to learn more about Lori, her services at Laurel Wealth Management, or read some of her own blog pieces on financial topics, please CLICK HERE.
Now that the worst of Hurricane Irma is over much of the real work begins. Everywhere we look across Florida, we see people–sometimes even total strangers–helping each other.
Traditional public schools all over the Sunshine State opened up their doors to serve as shelters, welcoming people from nearby neighborhoods or far away. These shelters were staffed by local public school employees and various volunteers, and for once it seemed as if our school districts were getting positive press. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I’ve been more grateful and proud to be a public school teacher.
Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, we housed 29,000 evacuees at 40 shelters staffed by approximately 1,200 employees. And while that was an impressive feat, we also lost Lee Elementary to a fire and those students and staff will be moved to Lockhart Elementary. If you are local and available today, please come down to Lockhart to help from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It’s easy to criticize. We all do it from time to time, mostly because we have an evolutionary predisposition toward the negative. Four of the six primary emotions human beings experience regardless of cultural context are bad ones: anger, fear, sadness, and disgust. Though we can override our negative bent to some extent, we should be thankful for it because it has been responsible for the survival and propagation of our species for hundreds of millennia.
And while I have been a vocal critic of some of our local school district’s past decisions, I try to always be balanced in my views and recognize that Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great deal of good over the years as well. Most recently, our superintendent, Jeff Eakins, made a laudable decision and I am writing this today to share my gratitude.
Thank you, Mr. Eakins.
Like most school districts in the Tampa Bay area, HCPS decided to close down on both Thursday and Friday. While this decision was prompted by the need to prepare many of our schools to be used as shelters for those who are evacuating from the southern parts of the Sunshine State, I think I speak on behalf of all HCPS employees when I say that I deeply appreciate the additional time given to us to make necessary preparations for Hurricane Irma. Most of my neighbors are still continuing to go to work, some of whom even need to work through Saturday, which leaves them little time to get ready for the storm.
Beyond the additional time, however, an even more gracious gesture offered by our district leadership was the decision to pay all employees a week in advance. I’ve only read of one other district that did this (Brevard), and we all owe a debt of gratitude to HCPS for helping us further prepare by providing additional funding families may need to purchase supplies such as groceries and gasoline. This will undoubtedly be especially helpful to those employees who are single parents who want to ensure their children–most of whom are our students–are taken care of both during and after the storm.
But my gratitude is not reserved for Mr. Eakins alone.
I am thankful for the payroll and IT departments who worked tirelessly to see this mission completed in a timely manner. I am grateful for our principals’ administrative assistants who sat at their desks all day on Wednesday to complete the payroll reports. I am also grateful for the administrators and custodial teams all over our county who selflessly spent additional days at work to prepare our schools to serve as shelters for evacuees.
It may take an impending hurricane for us to pull together despite our differences, but it is encouraging to see the way all Floridians are working assiduously to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. We are all one human family after all. Let’s be thankful we have each other to lean on.
This week’s interview features Yvonne Fry, one of two Republican candidates for the special election District 58 House seat to replace the resigning Dan Raulerson. Yvonne has a long history of working to promote education in the Plant City community and beyond. Please listen to the podcast and share with other education stakeholders, especially those who live within District 58.
If you’d like to learn more about Yvonne’s candidacy and platform, please visit her website by clicking HERE.
Thanks for tuning in, everyone, and enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend!
A coworker came up to me today and asked me about this project. The colleague thanked me and said that I had courage for speaking up about issues. I asked the teacher to record a podcast in the coming weeks.
And now I’m asking you. If you listen to this message or even read your words, I need your help. I think the Teacher Voice has a lot of potential. There are 190,000 teachers working in Florida and thousands of others working in education and advocating for our children.
Are you one of those people? Do you want to write or talk about our kids and our future? If so please message the Facebook page, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the contact page here on the website.
Thank you for your interest. Please share with other education stakeholders in Florida so we can build this into a platform I believe it has the potential to become.
I hope to hear from you and look forward to your guest post or forthcoming discussion on a podcast.
This week’s interview is with Billy Townsend, the District 1 Polk County School Board member, who formerly worked as an education reporter and editor at the Lakeland Ledger.
Our conversation covers a lot of ground, and Billy certainly pulls no punches: Tallahassee is the disease; the local school districts suffer its symptoms. Be sure to listen and share with any and all education advocates throughout the Sunshine State.
Thanks for listening, everyone!
P.S. – Though we didn’t have enough time to discuss it in this podcast, Billy and I will be talking about a better, more humane model for education the next time we meet.
Topic: Dear Speaker Corcoran…a rebuttal, a suggestion, an invitation.
Today’s Friday Five is an answer to Speaker Richard Corcoran’s op-ed that he penned this past Tuesday in the Sun-Sentinel (which you can read here). I hope that he–or any other legislator–listens and takes me up on my offer. And if you are a concerned education stakeholder, as always, thanks for listening and please share with others.
Since the summer of 1998 when I first moved to Florida, our state has been possessed by the notion of testing and accountability. Jeb Bush based much of his gubernatorial campaign on the idea that public schools were in need of reform, and that by assigning grades to teachers, schools and districts, they would foster a new era of accountability.
The FCAT came and went, creating much consternation at every level in the K12 sector. Kids were–and still are–stressed out by all the high-stakes testing; teachers felt–and still feel–micromanaged and betrayed by our elected officials who claim to know what’s best for our students, despite the fact that they have had no classroom experience and little to no input from the professionals who serve our children every day.
But here’s the thing: I get it. I get where they’re coming from. I think many teachers do try to understand our legislators’ motives, because we all want what’s best for our kids, and that begins with holding our students to high expectations and measuring them against standards. The Legislature wants the same from us, but it has largely gone about it the wrong way. Testing kids in the way that we do is no good for their academic welfare, let alone their well-being.
If we look at the top two education systems in the world, Finland and South Korea, they both have similar approaches. There is very little–if any–standardized testing. Students are given multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery of their subjects, much of which is evaluated holistically through student portfolios that capture the big picture of the child’s learning. It’s a window into how the student’s mind works, how he or she is learning to think critically about the world and be engaged with it in a meaningful way. Standardized testing, by contrast, essentially tells us whether or not a student is good at taking a test relative to other children taking the same assessment.
The teachers in these systems are also radically different. In those countries, there is significant cultural esteem to being a teacher. They are revered precisely because the future generation and the fate of the entire nation have been placed in their hands to shape for the better. Teachers are also culled from the university’s top graduates, often ranking in the top two percent of their respective graduating classes. These people could be doctors or engineers, but they are handpicked to be teachers. Finally, they are seen as consummate professionals who need no significant oversight from outside forces.
While a valid critique of these systems’ successes may hinge on their cultural homogeneity, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to adopt a similar path here in the Sunshine State or the entire U.S. We need to treat kids like human beings again, not cogs in a machine to churn out test results. Every teacher needs to forge ahead and start building a more humane education system. It begins with us, the professionals in the classroom, and it ends with those who matter most–our kids.
I began my personal mindfulness meditation practice just over 8 years ago. To say that it has changed my life would be a huge understatement. It has made me a far better teacher for many reasons, perhaps too many to enumerate.
The primary one I discuss today, however, is the impact it has on the kids in the classroom. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders.
And if you’re a fellow proponent of these practices, let’s get together to discuss how you implement them in your classroom.
This week’s Teacher Voice podcast is a full-length interview with Josephine Amato, the director of the Safe Bus For Us parent advocacy group. As last week has shown, safe school bus transportation for children living within two miles has become a contentious issue, especially in light of the traffic jams and challenges for local businesses that the additional cars and student walkers on the road have caused.
Please listen and share with others who are concerned.
***Disclaimer*** After we recorded the podcast, Mrs. Amato realized there were two mistakes in statistics she used: 1) a child is struck walking to school every 3 minutes (not seconds); 2) children who are 13 and over (not under).
I love being a teacher. Can’t imagine doing anything else. The kids keep me young and always restlessly trying to be who I am (a nerdy weirdo), constantly learning more so that I can be a good role model for authenticity and lifelong learning.
I think I’ve succeeded in the first half of my career, and today’s Friday Five is just a shout out to all the kids who have walked the path of life with me along the way.
As an extra added bonus, check out the way I started this past summer vacation. My beautiful best friend finally talked me into jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Want to see the video? Click here!
It’s currently 3:42 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake since 1:37, but didn’t get out of bed until an hour later when I realized there was no hope of falling back asleep.
And this happens nearly every single year.
I would guess this is a common phenomenon among most teachers. The closer we get to the first day of school, the more excited we become. Now that I’m at the half way point in my career, “Day One,” which I feel should be capitalized as a proper noun, has taken on mythic status. Just like when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve or when we were about to go on a family vacation, the approach of Day One fills me with joy and enthusiasm.
Day One goes beyond so much more than the first day of school when we get to meet our new students. Day One has become a metaphor for promise and potential. When we look out at those new faces who step over our thresholds and into our classrooms, teachers see young people who are full of that promise and brimming with potential, regardless of the age or grade level of our kids. We know that we have a critical role to play in the shaping of not only these young minds, but the future of our communities locally and our entire society nationally. Whether teaching them the basics such as how to hold a pencil or complex topics like literary analysis, we understand that we are helping them toward some greater good.
Beyond academics, though, there is another type of promise and potential that I love even more as a teacher. Day One represents one of the most important opportunities in life: the chance to cultivate relationships with another human being. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Mathematics all at the high school level, I believe teaching isn’t so much about WHAT we teach than it is about HOW we teach. Are we empathetic? Are we authentic? Are we passionate? Those attributes matter much more than the content itself, because at the end of the day a good deal of what transpires inside the classroom and the school is how we connect with, care for, and respect others.
I’m not a good teacher because I am a super nerd who loves learning for its own sake, I’m a good teacher because I care about the kids and their future.
The truth is that those who are meant for this profession all excel in this regard. The best teachers are those who care the most and realize how much promise and potential Day One brings with it as each new school year begins. And they’re probably all just like me, lying awake in bed at odd hours of the morning, smiling at the ceiling at the thought of what Day One will be like this year.
There’s been a lot of talk concerning equity now that we’re back to school this week, which made me think about how inequitable the funding is here in Florida. Clearly Tallahassee is content to put their thumbs on the scales, so to speak, to ensure that charter schools receive far more funding than their traditional counterparts. Listen to the new Friday five for just a couple examples.
Thanks for listening, everyone, and have an amazing weekend!
P.S. – Always looking for fellow education advocates to talk about the issues on the podcast and/or be a contributor to the blog side…are you interested?
Every year I anticipate the start of school. My favorite part of this job is always the students. I’m anxious to get to know my new students. I’m curious to see which of my previous year’s students I get to teach again, since I teach multiple grades. I can’t wait to connect with the students in their writing and in our class discussions. I look forward to seeing and appreciating all the different personalities and learning styles. I know that by the semester break, I will have bonded with them, raging hormones, idiosyncrasies, and all. (Like most teachers, that connection with students is long-lasting. They are my kids even when they are having their own kids.)
This year, however, I feel my student radar is at an all time high. Last year’s spring semester was difficult for me emotionally. I lost one current student to cancer. I lost two former students to suicide. One of those suicides directly resulted in another former student having a serious breakdown. (She is recovering slowly.)
For years, I have railed against the ridiculous over-testing of our students. I remind them that these tests are “one test on one day of their entire lives”. I have taught them that writing is a form of expression, not testing. That reading should be about discovering, not answering “gotcha” questions. I have tried to bring excitement and relevance back into my classroom. To help them see the value of reading and writing in a world with emojis and text speak.
So, as I anticipate this year’s students, I’m even more compelled to get to know them as people, not just students. To spend time discussing more than answers to textbook questions or current events, but also to discuss the emotions and thinking behind the answers. To help them realize there’s more to education than grades and test scores, no matter what “they” say. To let them know that they are not alone, whatever they may be struggling with. To show them they do have some choice and control, if they are willing to be responsible with it. To help them see their own worth as thinking, feeling people. To focus on being in this all together, not just as teacher and students, but also as human beings.
I know for many of my colleagues, morale is at a very low point. I also know that most of my colleagues will do their best to not let that affect their students. And so I hope that you, my colleagues, join me in this endeavor. However you need to do it, whatever you need to do, please find the energy and emotional intelligence to be human with your students. You never know when one of your kids is going to need it.
Michelle Hamlyn, local public school teacher in Tampa Bay.
Here it is! The first feature length Teacher Voice podcast in which I interview a guest. This first podcast features Jai Yarlagadda, a recent graduate of Hillsborough County Public Schools.
We discuss Jai’s passion and project to help others in our local community here in Tampa Bay. Please listen and share with others who may want to help either by making a donation or volunteering as a financial adviser.
If you’re reading this right now let me start off by thanking you.
I want to thank you because it means you care about kids, their education, and our entire future here in the Sunshine State.
Teacher Voice started about a month ago to encourage others to get involved and advocate for the next generation and all its promise deserves. Whether you are a teacher, parent, administrator, guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, custodian, bus driver, student nutrition specialist, a former public school student, or an elected official at the local or state level–essentially anyone who wants to advocate on behalf of our children, Teacher Voice needs your help. We need to grow this project together, and I would love to hear from any education stakeholders who want to contribute by writing a blog entry or meeting me at a public library (or via phone if you live far away) to record a podcast in which we dive into the issues and have a discussion about how to move education forward in Florida.
But I especially need to hear from teachers…
I genuinely love being a teacher and I know that’s also the case for many, many others. Now more than ever, we need to stand together and add our voices to the conversation. We are the professionals with experience in the classroom, and we have wisdom to share with those who shape our policies and decide the fate of our funding. There are roughly 190,000 K-12 educators in our state, and if we include professors at our colleges and universities it easily eclipses 200,000. Surely we have something to say and make a sizeable contribution to the dialogue that only seems to be happening among legislators.
So how can you help? Though this is just a short list, any of us can do one or more of the following: become highly informed by reading about education issues affecting us all in Florida; develop relationships with your elected officials, both at the local and state levels, and share your ideas with them often; attend local school board meetings to speak or simply oversee the policies being implemented in your district; seek out and discuss the issues with fellow education advocates; be exemplars of humility and life-long learning, something all students should see and emulate on a daily basis; last yet certainly not least, write a 500 word blog post for Teacher Voice or join me for a podcast, even if you just want to brag about your kids and the awesome things they’re doing in your classroom or out in the community.
With the advent of HB7069, education has clearly been at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout Florida. It’s not often that our collective attention is so acutely focused on what’s happening happening to this vital public good, and hopefully this project and many others will help sustain this focus so that we can do what’s best for our kids and our future.
P.S. – As always, please continue to share this website and/or Facebook page with your family and friends. I believe we can accomplish amazing things if we all stand together. And, of course, if you’d like to write or meet up to chat, please email me at email@example.com. Thanks!
A famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He may have a point, because democracy can be messy. But it’s also hopeful in that we are constantly reminded that our government is by the people and for the people, which is precisely where the hope rests. We can always change our institutions for the better when we all believe and work together toward a common end.
Sometimes we get it wrong, though. Sometimes we elect people to represent us and our values, and those elected officials let us down. They may claim to be doing the people’s work, but actions always speak louder than words and reveal the true character of these “leaders.” And when those whom we believed would best represent us continually let us down, we the people have recourse to remove them from public office.
While the process works differently in each state, here in Florida there are specific guidelines listed in statute 100.361. Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, if we were to hypothetically conduct a recall, this is how the process would work:
The elected official must have served at least one quarter of his or her term in office. Therefore, if the office holder were sworn in on 11/22/16, we would have to wait an additional four months from today to begin the proceedings.
In the initial “recall petition,” a 200 word statement listing the reasons why the official should be recalled must be turned in along with 5% of the electorate’s signatures. All paperwork must be received by the Elections Office no later than 30 days from the initial signature date. For example, if signature collection began on Black Friday when thousands of people will be out and about in public, the complete recall petition must be submitted no later than Christmas Eve.
Once the signatures are verified at a cost of 10 cents each, the elected official would have five days to return a defensive statement. After this has been received, the Elections Office prepares rosters called “Recall Petition and Defense” that has room for 30% of the electorate’s signatures, yet only 15% must be collected and verified; the time frame allotted is 60 days.
After the requisite signatures and paperwork have been submitted, the clerk notifies the elected official who can then resign; if no resignation is tendered within 5 days, a judge selects a date that is 30 to 60 days out, and the people vote to remove or keep the office holder in the position.
If the recall is successful / after the election results have been certified, the judge will then establish another date 30 to 60 days from then to hold a special election so that the seat may be filled for the remainder of the term.
As for the removed official? He or she cannot run for public office for the next two years.
It may require many dedicated volunteers to successfully perform a recall, but I believe our democracy works best when others stand together and are willing to find common ground, forge ahead, and overcome adversity.
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Teacher Voice is seeking guests to either write short posts (500 word limit) about current education issues or to discuss them in person for the biweekly podcast. Interested? Fill in the form on the Contact page or email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org