I am a public school teacher in Tampa, FL who has lived in Florida since 1998 and have been teaching since 2003.

Leadership
Leadership: something that the School Board of Hillsborough County has been lacking lately.

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.

CK-Gravitas
Charlie Kennedy, Chair of Manatee County School Board

“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!

PC2
Not time to be politically correct…time to be POLITICALLY COURAGEOUS!

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.

To be unequivocally clear, the School Board of Hillsborough County Public Schools should vote to join the suit. Anything less would be an act of political cowardice. While I am often the first person to advocate finding a middle ground and building consensus–as Board Members Snively and Valdes, as well as Chief Business Officer Gretchen Saunders, recently suggested yesterday–I cannot in good conscience concur. I respect their opinions and understand their shared perspective, but I believe it largely ignores our current reality.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Numerous people from both sides of the aisle have endorsed districts joining this lawsuit. Our own U.S. Congresswoman, Kathy Castor, wrote a letter to HCPS lobbying our district to join; Senator David Simmons, the moderate Republican and lawyer from Altamonte Springs, recently stated that “there is a very credible argument that HB7069 is unconstitutional”; and other locally elected officials across the political spectrum have displayed their political courage by speaking out against this monstrosity.

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.

Opportunity Missed and Taken Green Road Sign and Clouds

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.

FORMAL Lori Pic Web
Lori Nadglowski, CFP, MBA, Founder of Laurel Wealth Management

This week’s podcast is a discussion about financial literacy with Lori Nadglowski. After reading about Lori’s seminar for students that she offered locally, I knew that this would be a worthwhile conversation to record for students, parents, or teachers who are interested in helping kids prepare for life beyond high school graduation.

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.

Have a great week, everyone!

Post Irma
People helping one another after Hurricane Irma

Today’s Friday Five topic: Lending a Helping Hand

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.

HCPS LOGO CMYK NEW with tag

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.

May you and yours stay safe during the storm.

YvonneFry
Yvonne Fry (R) – Candidate for House of Representatives, District 58

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!

help-wanted

Today’s Friday Five topic: Help Wanted

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 1teachervoice@gmail.com, 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.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Billy Townsend
Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member, District 1

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.