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.

Dear Speaker Corcoran
C’mon, Speaker Corcoran, let’s talk.

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.

Tanner Banner

This week’s podcast is a conversation with Kelso Tanner, one of several candidates running for the district 6 countywide seat for the Hillsborough County School Board.

Kelso cares about three things: 1) Children. 2) Parents. 3) Teachers.

Listen to the podcast to hear about the rest of his platform, and be sure to share with other interested education stakeholders and voters!

A Better Way
The test driven accountability movement has failed. There is a better way…

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.