Ramification
One of my favorite polysyllabic words in the English language, “ramification” has such a specific, nuanced meaning: unwelcome and unforeseen consequences stemming from an event or cause.

As any economist will often say, everything has a cost. Even things that appear to be “free” in one sense or another have costs, often ones that we do not think about beforehand.

Just over two decades ago now, under the direction of then-Governor Jeb Bush, Florida legislatively effected the A+ plan, ushering in an age of sham school grades that tell us nothing more than a neighborhood’s relative level of affluence. The ramifications of what has grown to become Florida’s  “test and punish” model of public education are still not widely recognized by elected officials who have fallen prey to a false idol–data.

IMG_3525Data, while useful, has a corrupting influence due to its ability to be manipulated, which is clearly what the Florida Legislature has done to continue the ruse for so long. To outside interests such as businesses and would-be future citizens who only see “data” without the proper context or history, the cherry-picked points pronounced by legislators ignore the bigger picture and at what cost these data were produced.

The cost, unfortunately, has been all too human.

When we reduce human beings to numbers, whether Lawson IDs, VAM scores, pass rate percentages, or any other metric, we marginalize the inherent dignity of that living, breathing, human being.

This is not right and it must stop. But it will take bold action on the part of all leaders throughout the Sunshine State to stand up and push back against such a demoralizing and dehumanizing way to “prepare students for life.”

No one will deny that this is happening all across the state of Florida, but Hillsborough County Public Schools is a perfect case study for what happens when we double-down on terrible ideas that erode the dignity of our students and educators.

Since 2015, HCPS has had a bold strategic plan that included the idea of 90×20, which largely meant raising our then-current high school graduation rates from 76% to 90% by the year 2020, a noble goal to be certain. But a 24% increase in a five year period? Surely it’s not possible, right?

Wrong.

All things are possible when the FLDOE is constantly helping all Florida districts have similar increases because it is in the state’s interest to control the narrative of “success” happening across virtually all 67 districts. Did students suddenly become smarter? Did educators suddenly become much better teachers? Or have unseen state assessment measures such as the FSA merely been rigged to foster this false narrative?

IMG_2957My money is on the smoke and mirrors of this entire sham system and how political panderers in most districts are compelled to go-along-to-get-along by cooking the books, from lower and lower exam grades to so-called “credit recovery” factories, all in the name of helping kids cross that stage and receive a diploma. The result? Entire cohorts of Florida’s “graduates” cannot properly read, write, or do math, as evidenced by the 2017 report from FSU’s Center for Postsecondary Success that clearly demonstrates 70% of students entering 2 year community colleges, as well as 50% of their peers entering 4 year universities, require remediation in reading, writing or math. If that’s the case, then how could they have sufficiently demonstrated these skills well enough to graduate from high school?

Poker chips, large sum concept

But the human costs and other associated ramifications of HCPS’ “All-In” mentality and subsequent doubling down on these spurious data points has only exacerbated many of the persistent problems happening all over Florida. From the worsening teacher shortage to the manufactured demand for charter schools that sends students and parents fleeing their traditional neighborhood school due to the bad behavior and lack of discipline, our school districts have had their hands tied behind their backs by this so-called “accountability” system that has only wrought suffering. All of this is interconnected in myriad ways and has fostered these big-picture problems.

If we take a deeper dive into the HCPS strategic plan, for instance, this single chart of ABCs effectively demonstrates how these inextricably linked causes are directly responsible for much of why our school district–like virtually any other here in Florida–has hundreds of instructional vacancies. Quite simply, no one wants to teach any more because the profession has become an almost untenable career choice for many reasons.

ABCs

Attendance is a critical component of the school grade system, so districts are incentivized to keep students coming to school regardless of how badly they behave or perform academically.

Behavior is directly connected to this because administrators are now reluctant to discipline students for two reasons: 1) enough documented behavior incidences would require students to be suspended, thereby reducing said student’s attendance record and potentially jeopardizing the school grade; 2) the conflict of interest created by area superintendents or district administration, which effectively encourages site based administrators to downplay behavior/discipline issues because keeping the numbers low helps with their own evaluations. The downside to this, however, is that these decisions tacitly tell the students they can act out with impunity and that teachers have no authority or autonomy, thereby perpetuating a cycle of leniency reinforcing bad behavior.

Exam Samples
Small sample of exam scales for core classes

Course Performance? What is a C even worth any more? On the majority of our district semester exams a student needs to answer fewer than half the questions in order to earn a “C”. And while we never are shown the scales to the FSA, I’d imagine much of the same dynamic is at play to further perpetuate this false narrative of Florida’s increased public ed performance.

 

The human costs to these ABC’s are seen in the frustrations of new teachers like Bianca Goolsby who walked away due to the toxicity of her school environment. The costs also affect veteran teachers such as Seth Federman who was bullied by his principal for his “lifestyle” and, like many other teachers and ESPs, struggles with inordinate amounts of stress surrounding the constant testing, push for questionable metrics, worries about VAM, and many other quiet injustices silently suffered by those in the classrooms all across the district and state. And yet still more and more tasks and their associated pressures are heaped upon us while rates of mental health issues such as PTSD continue to climb in the classroom–both for students and teachers–none of which is acknowledged by virtually any of our education leaders.

Ultimately, students and teachers are trapped in a dead-eyed system that continually erodes the creativity of children and autonomy of educators, all while the vast majority of seemingly clueless district leaders across the state smile and applaud the metaphorical burning of Rome that is bent on the destruction of the vestigial remains of humanity found within Florida public education.

We can and must do so much better for those who work with our children every day.

If district administrators and locally elected school board officials don’t start to push back now, to take a stand on behalf our students, teachers, ESPs, and site based school personnel who are living with the ramifications of the A+ plan and/or 90×20, the powers-that-be, especially the Florida Legislature, should expect a whole lot more of this…IMG_3524

P.S. – #WhenWeAreSilentWeAreComplicit

Lessons-Marcus

Originally intended to be comments read to the board, it became clear that they would go beyond the three minute limit. If you prefer to listen, click play; if you prefer to read, see below.

For the better part of 25 years I have spent much of my time reading philosophical and sacred texts from around the globe. If you read the parting letter I gave to my seniors that I sent you last week, you now know how much those twin pursuits have shaped my principles and perspective. I had the good fortune to revisit one of my favorite books this past spring, Marcus AureliusMeditations. Over the course of a month, I met with a small group of interested seniors for us to deliberate that week’s readings; we all grew so much from the dialogue that emerged from his wise words, which is why I hope you consider the ones I share in the following open letter:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

We currently have two major impediments that can no longer be ignored: bad behavior and lack of literacy. We must address these challenges head on, out in the open, and that begins with real leadership.

I spoke about the need to bring other leaders into these important, challenging conversations, starting with the teachers and ESPs who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty for our kids. But we need all leaders who are willing to help in these critical endeavors. Every elected official in Hillsborough, whether municipal, county or state. Every business owner who can help provide goods and services for our most disadvantaged citizens, especially those with children in our schools. Every caring community member who simply wants to volunteer, mentor, or help our students in whatever way he or she can.

But when I say we need leaders, we need real leaders. Real leaders aren’t afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers. Real leaders aren’t scared to admit when they’re wrong. Real leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, often surrounding themselves with counselors who will enhance the former and mitigate the latter. Real leaders listen and respond with, as my good friend Ernest Hooper recently wrote, honesty, transparency, and empathy.

Yet all of this begs the following questions—and I leave them for each of you to reflect upon individually—Am I a real leader? How do I exemplify these attributes? In what ways have I not lived up to these traits and how can I improve upon them?

And though you can continue to reflect upon those, let’s drill down to more specific questions of leadership:

Where was the leadership in addressing the growing chorus of concern about student behavior, much of which had been documented, discussed, yet met with no action?

Where was the honesty in the empty promises made to teachers like Bianca or others who were told it would get better?

Where was the transparency in the way these discipline issues were so often swept under the rug and out of public consciousness, thereby simultaneously hiding and exacerbating the problem in the process?

Oh, you can shut the cameras off to answer that one if you’d like.

Most importantly, where was the empathy when a two time, highly effective teacher who became a team leader at the end of her first year quit out of frustration with a toxic school environment?

Real leaders—the wise ones who seek to serve others through their actions—would have tried to understand her perspective, spend a day with her shadowing the classes, walk her walk, so to speak. Instead, some “so-called” leaders actively called around to every single media outlet on both sides of the bay, trying to spin the bad press into another “disgruntled teacher walks away” story, even going so far as to reveal the fact that she still had not passed her General Knowledge exam. Even saying it aloud now makes me shudder at how reprehensible those unethical actions were, especially in light of what Bianca had been through and how much she impacted her students in those two short years. It is difficult for me to convey how deeply disappointed in our district I was when I learned of these facts.

As my friend Marcus reminds us all, “if it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.”

The simple truth is that there are many, many aspects of HCPS that are good and positive. We have a lot of successes in a lot of different areas, and no one will deny that. We should continue to share and celebrate these stories with everyone. But we also need to share our challenges. They are part of our story as well, and to deny them tells an incomplete tale that unfairly marginalizes the daily, negative experiences of a sizeable portion of our students and employees.

We have to do better for them. We have to do better for us all.

With regard to behavior, what we need is simple. Fidelity to the student discipline plan currently in place on the district’s website. Though Faye Cook has retired, she wants me to remind all of you that student learning conditions are teacher working conditions. By applying the current student discipline plan with fidelity and uniformity across the district, we can take the first meaningful step in the right direction. But that means district admin has to stop telling site based administrators to hide or play down discipline issues.

Yes, we understand the pressure from the state that you clearly won’t take a stand against despite how many times we ask, but a good number of us all suffer for it. So while you’re offering Richard Corcoran and his entourage sycophantic smiles and thunderous applause as he and his fellow charlatans dismantle public education one brick at a time, many human beings at our most challenging schools are living with the ramifications of you going along to get along…you know, trying to cook the books by keeping attendance numbers up by not suspending kids, having exam scores so low kids know they can Christmas tree them and pass, all so that the almighty school grades and the ever-increasing graduation rates continue to climb.

If we have any hope at really addressing the behavior issues, it will mean actively taking a stand against them and having consequences for students. No one is advocating a return to the draconian measures of the past in which disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic students were suspended for minor infractions, but the pendulum has swung so far to the extreme that there has to be a middle ground we can occupy that allows teachers to do their jobs while educating the vast majority of students who are in those same classrooms and genuinely want to learn yet cannot due to constant disruption.

We claim that we are preparing students for life, but does life not have consequences for our choices and actions? It stands to reason that it does, and while people will point to the studies claiming the school-to-prison pipeline is filled with students who were often suspended, I would argue our current implementation of the student code of conduct very well may lead a number of our students to the same end. Once they graduate and have turned 18, do you think the police officer or sheriff’s deputy is going to simply give him or her a verbal warning when the kid makes a major mistake? Nope. That world is very black and white, and what we are instilling in many students is that teachers have no authority at all and that they can treat adults with impunity due to the lack of actual consequence.

And while we’re talking about prisons, I once read that some of the for-profit prison chains—yes, America in its unfettered love of capitalism and desire to turn every facet of our existence into a commodity has for-profit prisons too—use 3rd grade reading rates in their data analysis to decide where to build their future houses of incarceration. So how to do we fix the reading issue? Surely a half million dollar consultant won’t be able to solve this, but our entire community can if we all work collaboratively, starting with something as simple as a reading awareness campaign. Our culture is awash in signals that constantly extol the virtue of screens. Kids need to have adults from every avenue in their lives reading books, newspapers, magazines or any other print media and then have conversations about what they are reading and why.

As teachers we all know that we are role models for lifelong learning. But our kids need to see this reinforced in other ways and by other caring adults. We could get signs up on billboards; local celebrities to read bedtime stories to kids and then post them online; we could have a social media hashtag campaign such as #WhatAreYouReading? as suggested by Marlene Sokol; we could have more high schoolers reading with/to elementary kids like Crest does with its Trendsetters club. Surely these simple suggestions can be the initial steps in building a Hillsborough wide culture that will positively impact all of our students. There are so many ways we can approach this via a grassroots effort by the entire community.

Let’s figure out how we can get these conversations going. Let’s put out a call to action for all the real leaders in our community to help us address these issues. But first it will take admitting we have our own challenges. Just like any family that has disagreements from time to time, we all need to recognize that we’re in this together and have to do what’s best for the entire group—especially the children.

In closing, I would like share some final words from my good friend Marcus. I carry a token in my pocket as a reminder of these words, and I reflect on them frequently. The obverse of the coin is a depiction of Arete, the goddess of virtue with a phrase from Cicero that reads Summum Bonum, symbolically representing the Stoic ideal of living a virtuous life as the “highest good”; on the reverse, however, is another quote from Aurelius’ Meditations: “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored. Dying or busy.” Let us all keep these words close to our hearts and minds as we move forward in unity to solve these twin challenges so we can provide the very best education for our students and their future.

Thank you.

Marcus Coin

CTC

This guest post was written by Nathaniel Sweet, a University of South Florida student majoring in Political Science with a minor in Education. He spent this spring semester working as a legislative intern for the Hillsborough County School Board, and he sent this to me via email. It has been published with his permission, and I hope that you read and share his perspective with others. We will need many, varied voices sharing possible solutions once the difficult discussions about what needs to be addressed in HCPS begin.

I wanted to offer some items for consideration in terms of the discipline problems that the Hillsborough school district has been facing. Obviously, I’m not a classroom teacher, and it’s certainly not my place to judge what teachers decide are the working conditions they need, especially if they work in a Title I school. They’re the professionals, so I’d trust their judgement more than anybody, especially when it comes to day-to-day issues of classroom management.

But I wanted to try to shift the conversation around these issues, because I think the district’s discipline problems go deeper than their handling of referrals. I personally believe that initiatives like SEL, PBIS, and restorative justice are absolutely important reforms, but that the district’s implementation of these programs has been ham-handed and insufficient. Time and time again, it seems like teachers are required to incorporate new and contradictory requirements into the classroom, without a reduction in other obligations and without the necessary groundwork on the district’s part.

A truly effective restorative justice program requires more than a few units of PD and a hard requirement to reduce referrals. It takes an institutional lift, and a comprehensive roll-out across multiple cohorts of students. By the time a student with discipline problems reaches the secondary level, those habits are set pretty firmly. It’d take a lot of time, resources, and focus to get one of them brought into a restorative justice framework, resources that our schools just don’t have. To me, it seems like the most viable way get it right is to work comprehensively and start early. Instead, the district moved under outside pressure to pass the buck onto teachers and principals.

Make no mistake, I think that disproportionate discipline, particularly against low-income students of color, is a nationwide problem and a serious driver of the school-to-prison pipeline. Implicit biases among teachers and administrators likely plays some role. After all, we live in a country where racism and classism are our cultural base temperature–an inescapable artifact of our history. But focusing exclusively on implicit bias shifts the burden onto individual educators, when the biggest factors driving these outcomes are systemic. It’s a direct consequence of bad policy.

Take, for instance, the role of high-stakes testing. It’s obviously in the interest of teachers and students that kids are well-behaved in the classroom. But the pressures of high-stakes tests amp this up to eleven. Suddenly, the teacher’s livelihood (and the school’s very existence) is on the line, and that means maximizing the amount of time devoted to the standards. Whereas additional time could previously be used toward something like SEL, now there’s a very strong incentive to push disruptive students out of class.

This same high-stakes testing culture, alongside defunding at the state level, forces districts into a defensive crouch. Long-term questions fall to the wayside and systemic changes become impossible, because the most important questions become the current year’s test scores and the next year’s budget. Any additional policy changes will be highly reactive instead of proactive, and will likely be under-resourced.

It took civil rights complaints to institute PBIS, and now that the district has made facial changes to keep critics satisfied, they have a strong incentive to wait until the next crisis to do anything different. It would be easy to blame district leaders for this holding pattern, but the truth is that this is the incentive structure our state and federal government have created: anything other than money and testing is a secondary question.

Meanwhile, at the classroom level, it’s apparent that teachers are expected to fulfill completely contradictory goals. We make it difficult to suspend disruptive students, yet we leave in place the incentives to push them out. We add additional requirements for things like SEL, yet we still expect teachers to devote full time to the standards. We want students to be well-behaved and interested in course content, yet we make curricula extremely regimented and boring. We set up an already pointless game of standardized tests, impose requirements that make it harder for public schools to compete, and then punish public schools for the ensuing results.

At the end of this pipeline is an underclass of burnt-out teachers and disenfranchised students. In the presence of high-stakes tests and in the absence of proper funding, at-risk students have nobody to give them the time of day, even as overworked teachers and counselors try their best. From an early age they’ll stare down the barrel of a life marked by poverty and prison, calling into question the value of school altogether. The testing culture and zero-tolerance will condition them from elementary school to view learning as irrelevant and school authorities as hostile.

And yet, because the policies are set, the budgets are thin, and the test scores are essential, the only reform that districts can muster is forcing those kids to sit in a class they don’t want to attend, while making it impossible for the teacher to engage them. We’ve allowed the “education reform” movement to turn students and teachers against each other, when true learning requires them to work together.

The solution is not to go back to pushing kids away. It’s to move forward in bringing kids in. To that point, restorative justice and high-stakes tests simply cannot coexist, period. Restorative justice is about empathy, cooperation, and shared responsibility. High-stakes “accountability” is about exclusion, competition, and blame.

Again, this is just the perspective I’ve developed from my own learning and experience, but I think it offers a pretty comprehensive view of the problem. Certainly teachers, principals, and district leaders have some level of responsibility in these issues, but time and time again their hands are tied by systemic problems, most of which come down from Washington and Tallahassee.

If you enjoyed these insights from Nathaniel Sweet, you can find him often posting in the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook forum on Facebook. As always, if you are interested in writing a guest post for the blog, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com. Thanks!

 

Bianca
Bianca Goolsby, MBA, Brand Strategist and now former HCPS Jennings Middle School teacher

As of today, Bianca Goolsby no longer works for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Approximately two weeks ago her blog post was published as a guest column in the weekend edition of the Tampa Bay Times. The piece generated a lot of discussion on social media with many, many teachers from schools all across the district and state lamenting the lack of discipline in Florida’s schools. As noted in my own blog post, although suspensions are clearly on the decline, students and teachers alike are suffering the ramifications that include a self-perpetuating cycle of emboldened misbehavior met with leniency.

I will warn listeners of this episode that what you hear may disturb you. Bianca clearly pulls no punches about what is wrong with her school and how she tried to generate a conversation for how these issues could be met head on in a proactive manner, only to receive lip service with no follow up–if she even got an answer at all. I spent much of the conversation listening as she poured her heart out, occasionally speaking with tears in her eyes while conveying the concern and love she has for her students.

Please listen and share this important conversation with others. Bianca’s words are a powerful testament to the challenges numerous teachers face on a daily basis, and underscore the need for a long overdue conversation for how we can address these challenges head on. And, if you can make it, please join Bianca, myself, and others at the next HCPS School Board meeting at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, June 11th at the Temple Terrace Town Hall.

If you’d like to read some of Bianca’s former students’ stories she talks about during the podcast, you can click the “Student” links below:

Student A   Student B   Student C   Student D   Student E

Goolsby-Alege Email
The email sent to Yinka Alege that Bianca reads during the podcast.

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

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

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

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

IMG_3299
Under the Friday Night Lights: Cheri Sleeper (left) looks on with her then first year mentee, Dre Graham (right); this is the image Dre discusses during the podcast.

IMG_2263
Bill Person, HCPS School Board Candidate, District 1

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

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

Cona Logo
And yet the campaign logo looks so wholesome…

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

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

Cona Statement

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

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

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

Questions immediately come to mind:

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

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

Something about this doesn’t add up at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BP Flyer

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

 

IMG_2255
In the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

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

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

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

Valdes lied.

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

Back to who paid for these mailers…

IMG_2254
Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name?” In this case…EVERYTHING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Mr. H” and family during his Navy career

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better late than never.

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

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

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

Three Ps

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

  1. Campaign Contributions from For-Profit Charter Management Companies

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

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

2. Ethics Investigations

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

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

3. Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Valdes’ Excessive Travel

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

4. Susan Valdes – Career Politician

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

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

Please vote in this critical midterm primary election.

Just vote for anyone other than Susan Valdes.

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

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

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

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