story
The story we share matters. What story is HCPS telling?

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.

Let’s turn the page.

Thank you.

Listen

Dear HCPS School Board Members:

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.

Time to listen.

See you Tuesday,

Ryan Haczynski

123_1
Scott Hottenstein delivers his retirement address after 24 years of service in the U.S. Navy

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!

Enjoy the weekend and have a great upcoming week.

SBJ
Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins

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)

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Solidarity
This is what solidarity looks like.

Today is our anniversary.

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.

It’s an age old adage that there is strength in numbers, and today I am writing to you with a request: if you are an employee working for Hillsborough County Public Schools, please consider joining your respective union, whether the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association or Hillsborough School Employees Federation. In the words at the bottom of the HSEF logo, it states “we’re stronger together.”

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.

Who’s with us?

Frameworks Logo

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.

Amanda Page-Zwierko
Amanda Page-Zwierko

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!

Bargaining
Bargaining between HCPS and HCTA has not gone well…

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.

Eakins et al Open Letter (click the link to open)

Yet even worse than the economic ramifications will be the decimation of morale among employees. We signed these contracts in good faith. Why are they not being honored?

Leave your thoughts below or on the Facebook page, and please share the post and/or letter with others if you agree.

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.

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!