Category Archives: DCPS Issues

School grades measure nothing. Stop citing them.


Most of us know school grades are bogus, yet we all use them to attack opponents when grades fall. We need to cite actual facts instead.


Corrine Brown and the NAACP are justified to take issue with Vitti’s and the Board’s record. But this quote gave me pause:

President Isaiah Rumlin says the district’s 59 “D” and “F” schools, many with large populations of African-American students, is unacceptable.

There are plenty of reasons to question the effect of DCPS policy on minority populations. School grades are not one of them.

There are two components to School Grades:

1. Components outside administrators’ control. We should not measure administrators on factors outside their control.
2. Components within administrators’ control. Most of these components are poorly conceived, easily manipulated or both.

So, when we use school grades to criticize the Superintendent and School Board, we forfeit credibility, and even cause people to come to the defense of those who deserve criticism.

There are real things DCPS has done that disproportionally hurt minorities, or at-best are only for show:

1. Changing the way DCPS counts dropout percentage then claiming victory when little has truly changed.

2. Redrawing borders and converting “underperforming” schools into magnets. I agree with Mr. Rumlin that both are smokescreens:

(a.) Vitti is currently trying to expand magnets  despite research showing they exacerbate racial segregation.

(b.) The border redraws are likely for political show and school grade manipulation. Because if it’s a matter of pairing the right staff with the right students, DCPS can simply move staff where they are needed without redrawing borders. In fact, shuffling principals around like they’re pieces on a Risk board seems to be Dr. Vitti’s hobby: 65 changes in the past two years.

So when Mr. Rumlin calls the border shuffling “a charade”, I agree. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to accomplish.

3. Vitti closing almost all middle/high school libraries disproportionately hurts poor students without rides to the Public Library (who are disproportionately minorities). It wasn’t too expensive; it just was something DCPS was content to kill.

Again, the NAACP is justified to take issue with Vitti’s and the Board’s record; they simply need to leave school grades out of it.

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Duval County School Board moves to silence teacher blogs


If teachers are lying in their blogs, they can already be sanctioned for libel. This means such rules are not set in place to prevent lies, but to prevent teachers from stating the truth.


It’s become apparent that the School Board is mostly targeting a single teacher with this new “professional standard” forbidding blogs: Chris Guerrieri.

Board Member Scott Shine left this comment on Mr. Guerrieri’s blog post regarding the new policy:

Chris,

Just an fYI on the social media policy, this was proposed as a policy addition from Dr. Vitti and was taken up by your liberal friends on the board in the policy review subcommittee (against my wishes)a month ago. They were unanimous in moving it to next years employee professional standards. So, you only have a few months to add to your resume of false and reckless statements. Sadly, I did not even get a chance to vote on it. So, give your thanks to Hall, Wright and Couch for the “anti-Guerrieri” code of conduct addition next fall. While I am highly disappointed I did not get in on the action, and still want to bring it forward as a policy addition as originally submitted by the superintendent, so it can take affect in before the end of this school year.

An elected School Board official gloated about a personal “victory” over one of his teachers, in the comment section of a blog belonging to that teacher.

He even called it the “anti-Guerrieri” rule; I’m no lawyer, but this strikes me as an extraordinarily foolish statement from a liability standpoint.

Shine seemed to issue a thinly-veiled threat against Chris Guerrieri’s job, telling a school teacher in writing he only has “a few more months to add to your resume.”

No matter how he finished that sentence, the choice of the word “resume” was intentional. Imagine a city councilor or state legislator bullying and threatening the career of a blogger who criticizes the politician’s actions. It’s demeaning to Shine’s elected position.

Shine has made it clear that Duval County, a government entity, is considering taking targeted punitive action against a whistle-blower. And possibly, as a government entity (DCPS is not a private employer), might (or might not, again I’m not a lawyer) be infringing on teachers’ First Amendment rights.

I’d tread very lightly on this topic if I were Shine, Vitti, or the School Board.

Exposing corruption and incompetence in Public Education is in the public interest. Teachers are the often the only people able to do so.

We can’t allow teachers to be silenced on this crucial issue. Thankfully, I’m not convinced the School Board or Vitti have this power.


EDIT: Here are my follow-up questions, as a non-lawyer:

  1. As stated above: I’m no Constitutional scholar, and I may be misinformed, but a government agency threatening the livelihood of an American citizen for criticizing government actions seems like a reasonably straightforward violation of the First Amendment [see new information below], at least to me.
  2. Barring that, I’m not sure an employer can impose such a far-reaching imposition into the after-hours activities of unionized employees without negotiating it with the union.

Again, I’m not a lawyer. These are just thoughts.


EDIT 2: For public employees, the First Amendment Center has produced a document detailing a legal litmus test called the “Pickering Test” (PDF Warning) that “balances the employee’s interest, as a citizen, speaking on matters of public concern with the government’s interest, as an employer, in providing the particular public services efficiently”. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule (little in the realm of Law is), but this quote from a Supreme Court decision stood out to me:

“Vigilance is necessary to ensure that public employers do not use authority over employees to silence discourse . . . simply because superiors disagree with the content of employees’ speech.”  -Justice Thurgood Marshall (in Rankin v. McPherson)

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DCPS must stop nullifying expulsions and alternative school assignments

In the interest of student privacy and avoiding FERPA violations/other retribution against those involved, I don’t feel comfortable sharing any of the multiple stories I’ve confirmed to be true regarding Duval County’s handling of discipline.

What I will say, is that Duval County has nullified expulsions/alternative school assignments, sending multiple dangerous students back to multiple neighborhood schools against the wishes of the schools’ administrations.

The best I can do at the moment is talk about my own experience that I wrote ten years ago regarding a Dean nullifying my own discipline decisions as a first-year teacher.

The parallels are strong, except I had someone to appeal to when the Dean undermined my authority, whereas these principals do not.

As always, I encourage any who doubt this is an issue to do their own research:


Written Mid-Year 2005-06

For a first year teacher like me, student behavior can become an issue at times. We are learning on the job, and learn little by little what works and what does not. I learned some things quickly, and have been able to handle most matters.

But my main problem is not with students.  In my experience, many administrators are more interested in whipping their new teachers into shape than whipping their students into shape.

To illustrate, my only real discipline issue has been with a handful of students in one of my five classes.  Like most of my classes, it’s comprised of students who have not performed well in the past. Some of the students are strong characters, and it takes a lot of creativity to manage them.

Still, I mostly deal with problems myself. I take students aside and talk to them privately.  I assign “problem” students to different seats. I send them for a timeout with another teacher. I call their parents. And, I document my actions.

But now, for the first time in any of my classes, I cut a lesson short because students talked loudly during lecture. I repeatedly told the same students to be quiet, politely but sternly. When that did not work, I finally turned off the overhead and explained, “Half of this class wants to learn; the other half doesn’t (which is accurate – many are in this class for laziness, not lack of ability). Those of you who don’t are interfering with my teaching and their learning. This will not continue.” For the first time that day, the class was silent.

Three of those students were problems from day one, and I had logs to prove it.  They neither feared their parents nor respected my requests. So, I wrote three referrals for 2.01 offenses (“Failure to follow directions regarding order in the classroom”). According to the Student Code of Conduct, a 2.01 is appropriate for students who habitually disrupt class, and mandates a minimum 2-day suspension.  Along with the referrals, I submitted six single-spaced typed pages of corrective-action logs for those three students.

The dean approached me and asked if she could change the names and publish the logs as examples in her doctoral program, because they were “a model” of what teachers are supposed to do. I was glad I had done well, and hoped the suspension would be a wake-up call for those students.

The next week, I received all three referrals – not just the teacher’s copy of the referrals as I had expected, but the entire triplicate – unprocessed.  They said, “Schedule parent conferences.” No punishment. I was slack-jawed. I had talked to their parents in the past, with no results.

After speaking to her privately, she said this was not an “order in the classroom” issue, but rather a “classroom management issue.”

Translation: an administrator looked me, a teacher, in the eye and said, “It is not the students’ fault that they were defiant: their defiance was your fault.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it. She said she would not punish the students for “Failure to follow directions,” because no one was physically threatened.  So in effect, students are free to disrupt class and be defiant to teachers; only when there is a threat of violence will administration be roused. Anything less is dismissed as being the teacher’s fault – a “classroom management issue.”

Yes, I’m a new teacher. In the future, I will learn to deal with difficult and strong-willed kids more smoothly than I do now, and diffuse tougher situations than I can presently.

In the meantime, I’m doing the best I know how. And in the moments I have a little trouble treading water, I expected administrators to throw me a rope instead of pushing me back down.

Administration tends to blame teachers for student behavior.  We should strive for a system where deans fulfill their charter to administer discipline, so teachers can concentrate on our charter to teach curriculum to students. I say this for one important reason:

After I stopped that lesson, I counted seven students who asked me for individual help. They are the victims; I’m not. For their sakes, I need the administrators on my side while I’m trying to figure out the art of teaching a little better. I don’t feel that’s unreasonable.

Teach the kids a little self-control, and give them a swift kick in the pants when they don’t exercise it.  At least that kick is from someone who cares about them and wants them to improve.  To me, that’s better than what the real world will offer them.


In fairness, I need to say how this story ended. On the advice of an experienced teacher, I took the unprocessed referrals and my six pages of documentation to the principal. By the end of the week all three students were suspended.

The principal’s actions sent the correct message to both the students and to me. Class behavior, class performance, and even my relationship with those three students all improved markedly after the suspensions.

The big difference between my situation and today: my discipline decision was nullified by a Dean, so I had someone to appeal to (my principal), and she made it right.

When a discipline decision is nullified by DCPS, there is no one to appeal to.

I’m not convinced DCPS administration have been using this power judiciously.

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My speech to the Duval County School Board

Below is from the April 7, 2015 Duval County School Board meeting:


In 2013-14, the number of high school classes was increased by 14%, without properly funding extra teachers. This led to many elective and core classes having 50-100 students. Teachers were not hired to relieve these huge classes in many cases until over two months were gone into the school year.

In the meantime, secondary principals were given a choice to convert their librarian position to a teaching position. Given the situation above, I believe this was a false choice.

As a result, roughly 70% of existing middle school libraries, and roughly 80% of existing high schools libraries, were closed. Some will tell you they were open, but what they mean, is that the libraries were unlocked.

Twenty-eight librarian positions were eliminated for a cost savings of $1.8 million out of a roughly $1.8 billion dollar budget (1/10 of 1%). Meanwhile, the School Board and Superintendent agreed to save and set aside over 60 million extra dollars in a rainy day fund according to Khris Brooks of the Times-Union. Saving money is wonderful. But not when you are closing libraries and having math classes of nearly 100 students, as reported by First Coast News.

This is not new information. In fact, Joey Frencl, Duval County Teacher of the Year, told you about these library closings nearly two years ago in June 2013. Yet we continue to close down libraries. According to Denise Smith-Amos in the Florida Times-Union front page story last Wednesday, there is only one high school and one middle school left with a librarian. This hurts everyone, but most of all low-income children who have neither Internet access nor a ride to the public library.

Who is making sure books aren’t stolen? Who is doing inventory? Some have suggested volunteers and students could fill the gap. Meanwhile, retired librarians like Susan Santos have stated, “$600 digital projectors, $300 presentation carts, DVDs… cameras are walking out of the library.” I have heard reports from various reliable sources that thousands of books have gone missing from our libraries during this time without librarians.

I encourage those of you who are interested to read further information at miketheteacher.com. Also, please read the Times-Union article on librarians becoming an endangered species, my guest column in the Times-Union, and Superintendent Vitti’s rebuttal to my Times-Union column.

School Board, Superintendent, you have a chance to undo some of the damage. We must hire media specialists, and fund our libraries. Thank you.

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My guest column in the Florida Times-Union

My guest column in the Florida Times-Union regarding Nikolai Vitti’s leadership was published Wednesday. Superintendent Vitti’s rebuttal to my column was published alongside my column.

And for good measure, a letter to the Editor comparing our columns (I believe it’s the fourth letter from the top).

On the same day, Denise Smith-Amos’s story on our school libraries made the front page of the Florida Times-Union.

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It would have taken less than $2 million to save all of Duval County’s libraries

From Khris Brooks, former Times-Union Education reporter, on May 31, 2013:

Because the School Board wanted 7 percent [instead of the required 5 percent] of the budget in the reserve fund, Vitti said he didn’t have enough money for the district itself to completely fund all media specialists’ salary. At the middle and high schools, principals will be given a choice between using district money to pay the salary of a media specialist or a full-time teacher.

It is worth noting that Vitti increased the high school day from 7 periods to 8 (14% increase) without increasing the budget for teachers by 14%. This change mandated high school principals to convert the librarian position to a teaching position in an (often futile) attempt to comply with the class-size amendment.

The Times-Union did some research regarding the school library situation with the results posted on scribd. Vitti was hired during the 2012-13 school year. I have analyzed this document for the 2013-14 school year, Vitti’s first school year in Duval County. Some notes:

  • K-8 schools were considered both elementary and middle schools
  • 6-12 schools and Exceptional Student Centers were considered both middle and high schools (The kids who are able to read at the Exceptional Student Centers deserve access to books as much as anyone else).

If I made any mistakes, feel free to let me know and I’ll correct them. Here are the numbers I found:

  • 74% of existing Duval County Secondary School libraries in 2012-13 (79% of high school libraries, 71% of middle school) were eliminated in 2013-14, Vitti’s first full year as Superintendent.
  • 90% of Duval County high schools (26/29) had no full-time librarian in 2013-14.
  • 86% of Duval County high schools (25/29) and 74% of middle schools had no librarian at all in 2013-14.
  • 58% of Duval County elementary schools did not have a full-time librarian, but all had at least a part-time librarian.
  • In 2013-14, Vitti’s funding decisions eliminated library positions from 28 secondary schools.
  • While 90% of high schools didn’t have a single full-time librarian, Paxon (the college prep school) received funding for two librarians.
  • Vitti cut the equivalent of 27.5 full-time positions at these middle and high schools where librarians were eliminated.
  • Vitti blamed the School Board wanting to save an extra $62 million or so for cutting librarians.
  • Estimated savings from killing our library system? 28 positions @ $65k salary and benefits = $1.8 million (roughly 1/10 of 1% of DCPS’s annual budget).

Why would the School Board demand, or even agree, to save an extra $62 million dollars they don’t need to save, when less than $2 million of that amount would have saved all of our middle and high school libraries?

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When it comes to school libraries, Duval County doesn’t understand the difference between “unlocked” and “open”

School Libraries are being killed off across the U.S., often by quietly defunding librarians, leaving the doors unlocked, and claiming the libraries are open to avoid criticism until it’s too late. This is a disturbing trend that Dr. Vitti seems to have effectively introduced to Jacksonville, FL. I believe it’s clear (see below) that Sandalwood, the largest school in Jacksonville, FL, is one of dozens of schools affected by District policies in this way. Please do not direct your support or opposition on this matter towards the principal or school, but towards the Superintendent (E-Mail | Twitter) and School Board. I’m often sarcastic, but this is 100% sincere: the principal at Sandalwood High School is too competent and cares too much about Sandalwood and its students to have ever wanted to close down Sandalwood’s library.


According to multiple reliable sources, including an e-mail to the Sandalwood faculty, Sandalwood’s library was marked to be dissolved. All books were being given away, the books would “not [be] available after this school year”, “[did] not need to be checked out”, and the remainder would be mothballed in the Bulls Bay warehouse in order to convert the school library into a testing center (the latter part was announced verbally by administration according to multiple independent sources). No matter what smokescreen the District puts up, this is “dissolving a library”:

Sandalwood's faculty was told that books at Sandalwood's library would be completely unavailable next year.

And why not? Sandalwood’s library has been dead in the water without a librarian (“media specialist”) for the past two years. So in a practical sense they might as well clear out the books and use that space for something, since Vitti is determined not to fund it.

But now, after many contacted the school, District and media with concerns, leadership has “backtracked” (the exact word used by multiple sources) and stated we were mistaken; that Sandalwood’s library will not be closed.

In a sense this is true; Sandalwood’s library is already closed, and has been closed for two years, along with the libraries of 31 42 other middle and high schools.

At Sandalwood, I observed the former librarian teaching ESE classes full-time in the library. The doors to the library were unlocked so these students could attend the ESE class, but students were not able to research or check out books at the library.

Yet the District will tell you with a straight face the library isn’t closed; District officials are literally equating “unlocked” with “open”, or in a few cases, equating “open several random hours per week” with “open”. Don’t take my word for it. Visit your neighborhood school and see for yourself. Nearly all high school libraries are in reality, closed. Most middle schools as well [EDIT: Please read update below]. I am unaware of the state of elementary school libraries but I invite feedback from any elementary school employees — I don’t need your name, just your school’s name, and I’ll do the rest.

If a school does not have a budgeted Media Specialist, make no mistake: the library is all but closed to students. And as much as we poke fun at librarians in pop culture, think about the tens of thousands of books and other media that have to be managed, ordered, checked out, the follow-up on missing books to ensure books are returned, etc. When we think like this, we can all agree it’s an honest-to-goodness profession that holds enormous responsibility; it requires a master’s degree for good reason. Yet Vitti thinks we can replace librarians with high school students who don’t yet even have their diploma (no disrespect meant to the students), as has been done at multiple schools (students at these schools, including Englewood High School, say that these libraries are useless and rarely/never have the books students need for their classes):

The plan is for students and volunteers to run libraries next year.

I strongly believe this is a smokescreen from the District (not the school) so the District can continue to claim these dead libraries are “open” when they are useless to students. So forgive me; when some from DCPS claim closing the Sandalwood library was never their intention, I don’t believe them; their actions speak too loudly to believe any words to the contrary. And I don’t think you should either.

For anyone who doesn’t understand why this is an issue: what is a low-income/working class/homebound kid without access to the Public Library, Barnes & Noble or Internet supposed to do on the off-chance they want to read a book? Or do research? This question deeply troubles me. I believe it might be the most important question facing our schools in Duval County.

I believe it’s of primary importance because it is an easily reversible manufactured crisis that Dr. Vitti is completely responsible for creating. At $65,000/year per librarian (this is roughly the figure used by the County for the full cost of a teacher/media specialist), the eliminated school librarian positions would cost roughly 1/10 of 1% of the annual budget. Vitti wasted — literally wasted — close to that on the Iowa Test that the District quietly discarded.

If you have stories about your school, please contact me. I will confirm the library’s closure (or opening) myself. Feel free not to use your real name or DCPS e-mail address when you use the contact form.

I have contacted the Times-Union Education Reporter about this. Please also feel free to contact other media outlets, your School Board member, etc. and let them know politely, but in no uncertain terms, that dissolving school libraries is not an option. Each school needs a fully funded, full-time media specialist so our children have easy, equal access to read books and do research.

UPDATE: I’ve done more research and have some solid numbers on Dr. Vitti’s effect on our school libraries for 2013-14. Additionally, Denise Smith-Amos of the Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville’s newspaper) wrote a front-page article Wednesday, April 1 with even more up-to-date information:

There is exactly one public high school and one public middle school left in the city of Jacksonville with a library that our students can count on.

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