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The talk on the state of Citrus schools

Happy Thursday. You might think this is the second to last day of the week, a little Friday Jr, but it’s just the beginning for some. That’s right, our students are back in school starting today. I hope you wish them all the best and pray for your teachers, administrators and support staff as well.

There is plenty more to talk about as we could continue to approach the controversy surrounding the contract extension with Right Rudder discussed yesterday, the commission’s decision on not making a decision with splitting a commercial parcel, or any the current changeover in county senior staff but I want to put all of that on hold and focus on our schools in celebration of today.

As someone who works in education myself, I did take first day of school pictures for a while although I think once I got to the 21st grade three years into my Ph.D., what I thought had been funny just sort of became sad. I’d be well over 25 years pushing 30 now though at the front of the classroom instead of in the chairs. I do go back to teaching two weeks from today as the semester kicks off at the University of Florida, I am so happy to be back teaching there for the first time since 2017, and a few days after that at my beloved University of Tampa. That’s right. I’m splitting time between the two.

But I will still have time for you. Because these have been fun and even though the posts themselves don’t get much Facebook love, I do have several people reaching out daily and see the numbers of the hundreds more who are listening and I just have to thank you all for that.

Let’s do a quick round up of what was out there this morning. Just Wright Citrus published a piece on schools and I’m going to take a different perspective on that for our main topic. The county is going to audit the visitor and convention bureau in the wake of firing its director for financial impropriety in approving an expenditure that the commission did not authorize. While I would hope this is the only thing they’ll find, there were the makings of a pattern before this with some personal expenses that were charged to the county then paid back later so it’s a story worth keeping an eye on.

The Chronicle editorial was a congratulations to Gerry Mulligan that again I think is well deserved despite disagreeing with his philosophical approach to reporting the news. In my life, there are plenty of zero sum situations. Political campaigns are a zero sum scenario. I’m a competitive rower so races are a zero sum outcome. There are winners and losers and that’s just the nature of the beast. And this can be a very good thing. It can inspire hard work, innovation, and pushing limits of what people can do. But I don’t think we should apply zero sum rules to all aspects of life.

Some loyal Chronicle readers might have finished today’s editorial and thought, yeah, that’s my guy. Take that, the Concurrent, and look at how accomplished Gerry is. Some people in my position might have read the editorial and thought oh geez, what a waste of ink on bravado and hyperbole. I don’t think either of those mindsets are healthy. Because someone grows taller doesn’t mean you get smaller. You don’t have to belittle others to build yourself or protect your principle. The honor was absolutely well deserved and I’m incredibly happy for our publisher emeritus even though I disagree with probably 95% of everything we would ever debate and I’m pleased that the Chronicle editorial board put out this piece today.

I talk a lot about cognitive distortions without ever getting into much academic detail. Essentially, cognitive distortions are errors in emotional interpretation, a highly underrated aspect of critical thinking, and one cognitive distortion is to discount the positive. I see it in academia all the time, especially since I teach seniors in Tampa. Many see graduation as a formality before getting on into the real world rather than taking the time to celebrate what an accomplishment it truly is, as is making the hall of fame in your industry, so well done all around not brushing over this and discounting the positive both for Gerry and for Citrus as a whole. Okay, let’s talk education.

Just like you don’t need to make everything a zero-sum game in life, you also don’t need to politicize everything. The Just Wright Citrus piece today instantly politicized back to school. Mike wrote and I’m quoting, “some thoughts for day 1 of 180: the thing about writing about politics is to see how easily exactly people are fooled by click politicians.” And then went on to say some stuff that will play incredibly well with his base audience and not be helpful at all to the conversation surrounding education.

The truth is though, I’m not surprised. We as a community don’t know how to talk about our schools – we really don’t – and Mike has been one of the best examples of this dating back to his time with the Chronicle. The 2020 district 2 school board debate hosted by the Chronicle was almost a mockery of the political vetting process and Mike was at the heart of it. This is the summer of 2020, meaning the school district is about to head into its first full academic year with covid, Florida schools are still dealing with security issues in the wake of the Parkland shooting, and this is the first question asked, this clip is about 40 seconds long but it’s worth every one of them. *

God Bless Danielle Damato Doty. That’s an interesting question is literally the most polite response anyone could ever give to a question about paddling when so much was at stake for our schools. I was working for Mark Garlock in that election and I would have been fine if we called it off and just awarded it to Danielle at that point for her zen like composure in the face of pure absurdity.

But to be honest, the concerns surrounding covid regulations at the time or even school safety would not have topped my list of things to ask candidates about. Stay with me here for a second. I’m about to make an objective claim. Then I will support it with evidence. Then I will give the evidence context that will ease the pain that the claim might initially cause. It’s going to elicit an intuitive reaction, best summed up as a gut punch, and you may want to turn this off or refute it immediately, or call me an idiot, but remember, I’m going to ease the pain and this needs to be said because too few people are saying it and it's hurting the conversation.

The current state of our Citrus County public schools is not good. But, but! Hold on. Let me get there. Here’s my data to support this assertion. In the six years from 2010-2015, Citrus schools received 69 A ratings and 5 C ratings from the state. 69 A, 5 C. In the four years to close the decade, Citrus had just 9 A ratings and 24 C ratings. So we lost 60 A ratings and increased 19 C ratings leading up to covid.

In the decade from 2006-2015, the school system as a whole was ranked by the state an A every year but one in which it received a B. It received 4 straight B ratings from 2016-2019. But, but. But Bobby! Those ratings are flawed! Everyone knows that!! Yes. And, as you can tell, both downturns take place after 2015 pointing to a singular instance we’ll get to in a second. But to simply ignore this data is to do our students a disservice.

Let’s ease this pain. What happened in 2015? Our administration and school board didn’t suddenly shift directions, our teachers didn’t wake up one day terrible at their jobs, and our students didn’t collectively get dumber. This isn’t a show about casting blame on anyone but those who are unwilling to have these uncomfortable conversations.

For starters, in the 2014-2015 academic year there was a change from FCAT to FSA testing and anytime the goal posts move then it’s going to take a while to adjust. I also think there’s some correlation to the use of personal technology on school campuses. I am all for education tech, I’m not a luddite, but this precipitous drop tracks with the pervasion of smart phones and the subsequent apps like Instagram, snapchat, and eventually tik tok that would distract kids on their personal devices.

Okay, I’ve presented a problem. What’s the solution? That’s two-fold. The first is that we need to start having these conversations, and the good news is, they should be handled delicately. Dale Marie Merrill, a candidate for school board I support, always says there are grown up problems that should be discussed among the adults and they have a responsibility to not bring that into the classrooms and I love that. She’s absolutely right. Luckily I know students don’t listen to this show or they would be as bored as my college kids are so I can have these frank discussions here.

But this also means I don’t mind when people talk positively about our schools publicly when it could reach students such as on social media. That’s reputation management. That’s PR. I can respect that. My fear is that there aren’t enough of these conversations going on at the district level. I think somewhere in between the school board and the school level administration, there is a bureaucracy that I hope is recognizing that reputation only gets you so far before results are necessary. My fear is that a spiral of silence to protect the CCSD family is more important than the ability to welcome outside opinion or information to make a much needed change. And I’m not even talking about a personnel change. If the election for super intendent were held today and Sam Himmel doesn’t run, I would likely support Chief Academic Officer Dr. Scott Hebert as her handpicked successor. But a culture change is definitely needed before this gets any worse.

Here's the second part of the two-fold problem solving approach, and I’ll make this brief. We do need to address the parents role in their kids education but not in the extraordinarily unhelpful way Mike Wright did this morning. If his suggestion of “adults need to get a grip” missed the point any more, I swear it would have been phrased as a question about paddling.

The trick is to continue to educate how parents can take an active role in their child’s pursuit of learning while building trust in the professionals at our institutions. Some programs like extensions of the Citrus Education Foundation and the Chamber such as Men building Men, Women Building Women and Prosperity Citrus sort of address this issue but I don’t think we’ve hit the mark yet. Men Building Men replaces the active parent with a mentor. Nice stop gap but hard to scale to meet the demand. Prosperity Citrus educates the young person on personal responsibility, but ultimately they are going to learn it from their parent, and if the parent isn’t educated, then it’s likely going to be a lost cause. 69 As down to 9. 5 Cs up to 24. It’s time to act.

Congratulations to the students on another year and Godspeed to all of those who work in education. We’re rooting for you but constructively want improvements for all involved.


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