Last night Kafkateach “managed the impossible” and listened to an entire School Board meeting from start to finish. My previous record was about 30 minutes of audio torture before I started to contemplate dark thoughts about how to destroy my radio. I subjected myself to four hours of sychophantic self-congratulatory dribble because I was waiting to hear two colleagues’ voices of dissent in regards to testing and violation of the class size amendment. Here’s a brief rundown of what I learned last night for those of you who found a more enjoyable way to spend a rare cold and rainy South Florida evening:
- Expect to see a new charter or magnet school themed around computer gaming or computer code. It seems like every time I tune into a School Board meeting somebody is demanding more computer coding in schools. The ticker on our website now says “the hour of code is here.” I would imagine this new school will possibly be built in Aventura since our Chief Human Capital Officer was just elected mayor there. I imagine it will be a charter school so they will be able pay the computer code teachers a higher salary than a traditional public school teacher. Otherwise, you will never be able to recruit people who can teach computer coding classes for $40,000 a year.
- Speaking of finding teachers and new schools, it looks like there will be a new school for future teachers of Dade because FIU has partnered with the district to create a “pipeline of homegrown educators.” They are going to need a pipeline to fill the void of college graduates willing to work for $40,000 with no job security and no guarantee of ever being paid more. I’m not sure where they will find current teachers willing to encourage young people to go into the teaching profession as it currently stands in Florida. It almost sounds like child abuse. Since the students will only have education backgrounds, it will be impossible for them to transition to other careers and they will be stuck with a life of servitude that might allow them to one day purchase a one bedroom apartment in Opa-Locka.
- Our Superintendent claimed they “managed the impossible” by negotiating a new contract with United Teachers of Dade. I actually agree with him on this statement. He did “manage the impossible” by getting 79% of Dade County teachers to voluntarily give themselves a 0.7-2% raise which doesn’t even keep up with the cost of inflation. There were endless kudos given back and forth between the Superintendent, the UTD President, and School Board members for this amazing act of benevolence. The UTD President stated “we can never put a number on the worth of our teachers. “ Yes you can. UTD just put my worth as an eleven year veteran at $308. Thank goodness for the one teacher who said the contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and thanked the 21% of us who voted “No.” You go girl!
- Speaking of speaking at School Board meetings, be warned that if you do sign up to speak at a School Board meeting, district officials will be at your school the next day trying to intimidate you from voicing your concerns in a publicly broadcasted forum. I know at least two teachers this has happened to. One teacher in a wheel chair spoke up about being bullied by the school district and mentioned an instance where the district told her, “If you get a lawyer, we’ll get fifteen.” Thanks for speaking up about the district bullying their teachers! You go girl!
- In case you didn’t know, our Superintendent happens to have a buddy, buddy relationship with the White House. He flew there twice in one week. Out of all of the nation’s superintendents, he was chosen to introduce the President at a forum of superintendents regarding the digital convergence. They are so close that the President even refers to him on a first name basis. Miami was chosen as a model for equipping all of its schools with Wi-Fi, distributing 150,000 devices and installing 11,000 Promethean Boards that most teachers have no idea how to use. Truth be told, I am loving my Wi-Fi and I do enjoy teaching in a one to one classroom, but those tablets are a disgrace and I will happily donate my SmartBoard to a Broward County teacher.
- Regardless of how most teachers and students feel about the particular device the district chose to distribute to ninth graders, there is at least one student who is grateful to the Superintendent for bestowing upon him the bulky black box with its dangling keyboard. We know this because a ninth grader with ADD spoke about growing up in poverty and being unable to score higher than a 2 on the FCAT. It was a very touching story and definitely proved the harm being done to students by high stakes testing. But at the very end of his speech he threw in an awkward “Thank you Superintendent for the tablets. They really help.” Then it got even weirder when our Superintendent spoke about ensuring the student would graduate, that he knew where the student went to school, who his teacher was, where he lived, and with whom he lived. It almost sounded like a veiled threat (at least in Kafkateach’s dark and twisted mind). My conspiracy theory would be that the Superintendent paid the kid some money or promised the kid he would graduate if he thanked him for the tablet but if he ever told somebody about this agreement “he knew where he lived.” Thanks to Valerie Strauss’s blog you can judge for yourselves. Perhaps I am being too cynical http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/20/a-students-plea-for-help-and-a-superintendents-heartfelt-response/
- Another student who spoke out about overcrowded classrooms did not receive such a warm response from the Superintendent. His JROTC class had almost 70 students and one teacher and he complained it had become a dumping ground. The Superintendents response was a cold “class size limits only apply to core classes. Electives and AP classes fall outside of the class size amendment.” Translation, “Sorry kid, but you and your teacher are SOL.” Finally, after four hours of speeches about everything from computer code to mindfulness (by people who didn’t seem particularly mindful of other people’s time), my colleague spoke out about violation of the class size amendment. He told stories of core teachers with classroom sizes of over 40 students that clearly violated fire codes that led to chaotic classrooms which made it impossible to honor the district’s mission and vision. Dade County’s motto is “Giving Our Students the World” as far as violating the class size amendment it should be changed to “Giving Our Students the Third World.” Hey kids, sorry if your classroom feels like a Mumbai subway train but overcrowding doesn’t seem to impact those Indian kids’ PISA scores.
- Speaking of test scores, there was a refreshing abundance of people speaking against high stakes testing at the School Board meeting. From students, to parents, to teachers, to union leaders and even the Superintendent spoke out against over testing our children. It has now become en vogue to be against testing and our Superintendent has hopped aboard the anti-testing choo-choo train and he is going to ride it all the way to Washington so he can give President Obama an earful about the dangers of high stakes testing. For those of you with any memory at all, this may seem odd as it was our Superintendent that led the state down the Race to the Top rabbit hole of testing on steroids. Now that the Race to the Top grant has expired and the district is left with the responsibility of creating 1,000 EOCs in order to evaluate teachers without receiving any additional funds, I guess he thinks maybe that race wasn’t worth winning after all. Since he got us all into this situation, I don’t mind if our Superintendent takes the lead in getting us all out of this situation.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to write another debriefing of a Dade County School Board meeting because my husband has threatened to divorce me if I ever make him listen to that nonsense again. If you do have the time (and you aren’t worried about the district showing up at your school), sign up to speak at a Board meeting about an issue bothering you. It clearly irritates them to no end when they can’t use the publicly aired meetings as a PR event for the Superintendent and the Board’s agenda. One day, when I can find a bottle of Xanax and a cheap babysitter, I might attend one myself.