In case my readers missed the School Board meeting on March 18th because they were too hung over from St. Patrick’s day, on an early flight to Cancun for Spring Break, or just had one hundred more enjoyable things to do (like getting a root canal) over listening to a School Board meeting, here is a summary of events and a transcript of my speech to the Board regarding class size. I would love to post a link to the video (actually this is a lie because I really don’t wish to hear or see myself speaking), but apparently you have to go down to WLRN in person, pay $40 and then try to find a way to post it on youtube.
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I hate meetings, especially School Board meetings. It was with great angst and reluctance that I signed up to speak at the School Board meeting. I only did so because the parents at my school have been working incredibly hard to fight against SB 818 and the district’s Schools of Choice designation that uses school wide averages to measure class size. I felt they needed to see teachers speak out on the issue so they knew we cared just as much as they did.
I’ve never been in the School Board auditorium but a wonderful janitor gave me a personal escort to the auditorium and the ladies room. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, school janitors are the best people you will meet working in the public school system! Always friendly and kind, they manage the impossible by keeping our public schools clean even though our students treat our classrooms like giant garbage bins.
The lobby outside the auditorium was filled with suits and the amount of cologne and perfume in the air almost made me gag. It makes one wonder what exactly they are trying to cover up with all of that synthetic fragrance? Reminded me a bit of Lady Macbeth. I was happy to see that one of the district’s chief financial officers was wearing the same dress I bought at Ross the other day. Even district higher ups have to bargain shop!
I entered the auditorium and sat next to the parent teacher contingent from my school. The Superintendent soon got up from his seat and hovered over us. One of the district officials (out of three) who called me the day after I signed up to speak, positioned herself right next to me and my fellow teacher whom she had also called about his concern over the class size issue.
The meeting dragged on as they always do. At one point the SchooI Board members were presented with what looked like goodie bags for a 4 year olds birthday party. I tried to control my desire to run from the room. There was a big ceremony to honor the work of our top rated magnet schools, which I agree are amazing (I believe most of them have small class sizes by the way). There was literally a song and dance put on to honor the arts and then Superintendent launched into a long speech about the importance of electives and the arts. This speech was clearly set up right before we spoke as a method of making us look bad. Here are a few excerpts from the Superintendent’s speech which essentially stated that if we honored the class size amendment in core classes that we would have to fire every art and music teacher in Miami Dade County (I made sure to include elective classes in my speech because art and music teachers deserve manageable class sizes too).
“If we were left to our own devices we would follow a strict interpretation of rules that would lead to singularly paying attention to math, science, and English. We don’t do that. We take pride in our school system are reflective of teaching the whole child. All of those academies involve the hiring of teachers that the state does not pay for. The state does not pay for music or art. (I FIND THIS STATEMENT HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE). The state pays for a basic education program. What is bottom line? A well-rounded education is something we value. If you want a superintendent that over values the core, you have the wrong guy. The day you put the trumpet down is the day you end public education. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” (I googled that last line to see which politician said it first and couldn’t find the answer because apparently every politician has used that line to pass a bad bill since time immortal).”
The district then went on to outline their budget and even though Governor Rick Scott promised to restore education spending to historic levels, Miami Dade Schools will still experience budget shortfalls with the looming threat of Medicaid expenses.
Next, UTD leadership were called to speak but not one of them was present. We pay these people six figure salaries and they can’t be bothered to show up for a School Board meeting?
The Superintendent then goes on to list the many, many, many, many….awards and recognitions Miami Dade schools have received. He then sets the stage again to make the PTA class size moms and teachers look bad by saying,
“We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” “(I googled this line to see which politician said it first and couldn’t find the answer because apparently every politician has used that line to pass a bad bill since time immortal). They expect perfection for their neighborhood instead of their district. We won’t miss the forest for the trees. One person’s gain is equivalent to another person’s loss. You tell us the teaching of math, science and English is important. We didn’t fire a single teacher during the recession. Broward squeezed one end of the balloon and 1,000 art teachers popped out.”
Now that Superintendent set the stage for every elective teacher and art loving parent in the county to be fearing for their jobs and paintbrushes, he conveniently removed himself from the stage and the entire auditorium when it was our turn to speak. “
Much to my dismay, I was the first person to be called to speak on the class size issue (I dread public speaking almost as much as I dread School Board meetings). Of course they butchered both my first and last name, but I’m used to that. This is what I said (see if you can guess which line would get me in trouble with the Superintendent as you read). If you don’t have time to read it, skip my speech and read ahead to what happened after the my speech which was far more interesting.
“Good afternoon, I would like to address the Miami Dade School Board in regards to their current use of the “School of Choice” categorization in determining class size compliance by using school wide averages rather than individual classrooms as well as their current lobbying efforts in support of Senator Garcia’s bill (SB 818) in Tallahassee which would use school wide averages for all public schools across Florida. Although I understand that the intent of our School Board is a good one, in that they do not want to see tax payer dollars meant for public schools being wasted on penalties for violating the class size amendment, I also understand that using school wide averages to determine class size compliance essentially nullifies the twice voter approved Constitutional amendment ensuring small class sizes for students and teachers in Florida. Using school wide averages rather than actual class size allows school districts to, in essence, wave a magic wand and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo“” make average class size 22. School wide averages are nothing more than bureaucratic hocus pocus which mask the reality of large class sizes faced by students and teachers across the district. The fact that I have one class of 22 students, does not alleviate the lack of personal attention I can give to students in my class of 32 regular world history students, one third of whom are ESOL students and other types of struggling learners.
When questioned about class size, the district likes to bring up the dilemma of the “26th student.” What are they supposed to do about the 26th student? Most teachers I know are not worried about the 26th student, but rather the 36th student, the 46th student, and in my case a few years ago in a freshmen class of Advanced Placement World History, the 56th student. The school year after the Florida Legislature decided to exempt Advanced Placement classrooms from the class size amendment, I soon realized that without a regulated limit, sky would be the limit.
I know the District is investing a lot of time, money, and resources in implementing the student centered Gradual Release Model of instruction and as a teacher who has always used collaborative groups in my classroom, I can tell you with some authority that student centered classrooms with collaborative groupings requires small class sizes. Most classrooms cannot even logistically put desks in groups if the class size is over 30. Group work requires close monitoring of the students to ensure students are on task and most students will require instructor assistance in deciphering complex historical documents as well as in the production of original writing and creative projects.
In the likely scenario that Senate Bill 818 becomes law, I call upon the United Teachers of Dade and the School District to negotiate maximum class size caps and maximum student loads at the district level in the upcoming negotiations. If the School District truly respects teachers and students, I’m sure they will want to provide a safe, productive and personalized classroom for all students and teachers, including electives and Advanced Placement teachers, in Miami Dade County. Thank you.
Next, the wonderful women from my school’s PTA (though apparently the district has referred to them in a not so wonderful way) spoke about their support of their neighborhood school and conditions faced by students and teachers in the overloaded classrooms. Thankfully another teacher from a different school in Dade County got up to speak about crowded classrooms because the district has been trying to spin this as an issue unique to my school. Then the School Board actually went on at great length addressing our concerns. The last time a student and a teacher spoke about crowded classrooms they were brushed off in thirty seconds. For some reason, another teacher at my school who signed up to speak about class size was not called to speak with the rest of us. After having received several angry texts from my husband who had stayed home with three kids all day so I could speak at the meeting, I decided I needed to get home in time for dinner. I left the auditorium and ran into the PTA mothers in an intense conversation with a district official. I stuck around to listen to the conversation. Then I heard the other teacher from my school speaking and I ran back into the auditorium, or what turned out to be for me the lion’s den.
I was standing quietly in the back of the auditorium when the Superintendent walked by and said, “Who is this “insert my name”?
I said it was me. He then pointed his finger angrily in my face and said,
“Let me ask you a question. What do you mean by “bureaucratic hocus pocus”? That was a real cute line. I bet you practiced that a lot.”
I said, “No. Actually I didn’t have any time to practice my speech.” (I intended to practice my speech during my planning period but I had to cover another teacher’s reading class who was proctoring a test instead).
“What is bureaucratic hocus pocus?” he repeated.
I said, “When you use averages to mask reality.”
Then he said he doesn’t violate the law. I said the law is meant to be followed on a class by class basis. He said he follows what they do in Tallahassee. I said Tallahassee doesn’t follow the law.
Then he asked me if I was good at math.
I said “No. I’m bad at math. That’s why I’m a history teacher.”
Then he asks me if I ever took a statistics class and I replied, “That’s the only math class I ever liked.”
He asked me if I understood what averages were and I said I did and I explained how averages don’t reflect what is actually going on in the classroom. You might have a teacher who doesn’t teach any students, like our student activities director, and they get averaged in with other teachers. ”
Then he questioned his aide about whether this was true. She was standing next to me shielding this encounter from my colleague who was trying to video tape it on his cellphone. She confirmed my statement and tried to calm the Superintendent down realizing he was not looking very good berating me in a very in a room with plenty of witnesses.
He denied having any connection in Tallahassee with regards to SB 818 and told me I should go talk to Superintendent Runcie instead. (One of Garcia’s aides told a fellow teacher that the Superintendent asked Garcia to sponsor the bill but I cannot independently confirm this. The PTA mothers who ventured all the way to Tallahassee to speak against the bill actually witnessed one of the assistant Superintendents from Dade County speaking in Senator Garcia’s office. It is no coincidence that the Senate version of the bill came out of Miami and the House version came out of Broward.
After a little more back and forth and me getting in a line about trying to cut back on district waste so I could get more than a $300 raise, I thanked the Superintendent for letting me speak and walked out of the auditorium. I was a little rattled but not really. I found the encounter more humorous than anything else.
I managed to get out of bed the next day and slop on a pair of jeans and some flip flops. It was the last day of school before Spring Break. Vacation mode had set in. Thankfully my grades were done and I had a full lesson planned despite the pleas of my students, “Come on Miss…can’t we just watch a movie?”
I was looking at my Facebook feed during lunch when one of the teachers who spoke about the class size issue the night before posted that he had just received a visit from the region Superintendent who couldn’t find anything wrong with his classroom but left the room with a Terminator-esque “I’ll be BAAACK” statement. Two seconds later the teacher next door poked his head in my room to let me know the Superintendent was at our school. A few curse words escaped my mouth as I realized I was in jeans and flip flops. After a nerve racking 90 minutes with one of my goofball classes who were trying to refuse to do any work because it was the day before Spring Break, I got the message that the coast was clear. He visited the classroom of the other teacher who spoke about class size from my school but he never visited mine. I was actually hoping he would come in my classroom so he could see all those tablets in use (and I told my kids to use them to video tape whatever happened if he did walk in). Forget the FBI, students are the real experts in surreptitious recording. Ironically, my lesson for the day was about Fascist states in World War II.
So what’s the take away? The leader does not like to be questioned, especially in a very public forum which he would rather use as a PR event and for endless hours of self-congratulatory adulation.
Later that afternoon, teachers who have spoken out at School Board meetings and experienced district intimidation tactics as a result, united on Facebook and organized to fax in their speaker forms together and gather outside the next School Board meeting on April 15th at 4 pm in protest show and to show the district that teachers will not be silenced. I encourage as many teachers and parents as possible to also fax in their speaker forms and write “educational issues” in the subject line to show them we are a unified force. If you do not wish to the receive phone calls from the district after faxing in the form, check off the box that says you speak some obscure language like Tagalog as another teacher suggested. You don’t have to actually speak but if you show up you can actually donate your three minutes to another speaker from the group. Those three minutes go by fast! Parents are also encouraged to sign up to speak at the meeting or just to show up in support since you are the ones the district actually fears. Here is the link to the form to sign up to speak at the School Board meeting http://forms.dadeschools.net/webpdf/6314.pdf
Happy faxing and a happy Spring Break to Dade County teachers! There are still a few perks left to this job.