Volusia Schools: Where’s Superman when you need him. . .

The award winning 2010 documentary “Waiting for “Superman” examined growing issues in American public education, following the lives of five students and the trials and tribulations of their efforts to be accepted into a charter school.

Along the way, the film exposed the increasing bureaucratic and professional insulation that makes it difficult to hold teachers and administrators accountable for poor performance, conflicting expectations at the local, state and federal levels, funding disparities, the positive and negative effects of teacher’s unions and other intractable issues facing the system.

Naturally, comparisons were made – and some academics challenged the accuracy of the producer’s findings – claiming the documentary was no more than a “marketing piece” designed to break unions and privatize education.

The film also reminded us that “education statistics” have names.

Several weeks ago, I took the Volusia County School District to the woodshed for their continuing – and in my view, counterproductive – practice of playing hopscotch with school principals.

For reasons known only to district administrators, principals are routinely moved from one school to another, resulting in instability, and leaving students and teachers with no sense of continuity, and the communities which host the schools with no one to partner with – or hold accountable – long-term.

For years, the cities have sat quietly while the Volusia County School Board – elected officials with the ethical and fiduciary responsibility to set effective and efficient educational policies for the district – have functionally ignored festering issues in challenged schools.

According to an excellent piece by Erica Breunlin in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, at least two communities in east Volusia are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Recently, Holly Hill Mayor John Penny asked City Manager Joe Forte to read a scathing letter during an open meeting of the School Board, demanding better for his long-suffering constituents.

South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall – an outstanding career public servant who recently retired as that city’s chief of police – also raised difficult questions when South Daytona Elementary (the second largest in Volusia County) received a “D” grade from the state in June.

In my view, standing idle while students in poorly performing schools circle the bowl – literally through no fault of their own – is morally reprehensible, and counter to the economic and social health of the communities involved.

Unfortunately, things appear to be getting worse throughout the Sunshine State.

During the last legislative session, Governor Rick Scott and our elected lawmakers telegraphed their true commitment to public education when they passed a budget which drastically reduced per-student funding.

The net-net is that Volusia County will receive millions of dollars less from the State of Florida – money which historically supplements district funds raised primarily through our property taxes.

Add to that a weird, grossly inequitable, state funding formula which punishes already strapped Volusia taxpayers – coupled with the almost pathological inability of our School Board to live within their means – and you get the feeling our children are doomed to be victims of a horribly failed system.

In addition, late last week we learned that several important volunteer-based literacy programs won’t be returning to Volusia County schools this year.

Citing a “lack of resources,”  Junior Achievement and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (both based in Orlando) announced that they will be pulling their programs which served a collective 6,500 local students in some 360 classrooms countywide.

That hurts.

But what I find most disturbing is the continuing mismanagement of assets and personnel – things district administrators still have direct control over – and the seeming lack of strategic planning that is quickly creating a financial quagmire while reducing service delivery.

For instance, in Holly Hill, five principals and nine assistant principals have passed through what Mayor Penny aptly describes as a “revolving door.”

There can be no doubt that this near-constant administrative swirl has resulted in a sense of flux and uncertainty in a school comprised almost exclusively (94%) of economically disadvantaged children – a student population which is expected to surge to over 1,000 this school year.

According to the News-Journal, the district has selected former Pathways Elementary principal Jason Watson to head the challenged Holly Hill School when classes begin next month.

This gives reason for hope – and Mr. Watson is certainly saying all the right things.

It’s a tall order, but I hope he truly is the caped superhero that can come to the rescue of this beautiful, but challenged, community when they need it most.

One question the News-Journal’s report didn’t answer is the rapidly spreading rumor that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry is being considered for Holly Hill’s assistant principal slot.

I find that interesting.

In 2010, then City Commissioner Henry – while serving as assistant principal of Mainland High School – was charged with nine felony counts of voter fraud, including two counts of absentee ballots and voting violations and one count of conspiracy to commit the same.

The State Attorney’s Office dropped all criminal charges against Mayor Henry during the summer of 2011 – and he ultimately left Volusia County Schools – taking an administrative position with the Putnam County School District.

At the time, the terms of his departure were sketchy – with reports claiming he voluntarily resigned his position with Volusia County when it was announced he would not be returning to Mainland where he had served for 18-years.

Now, unconfirmed reports have Mayor Henry high in the running for the assistant principal slot at Holly Hill – although his name has yet to be officially placed on the School Board’s agenda.

Superman?  Hardly.

But at this point, I’ll just bet the city is willing to give a second chance if it means returning stability and performance-based accountability to a school in desperate need of both.

Unfortunately, these persistent rumors – which I have been told were propagated by certain sitting School Board members – only adds to the confusion surrounding the future of Holly Hill School.

Clearly, city officials, families of students and the beleaguered teaching staff have every right to question the districts motives – and secrecy.

 

Photo Credit:  WFTV

 

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