The author Joseph Heller wrote in his novel Catch 22: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”
Sound familiar. . .?
I have a working theory that somewhere along the way Volusia County government services surrendered, en masse, to the forces of mediocrity.
When the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace averageness and poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become engrained in the culture of the organization.
Let’s face it, it’s easier that way.
During the height of the debacle at our Medical Examiner’s Office – a critical public service that provides professional medicolegal services to the judicial system – our elected officials, supported by the chairman of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission, repeatedly told us that the loss of professional accreditation was no big deal – just a piece of useless paper hanging on the wall. . .
And when it came time to uphold the performance standards and “five star” amenities required by ordinance at the Hard Rock Daytona before the theft of our heritage of beach driving – we watched helplessly as Volusia County government accepted a building still very much under construction, with a slapdash façade for a seawall and visibly unfinished facilities as having met the exacting standards of their own law.
Now, the Volusia County School District wants concerned parents to believe the state’s school grading program is a waste of time – because “we don’t define ourselves by grades” (you know, the same system every student in the district is judged by?)
After receiving it’s third “D” mark in a row, parents of students at Palm Terrace Elementary in Daytona Beach were notified last week they have until Thursday to notify the district if they wish to move their children to a better performing school.
In keeping with their patented “hope as public policy” approach – school officials are banking that not many will opt to accept the state mandated transfer option.
According to Saralee Morrissey, the director of planning for the Volusia County School District, “People feel pretty strongly about their elementary school and take a school grade with a grain of salt.”
Because it’s a pretty big deal to parents I talk to.
Look, it’s just as easy to blame poorly performing schools on teachers as it is to blame law enforcement for crime. The fact is, neither have a direct impact on the causative factors – those engrained community and districtwide issues that have led to these seemingly intractable problems.
But rather than listen to our hardworking teachers – those who are actually in the classroom molding children – when they complain of increasing workloads and decreased planning time, the destabilizing effect of arbitrarily changing school start times and early release days without consulting parents, or even the basic need for an elementary reading and math textbook – their pleas fall on deaf ears, dismissed by an arrogant top down decision-making process and asinine internal policies that have seen 17 schools drop one or more letter grades this school year.
Now we are learning of a plan unilaterally developed by district staff that would use $1.5 million in state funding to hire 16 new district employees and create four mental health “response and intervention teams” with money approved earlier this year by Florida legislators to increase school security following the atrocity at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The problem is – their “plan” was created with zero input from the five community partners that currently provide mental health services to our schools – including Halifax Health – who has been completely ignored – even purposely shunned – by district officials as they all but rolled-over for Florida Hospital.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The Halifax Health Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the district stating the Florida Hospital deal and the plan for the mental health services “appear to have been developed in isolation, without meaningful input from already invested community organizations.”
I find that disturbing and you should too.
As many loyal readers of this forum know, I was recently passed over for a position as a School Guardian – a state mandated security program which will place a hybrid of armed civilians and law enforcement officers on every school campus in the state.
According to the school district – it was my own damn fault. Who knows?
But it piqued my interest in the mysterious inner-workings of this enigma who spends hundreds-of-millions in tax dollars each year educating our children.
After four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who have been appointed to oversee the incredibly sensitive Guardian program – and I found that two of the three couldn’t qualify for the position they are charged with managing.
In my view, the credibility of this program is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in that will be required for success, so I asked for the names and qualifications of those appointed by Superintendent Tom Russell to provide for the safety and security of our precious children.
On July 16th, I received the following information from Greg Aiken, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, which read, in part:
“I have 22.5 years of military experience and 15 years in the School District where 14 of those years has been building and managing the safety and security program for the district. I am a certified FEMA and TEEX Adjunct Instructor for the past 10 years teaching all facets of emergency management all over the US.
I am right now working with the current classes of school guardians to bring that program up and running by August 13th. Mr. Craig Pender was appointed by the board to take over the day-to-day responsibilities of the Safety and Security program and comes to the department with school-based emergency management experience. That position is a level 9. Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales, has FBI experience and has been working the safety and security program for over a years now. She is a level 6.
We have identified three (3) employees that will have the duties as the School Safety Specialist to ensure we have back-ups when the others are on vacation or out sick. Mr. Pender is the primary with Rosalyn and myself as the back-ups.”
When I finally received the public records that I requested earlier this week, I found that Mr. Pender – our brand-new school security expert – began his career as a Band Director at Southwestern Middle School, and most recently served as an ESE supervisor and Assistant Principle at University High School in Orange City.
He may not have the military or law enforcement experience necessary to serve as a Guardian – or a Florida School Security Specialist certification – but he does have one very important credential – Mr. Pender is married to the School Districts Chief Human Resources Officer. . .
(I don’t make this shit up, folks.)
Now that’s an impressive career track for a middle-manager – but, in my view, without the statutorily required experience – it doesn’t qualify Mr. Pender to assume the massive, almost unprecedented responsibility for physically securing and providing close personal protection for 63,000 children and an untold number of teachers, staff and visitors.
Oh, remember Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales?
The one with the highly regarded “FBI experience” – well, come to find out, she served as an “administrative secretary” in the FBI’s New York Field Office. . .
Again, Ms. Velasquez-Morales has an impressive career trajectory, I’m just not sure her secretarial duties equate to the incredibly important job she is being paid to perform.
Now, I don’t know shit about playing the clarinet in a marching band – and even less about providing secretarial services – but I know a little about what it takes to lead, supervise, motivate and administrate a group of armed professionals, men and women who are asked to go in harms way and provide a vitally important service.
I sincerely hope Mr. Akin, Mr. Pender and Ms. Valasquez-Morales are prepared, certified and capable of assuming this enormous responsibility to our precious children. If not, perhaps they have the collective personal and professional ethics to reconsider this “fake it till you make it” approach to school security administration – because it’s crystal clear Superintendent Russell didn’t think this through.
You know what pisses me off?
When someone in a position of high authority – who receives public funds to serve in the public interest – blows smoke up my ass and tries to convince me that someone charged with overseeing the dynamic and gravely important mission of supervising armed security officers in elementary schools is painted as having federal law enforcement experience – which could have meant anything from the person who inventories paper supplies to a Hostage Rescue Team operator – when they don’t.
To someone that actually has received advanced training at the FBI National Academy – and has actually worked criminal cases in the field alongside FBI agents – misrepresenting Ms. Valasquez-Morales’ law enforcement credentials is disingenuous – and borders on a bald-faced lie.
And that, gentle readers, causes me to question if there is more about this program, or other aspects of this bloated bureaucracy, that are being obscured with double-talk?
When you add the inability of our School Board to live within their massive $900 million budget – the largest of any government entity in Volusia County – a proposed tax increase, and the fact our elected officials voted just last night to limit our ability to speak to them on issues of public concern from a paltry four-minutes to just three-minutes, and one gets the disturbing impression we have real trouble on our hands.
The more I scratch the surface at Volusia County Schools, it becomes increasingly apparent that Superintendent Tom Russell, his senior administrators and our elected officials have lost touch with their core mission – and at least some have no qualms whatsoever about quibbling the facts when their motives are questioned.
That is unacceptable.
It is time our impressionable children learn that mediocrity is not a virtue to be admired.