A child’s primary education should be a time of infinite possibilities.
So why have Volusia County Schools become a place of impossibility?
I have some theories, but, invariably, they all boil down to the same lack of substantive leadership that has resulted in this embarrassing shit-show that continues to victimize students seeking a legitimate education – and hamstrings teachers who work hard to present a credible version of a flawed curriculum under incredibly demanding constraints.
Way back in 2016, when the issue of school uniforms was still a matter of hot debate, I wrote about my personal experiences – and sounded the alarm on what was to come. . .
I was educated in parochial schools, where uniforms are de rigueur, and help reinforce the homogeneous and conformist nature of private education.
In fact, I wore a uniform in elementary school (which included a tie) and was required to wear a blazer and necktie during my first year of high school. (As a result, I can most often be found in a “preppy” pink oxford cloth shirt, shorts that look like they were constructed of upholstery fabric and the ubiquitous Sperry Top-Siders. . . tassel knots and white soles only, please.)
My strange “Kmart meets Murray’s Toggery Shop” style aside, I’m none the worse for the experience, and most of my classmates are now relatively successful and well-adjusted adults who don’t appear to have suffered from the lack of individuality and “self-expression” in dress that some feel is all-important to the academic and social development of elementary school students.
After much back-and-forth, two years ago, the School Board ultimately issued a toothless – and incredibly ambiguous – non-policy that required Volusia County students wear: “A white-knit polo-style or Oxford-style shirt; a principal may designate up to two additional colors. A wide-range of bottoms. Navy blue, black or tan-colored pants, shorts, capris, skirts, skorts or jumpers, and blue or black denim. If you’re an elementary or middle school student, you must wear closed-toe shoes. High school students can also wear sandals. Fastened belt if there are belt loops.”
Under this abstruse “policy,” teachers and school administrators were forced into the unenviable role of fashion police – a weird combination of Mr. Blackwell and Jaime Escalante – tasked with both forming impressionable young minds while determining if Johnny’s shirt meets the definition of “Oxford-style” (button down or loose collar points?) or if Sally’s ‘skorts’ are uniform tan or offending ocher?
Not to mention the fact that our intrepid “leaders” forgot to add a penalty provision to their sartorial statute, which never works out well, regardless of what’s being regulated.
For the record, Merriam-Webster defines “Uniform” as “Not varying or changing – staying the same at all times, in all places, or for all parts or members.”
At the time, I opined that if you are going to implement dress standardization then go all in or don’t go at all.
Now, our worst fears have been realized.
This morning, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding Cassidy Alexander confirmed in a front page/above the fold article, “Poor grades for high school uniforms,” that the School Board’s lack of legislative clarity – and sloppy enforcement of the rules – are having a detrimental impact on the learning environment for high school students and teachers.
I hate to say I told you so. . .
According to the report, “Although elementary and middle school principals said they like it and don’t face any significant challenges enforcing it, high school principals said the policy is hard to enforce, cuts into instructional time, encourages students to dislike school even more and is creating rifts between teachers.”
Incredibly, “Of the district’s nine high schools, four principals said less than 50 percent of students are in compliance each day; four more said it’s less than 75 percent.”
In keeping with Superintendent Tom Russell’s modus operandi – which values mediocrity and protecting the status quo over the pursuit of excellence in education – once again, a relatively minor issue of policy implementation and enforcement is allowed to reach a crisis point and become front page news.
How long, Oh, Lord, are we expected to put up with this?
There are many benefits to a uniform policy – just as there are many arguments why legislating personal dress is a bad idea.
Given the fact that many modern public schools look more like a prison yard than a place of education and self-discovery, perhaps a forced “sameness” would have been a step in the right direction, however; what has been allowed to happen in Volusia County Schools serves neither side of the argument.
In my view, this is just one more example of the abject ineptitude and gross lack of discernible leadership by Mr. Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” of sycophantic sluggards who have become little more than crisis workers in the absence of a strategic vision and atmosphere of mediocrity that continues to fail students, teachers and taxpayers.
In my view, with a budget topping $840 million – this continuing course of conduct and gross organizational incompetence borders on criminal negligence. . .
But 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 ingrained in the culture of the organization.
That’s a dangerous combination when the very education of our precious children and grandchildren is at stake.