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Guest Op-Ed: Questionable Manatee School Board Call


TBT's Dennis Maley is on vacation this week. His column will return Thursday August 1, 3013

On July 7, TBT Editor Dennis Maley took issue with the Manatee School Board’s return to shortened Wednesdays in our schools. Though this time it will only be implemented once per month, the decision raises several questions. I appreciate this opportunity to support his position and add a few thoughts of my own. 

Of the 190 national school systems spanning our globe’s 24 time zones, students in successful countries spend more time on academic tasks than those in the United States. None devote as much time to play as we do in our country, with Manatee County being no exception. Our children play well because we give them plenty of time to do so.

For example, we allow Manatee High School about a dozen football coaches, but we then fire reading coaches and counselors. Speaking of sports, is it a coincidence that Wednesday is a big preparation day for district football programs and that this change is a big help to them in terms of making student athletes available earlier? 

Japan, China, and many other countries whose children spend more time on classroom tasks are eating our academic lunch. These competitors don't need to beat us, when we go to such great lengths to beat ourselves. 

This reverse time-on-task decision propels our district’s momentum in the wrong direction. Not surprisingly, lackluster leadership by our school board and two superintendents over the past 10 years prior to the arrival of Mr. Mills has created fiscal irregularities and spawned poor student academic performance. 

Our county has been slipping badly in a state which is fading fast. Our state has deteriorated to the point that Florida legislators treasure Mississippi for helping to ensure that our state school system will not be viewed as the worst performing state in our country. The catchphrase whispered often in Tallahassee is, “Thank God for Mississippi!”

In the process of trying to reinvent itself under a new superintendent, the Manatee County School Board recently took a step backwards by reverting to half-day Wednesdays, which had been given a sorely needed burial in 2012.  This 4-1 vote left Bob Gause (who'd voted in favor of the policy in two previous votes) alone in defending the interests of students, while the remaining board members shrunk the already small academic island deeded to Mr. Mills. 


Does anybody besides me find that curious? At the same time, board chair Karen Carpenter inexplicably cited a lack of student academic improvement under the full-day Wednesday arrangement during the past five years as a rationale for reinstating Shorty Wednesdays. This is a bad time for logic to desert us. 

Currently, our district has two main problems: fiscal recklessness and mediocre academic achievement. With a new superintendent, a cluster of CPA regulators and budget transparency, the first problem should be solved within a year. 

Improving student performance is another matter, one which will take careful planning and rigorous execution over a span of several years. Like making good chili, this process cannot be hurried. Hiring decisions have long been tainted by cronyism, nepotism, and outside influences. Evaluating, reassigning, replacing and training the district’s unfit principals and ineffective teachers will take time.

These activities will be messy because they must be done in the context of non-stop legislative micromanagement and uncertain state funding. To begin moving the district forward as quickly as possible, Manatee can afford neither wasteful sideways activities nor backward steps like Scrawny Wednesdays, which will disrupt the learning rhythm in our schools.

There are three particularly disappointing aspects of the circumstances surrounding the vote to reinstitute this practice: (1) lack of discussion with the public, particularly parents, (2) endorsement by four board members who know better (two of whom have been long-time opponents of the policy), and (3) the deafening silence of Mr. Mills, who now has seen a difficult situation made even more challenging. Why did he accept Half-Strength Wednesdays without a murmur?

Resurrecting previous failures is no way to build momentum in our favor! Our students need more time on task, not less.

A retired educator with two earned doctorates, Richard Jackson has taught from sixth grade through graduate school. He has extensive experience as a grants writer, school administrator, columnist and lobbyist. He has written more than 300 columns over the past three years on the state of the Manatee School District for the Tampa Examiner.


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