BRADENTON -- Public comments were a major part of Thursday's school board meeting, as a major statewide policy issue as well as Southeast High School's recent change in principals were brought to attention. The contentious issue of charter schools and the controversial "Parent Trigger Bill" came up during the session, with a member of the group Fund Education Now speaking in opposition to the agenda of the bill's pro-charter school supporters. The issue of Southeast High School's recently deposed principal also came up during public comments, as two citizens spoke before the board in support of Ms. Catherine Smith.
Christine Sket, speaking on behalf of Fund Education Now, was first in line for public comments. She thanked the board members for signing Resolution 12-02, or the Resolution Opposing Overemphasis on High Stakes Testing, and talked about education reform advocate Michelle Rhee's Students First organization, and what she viewed as their attempts to undercut the public system in order to pave the way for more privatization: "Students First has been succeeding with chaos by putting down mandates that (the public school system) cannot meet. In doing so, many districts have done many things like layoffs, and cutting teachers' pay ... Teachers are not the problem, they are the solution."
As a reminder that the charter school movement is still strong, Ms. Sket noted that a pre-screening of Rhee's new film that supports the movement, "Won't Back Down," had made its way into the schedules of the national conventions for both major political parties this year. In her closing remarks, she asked the school board not to pass any future version of the defeated "Parent Trigger" Bill, which would have allowed parents to enact sweeping changes to underperforming schools had it passed in the Florida Senate earlier this year.
Southeast High School parent Alan Converse spoke next, in support of the school's recently deposed principal, Catherine Smith: "Up until two weeks ago, Southeast had a great, dynamic principal who was moving the school in positive ways. Ms. Smith was an advocate for the students and for the high school itself. We received a $30k grant from the Army Corp of Engineers (during her tenure), and she had a Stop The Violence program going. My concern now, as a Chairman of the Student Advisory Council and as a parent, is if the school is continuing to move forward in positive ways." Mr. Converse clarified that he was not speaking against interim principal, Shane Hall. He added in closing, "...If you get the opportunity to review Ms. Smith's resignation, I ask that you carefully review the investigative report. It's not like she was videotaped in a bar choking someone."
School volunteer Marilyn Godfrey also went up to bat for Ms. Smith and against her forced resignation. "She was making tough decisions that were not always popular," she said. "She raised the school from a 'D' school to a 'B' school ... I submit that the decision (to force her to resign) was arbitrary and unjust."
Dave "Watchdog" Miner ended public comments with a call to parents to become more involved in the schools of their kids by participating in school advisory councils: "A great way to be part of a school is be part of a school advisory council. This is essential. To have optimum functioning of our schools, we have to have parental participation."
Click here to see the full agenda results for Thursday's meeting.
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