How does Duval County School Board member Scott Shine manipulate the press? Let me count the ways: He used taxpayer resources to bring legal intimidation down on a teacher; he stormed out of a school board meeting, complaining that the superintendent selection process was moving too fast; he publicly bemoaned his disappointment that his bromance with former Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti had ended, while simultaneously declaring his heir apparent for the seat he’s vacating in District 2, candidate Nick Howland. These are all exciting, Shine-studded events for the young, intrepid education reporters on the daily beat. But for our more seasoned community members, including District 2 candidate Sam Hall, Shine’s most recent dissidence with the school board raises red flags, and indicates that outside political influences may be at play.
In short: Shine has aligned with a tiny, statewide coalition of school board members who are complaining that districts have found a way to help students succeed on high-stakes tests. (Yes. You read that right.) The Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM) is the “reform” crowd’s weaker alternative to the 80-year-old Florida School Boards Association (FSBA). The coalition, which promotes privatized educational organizations for students, is charging that Duval, Manatee and Polk counties “gamed the system” by changing the student pathway to the middle-school civics course and, consequently, by changing when some students take the end-of-course exam. Shine failed to tell the Florida Times-Union, however, that he voted for the progression plan that his coalition now characterizes as “gaming the system.”
“There’s a unanimous vote to approve, then there’s a change of view there. That raises a lot of questions for me,” District 2 candidate Sam Hall told Folio Weekly. He was referring to the 7-0 vote by the board to permit some middle-school students to take prerequisite coursework before taking civics. Students needing more time to build extra skills and expand their knowledge base will take civics (and the EOC) in eighth grade, instead of seventh, which resulted in fewer students taking the EOC in Duval this year. Hall told FW he wondered whether “special interests” might be prompting the controversy.
“I was taken aback by the allegations of gaming the system … without any supporting evidence,” Hall said of Tuesday’s above-the-fold, front page Florida Times-Union story in which Shine was quoted. Hall said, “A lot of effort has gone into increasing those scores—and support—because there was weakness there. Just because some progression was shown, I don’t see why there should be pushback on those gains.”
On Wednesday, Duval Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis defended the district’s progression plan in a widely distributed email to the board, school principals and other district employees:
"The state curriculum guide requires that all students take Civics at some point during middle school. In the past, the district scheduling guidelines recommended that students take this course at seventh grade, regardless of their readiness for the content. This year, the district recognized that some students need additional supports in literacy and social studies, and allowed schools to postpone the Civics course until eighth grade for those students, while their teachers worked with them on foundational skills. This practice was similarly implemented several years ago under the leadership of the former superintendent in Algebra I for students lacking foundational math skills, and is a fundamentally sound educational practice."
Today, incoming Superintendent Diana Greene told the T-U that Duval and Manatee County, with which she was most recently employed, did nothing wrong.
On Thursday, five members of the Florida House of Representatives and one member of the Florida Senate wrote to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, asking for an investigation of the three districts’ “questionable testing practices.” The first signer of that letter was Jacksonville’s own former school board member, Jason Fischer, also a founding member of the pro-school-privatization group, FCSBM.
Does Shine’s current disavowal of the progression plan for which he voted indicate outside political influence? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. Both Shine and Fischer have a history of permitting their partisan ideology (read: a penchant for high-stakes testing and privatization) to creep into the nonpartisan school-governance body.
FW reached out to Duval County Board Chairman Paula Wright to determine the board’s stance on the matter. Wright declined to comment at present.
Hall shared with FW his opinion on board etiquette without directly addressing Shine’s most recent defection. Once a vote has been taken, Hall said, “The board should speak to the community with one voice.”
Hall should know. He has spent decades in Duval County serving on boards as diverse as The Bridge of Northeast Florida, The Beaches Museum & History Park, the beaches area Neighborhood Accountability Board, and the Community Redevelopment Agency for the City of Jacksonville Beach. He’s most proud of his work with The Bridge and the Neighborhood Accountability Board, both of which find ways to boost success for young people.
The Neighborhood Accountability Board is part of a new, resoundingly successful Fourth Judicial Circuit process for dealing with juvenile defenders. Following the initiative of State Attorney Melissa Nelson, police officers, whenever possible, issue young offenders civil citations instead of arresting them.
“It reduces recidivism, and those civil citations give young people a second chance, as opposed to getting a criminal record before becoming adults,” Hall said. “It uses what’s called restorative justice, giving them an opportunity to show some remorse to victims. It works.”
Similarly, The Bridge’s “Schools of the Future” pilot program, now duplicated in Duval schools as the “Bridge to Success” program, serves high school students who have fallen two grades behind by helping them catch up so they can graduate on time.
Meeting students where they are, and providing them the resources they need in order to succeed, aren’t new ideas. But for the Bush-brand reform crowd, success on punitive, high-stakes tests frustrates their goal of creating a category of “failing” schools, which privateers can then take over. When ideologues in the FCSBM and the Florida Legislature cry foul because students are succeeding on the tests, they expose their true motive: expanding public school privatization.