Gov. Rick Scott talks to parents and teachers about improving education at an A-rated school in Pinellas

09/13/12 Janelle Irwin
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Governor Rick Scott is going straight to the source to find a better way to educate Florida’s children. He’s calling it a listening tour and is asking students’ moms and dads and their teachers. During one hour question and answer sessions Wednesday afternoon at Madeira Beach Fundamental School, teachers told the Governor they were frustrated with things like high stakes testing, teacher evaluations and shrinking salaries. Scott said he wants to hear about those problems so he can rummage up some solutions in Tallahassee.

“And then try to find out, is there a bill that needs to be passed? Is there a bill that needs to be repealed? Is there a bill that needs to be amended? Is there a regulation that needs to be removed? We’ve removed 1,700 regulations so far because they weren’t helping Floridians. We shouldn’t be passing things that don’t help Floridians- that’s our goal, that’s my goal for sure. So, I’m going to look at all this and say – I’m going to look at bills, I’m going to look at regulations, I’m going to make sure we have the right people in place so this state has the best education system for our students.”

David Tagliarini is a band teacher at Madeira Fundamental. He said, on more than one occasion, that teachers were under-valued.

“Well, we’re uniquely qualified. People walk into a classroom, they oftentimes don’t even know what it is we do that makes it work it so well. And I think that we need to be evaluated fairly, compensated fairly and really that’s the best thing you can do for kids is take care of the teachers. If you take care of us, we’re going to take care of the students.”

Tagliarini said teachers aren’t greedy for wanting better pay. He nodded to another teacher who had just explained how she spends at least $2,000 on supplies for her classroom every year. Scott scribbled some notes on a piece of paper and said he’d look into it.

“We’ve got to make sure that these teachers are not spending significant amounts of money out of their pocket. So, as I’ve gone around, I’ve been asking, ‘well, how much are you spending?’ It’s a variety depending on the school, how much they’re spending. But I want to make sure I understand that.”

When asked what he plans to do to create more incentives for teachers, Governor Scott said individual school districts can decide to pay teachers more, but they’d have to find room in their budgets. He touted the $1 billion put back into Florida’s public schools last year – even though there was more than that taken the year before. But Scott did say education spending needs to be a priority.

“When we have the funds at the state level, put more money into education when we do.”

Florida recently passed a bill that eliminates teacher tenure and implements a rigorous evaluation process that relies on students’ test scores. Tagliarini, the band teacher, said that’s not the best way to measure a teacher’s performance because not all kids are good test takers.

“I think a fair evaluation would be an evaluation by another master teacher in my subject area.”

During a second Q & A, about a dozen parents sat in a circle facing the Governor. Their concerns were a little different than the teachers. Elizabeth Fehr has an 8th grade son at Madeira Fundamental. She said her son is an honor student, but has never passed the reading portion of the FCAT which is Florida’s standardized test.

“He continues to not score well on the reading portion. He’s a great student. He’s sitting in the principal’s office as we speak because he’s such a good kid, but I’m very, very fearful of when 10th grade rolls around and he has to pass that and if he doesn’t get a diploma because of it.”

Under current standards, a student must pass their reading assessment in 10th grade to get a standard high school diploma. Fehr said the emphasis put on one test causes too much stress for a student and they should be able to graduate even if they don’t meet state standards.

“If the child meets the criteria as I did when I was in school which was just getting As and Bs and being in school and not being a cut up.”

The K-8 school on Madeira Beach is a fundamental school. That means parents are required to be involved in their child’s education by signing homework and attending a certain amount of school functions. And students can get kicked out if they don’t keep their grades up or if their parents don’t hold up their end of the bargain. The rigor helped the school get the state’s top rating. Robin Ellis has three sons attending Madeira Beach Fundamental. She told Governor Scott she thinks something could be done at the state level to make sure kids who deserve a high quality education can get it, even if their parents aren’t on board.

“He maybe has a parent that has to work two jobs, she can’t come to meetings or maybe she didn’t do so well in school herself and she really can’t help with the homework. There’s a lot of reasons that that child might not make it or excel in a fundamental school.”

Both parents and teachers also complained about when FCAT testing was administered. A librarian said it shuts down her media center. A parent said his kid came home drained and irritable. Governor Scott said because the tests are held late in the year, but still with some time left in the school year,

“The students are not as interested in continuing to focus on their studies after that.”

Education officials say the tests are held in May so that schools can get the results back before school is out. Teachers at Scott’s event argued they don’t anyway. But Scott did say it’s another thing he’ll be trying to find an answer to.

“Can we move that to later in the year? We still want to make sure we have timely results so the student can work on whatever needs they have. So, that’s the first thing I need to be doing – getting more information.”

The event today was part of a ten-week effort to reach out to educational stakeholders. Earlier this week, Scott visited schools in South Florida and Jacksonville.

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