By ALICIA LEONARD
The April 2 regular meeting of the Walton County School Board (WCSB) opened with the board approving the agenda before them unanimously after moving some items dealing with school improvement/deregulation plans and construction management contacts in the consent agenda to the action agenda portion of the meeting upon request by board member Sharon Roberts.
The board then moved to public comments. Hearing none, the board moved to the consent agenda, approving the agenda unanimously and items concerning agreements, contracts and purchasing.
The board then moved to the action portion of the agenda, taking up personnel recommendations first, which they approved 5-0, before discussing items that had been moved to the action agenda from the consent agenda at the start of the meeting.
Walton County School Superintendent Carlene Anderson asked the board if their preference in the recommendation of school’s improvement/deregulation plans would be individually or collectively. Roberts remarked, “It was me that had it done. Collectively will be fine.” Board chairmen Mark Davis put the recommendation before the board and board member Faye Leddon made a motion on the recommendation. Roberts seconded the motion to open it for discussion.
Roberts said, “Mr. Chairman and Madam Superintendent, I’m sure you knew I was going to ask for these to be pulled. I’ve told you all in the past that until the school improvement plans disregard discipline in school improvement plans, it’s my fear that they will stop disciplining children so that they may reach their goal on the school improvement plan, I would say nay every time. That is why I asked that it be moved from the consent agenda.” Roberts thanked the staff for their “hard work” on the plans “but, I just don’t believe in adding discipline to it.”
Anderson asked Dr. David Jeselnik, director of secondary programs for Walton schools if the district was using a state approved template for the progress reports. Jeselnik responded that they had used a state design in the past but this design was for the district. He asked Roberts to help him understand her concerns about discipline in the reports. Roberts responded, “they are addressing it in the plan, but as I’ve seen in schools, when teachers or staff send them up for discipline, they are often not written-up because they want to meet their school improvement goal by not having [X] amount of number of referrals. Till that is removed, it’s nothing against you or your plan, I just don’t think that’s an acceptable method.”
Anderson said, “I’m not aware of anyone not writing up a – ” before Roberts interjected, “we’ve discussed this every time these come up.”
Anderson reiterated, “I’m not aware of anyone skewering up the tallies by not writing a disciplinary referral. I need to know specifically what schools are doing this so I can address that if that is happening. I would ask you to provide me that information, because I don’t have that.”
Roberts responded, “You’ve been given that information in the past, but I don’t mind providing that for you after.” Anderson asked Roberts to provide the information at that point in the meeting and Roberts responded, “No. I will not single out a particular school right now. Not to publicly embarrass any particular facility. No, ma’am.”
Anderson asked for the information to be submitted to her as it happens and Roberts responded that she would, “like I have done in the past,” she added. Anderson asked, “You’ve given me names in the past?” Roberts responded, “Yes, ma’am, every time it comes up and that’s always my complaint about it and it hasn’t changed. That’s why I was actually quite shocked to see it on the consent agenda.”
Davis spoke up and reminded the board that discipline and attendance were included in the very first A+ Grading system and were removed after the first year. Leddon asked why some reports were different for different schools. Jeselnik replied they were going to the new template and it would not require “discipline number goals.” Roberts said that would alleviate the problem she has with the tie-in of discipline to progress report goals. Jeselnik added that any school that fell to a D level would be required to go back to the older form.
Roberts reiterated her concern, “Everyone wants to meet their goal. They’re going to do what it takes to meet their goal. I mean, let’s be realistic folks.” Anderson responded, “Mr. Chairman, I can’t sit here and not defend these school principals and teachers as if they are altering school, skewering the school discipline. I cannot sit here and not defend them.”
“Say what you will Madam Superintendent,” interjected Roberts. Anderson and Roberts attempted to speak at the same time and Davis spoke, “Whoa, whoa, one at a time” and motioned for Anderson to continue her statement: “I don’t believe that anyone in our system does not have the professionalism to conduct themselves with the integrity and ethics that are required to meet goals without skewing information.”
Roberts responded, “Madam Superintendent, I didn’t say they were maliciously doing that, but with integrity and hoping their school achieves, if they don’t write up two students or three students or whatever for them to make their goal…come on now. You’ve been a principal.” Anderson responded she would never do that and board member, Gail Smith, had been a principal as well and would not “skewer” numbers on discipline.
Smith entered into the discussion at this point. “The whole idea of having a goal and working toward a goal is for growth purposes. You do that to see improvement and you need to know if you had additional referrals because there could be different things happening that could be causing those referrals. It could be anything from classroom composition to instruction. It gives you a ton of avenues of research and information to help you improve.”
The heated discussion continued with Roberts asserting that the goals made teachers and principals more tolerant of bad behavior. Anderson responded that children are not written up every time they are sent to the office. “Not every case deserves to be written up.” Counseling or an easier punishment due to the nature of the complaint against the students were alternatives mentioned by Anderson in place of written reprimands in some cases during the discussion. “Referrals are very serious and we don’t issue them every time a child is sent to the office,” Anderson added.
She also stated the need for hard evidence in cases where a school is accused of not writing up children due to goals. “I need hard evidence. I can’t go from, we heard, or we think or I saw. If we have hard evidence that you give me, or someone gives me, I’ll be glad to deal with it. But I don’t deal with I heard, I think, I saw, someone told me.”
Roberts replied that she had spoken about it every time the issue of school goals tied to discipline came up. Anderson called to “let’s make it a public record.” Roberts did not respond to the public record request by Anderson but continued to emphasize she had a problem with positive reinforcement of bad behavior and with the goal tie-ins.
Davis spoke up and called the question for the board to vote. Board member Dennis Wallace asked if the plans had always been on the consent agenda. Roberts answered no and she had asked for them to be moved to the action agenda so she could vote against that item and not the entire consent agenda. Wallace said, “I do believe if they are going to be put on the action agenda in the future, and there’s going to be discussion, we need to get specific.” The discussion fell quiet. Davis called again for the vote. The progress/improvement plans passed 4-1, with Roberts casting the dissenting vote.
The next item on the agenda was a land donation made by Jay Odom and Crystal Beach Development. Walton County School District Facilities Director Mark Gardner told the board that he and several other members of the staff went to view the property, which consists of 30-acres in the Hammock Bay area of Freeport, near the recreation area and the land was “highly developable.” Gardner said it had been “a pleasure” working with Odom on the donation. He added that with growth rates in Hammock Bay being “astronomical” along with other portions of the southern end of the county, he anticipated seeing the land put to use with a school structure in the near future….
Read the full story in the April 11, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.