This meeting took place last week, but it took me a few days to get the video and organize my observations. I had detailed notes with timestamps, but I accidentally closed the file without saving. I wanted to make sure to get this out before the next meeting, and as always I am including the full video here so if you have time to watch it I recommend it.
This meeting opened up a little bit differently from most meetings in that Solomon Logan, one of the students of Jefferson County Schools, led the pledge of allegiance. Afterward he and several other students presented a program which the district has put together for the students which is designed to teach "respect and civility" as Dr Gibson puts it.
All along, despite there being a lot of distractions, as there always are, we've maintained the business of educating children, and helping them find their place in the world. An important part of that is our teaching them about how to work together, about how to collaborate, about how to recognize the other people in their space, and be able to work with them to be successful, and bring all these very different ideas, convergent ideas sometimes to fruition. They will be in charge of, very very soon. And one of the things that we are working through with them is a program that we have implemented on teaching respect and civility through a number of different lenses, and as much as I could sit here and talk to you about it in my dry, boring, instructional self, they will do a much better job than I.
The kids each explained what they think respect means, and they hit on a few key points about the program, but overall I still don't have a strong grip on any of the details of the program. What I do know is that it is a program that is being described as "student led". From what I can gather from the kids description and what little information I could find in the official press release it seems like it's mostly related to race and heritage. I don't mean to be a skeptic or an alarmist right out of the gate, but this program seems suspicious to me. The small amount of descriptive information along with the language used to describe the program in their own press release makes me think this program could be a trojan horse. A lot of the language used sounds very similar to the language used to spread critical race theory.
Jefferson County Schools (JCS) honors the diversity, cultures, and traditions of the students and teachers who make up each school community. To celebrate that diversity and learn more about different cultures, the Cultural Unity and Equity Department (CUE) has worked with CUE school advocates and ambassadors to develop respect and civility-themed months for the 2021-2022 school year.
Many may be quick to point out that CRT is a university level course that isn't being taught in our schools, but this is really nothing more than a meme. In today's world, when we see "diversity" and "equity", we should be careful to make sure we're clear on the definitions. Many who use this language are past talking about equal opportunity and moving on to striving for equal outcomes. I don't want to hone in on this too much without trying to get more information first, but it's something I think parents should pay attention to. The first month seems to have been focused on anti-bullying on the one hand and the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) for Mexican Americans on the other. November which we are now in is focused on "history of Indegenous Peoples" which I assume will be Native Americans primarily. In December the focus is on Appalachian culture. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but maybe we'll get more information in the coming weeks. Below is the full schedule released by the Board of Education. I will follow this report up with more details once I am able to dig into this a bit more.
After the kids were finished with their presentation Ms Skinner, the Board president spoke of 3 "little good things" she wanted to highlight.
- Larry Willingham and the transportation department got kids to an event in spite of there not being any drivers scheduled to operate the buses.
- Ms Curry and Mrs Marcus at Washington HS rallied honors students to provide child care for staff so that they could do their administrative work.
- Jennifer Walter and her team at Page Jackson built an "outdoor campus" for the kids.
Dr Reidy then presented his arguments to continue with the mask mandate for schools. The number of cases is on the decline he said, but they are still in a high transmission statistical grouping. The math for a county of our size is a bit difficult to trust because we have a population with less than 100,000 people so when looking at per capita statistics we have to multiply our actual numbers and extrapolate what we would expect it to be if we had more than 100,000 people. According to Dr Reidy we have to have no more than 28 cases for the entire county, and we are currently around 80. He then went on to speak on the perceived value of vaccination both for adults and students. He says that overall in Jefferson County we are seeing 8 to 9x risk of infection among the "un-vaccinated" vs those who've received one of the mRNA treatments currently authorized for emergency use. Laurie Ogden asked what metrics we are looking at to decide when masks can be removed in the schools. He suggests that even if we get below 28 active cases, we probably would not, in his expert opinion, want to "let of the brakes too quick". Ms Ogden mentioned natural immunity in a follow up question, but it seems like perhaps Dr Reidy was not wanting to spend much time on that as he seems to be promoting vaccination regardless of potential existing immunity. The good Dr says "this virus, when it gets into families who are un-vaccinated, most of the time the whole family gets infected". I will point out that my family is a mix of vaccinated and un-vaccinated people, and all of the adults including the vaccinated in our house got sick when corona virus paid a visit.
After the health update, they moved into discussion on the new "Teacher Leadership Framework". Dr Gibson spoke briefly before turning it over to Joel Silver, Jason Smith, Chris Walter, Jennifer Moss, and Keith Moody. This project comes from House Bill 4804. It has 3 goals.
- Increase student achievement and growth through the development of a shared leadership structure at the school level
- Broader dissemination and use of effective teacher strategies through an increase in teacher collaboration
- Stronger and more positive school and district culture through the development and retention of highly effective teachers.
The framework has some requirements outlined by the state as well.
- Create specific roles and responsibilities (According to step 7d)
- Provide regular targeted professional learning opportunities for teacher leaders
- Provide time and opportunities for teacher leaders to collaborate with admins and staff
- Monitor and evaluate effectiveness of the program
- Include teacher leaders in the school improvement planning process
Mr Silver went on to discuss the timeline from July up to the presentation. He did this to demonstrate that it's been well reviewed by many lenses including Human Resources, principals, and the Superintendent. The program will be creating several new positions which will only be open to existing county employees.
The first new position will be a "recruiter" role who will go out and look for new employees for the county. Each recruiter will have a $1200 USD yearly stipend to be paid out quarterly in addition to travel reimbursement.
The second focus of the program is to increase teacher retention. The role created for this purpose will be called "Attrition Advocates" who will create and process surveys to look at employee satisfaction. They will investigate reasons for teachers leaving the county to find ways to improve retention. This role will come with a $600 USD yearly stipend.
The third role created through this leadership program will be known as "Curriculum Specialist" or "Master Teacher". The focus of this role is to increase the role teacher leaders play in curriculum-focused decisions. This role includes a $5000 USD yearly stipend. The people who fill this role will help make decisions on new curriculum efforts. They will be "filling the gap between the county office and the classroom".
The forth and final area of focus is already underway. In order to increase teacher capacity, the district has already approved the addition of an "Instructional Mentor" role which will act as support for academic coaches and meet with new teachers to get them familiar with county policy and procedure as well as provide school level support. These mentors will be awarded a $750 USD stipend per mentee, and each mentor can be assigned up to 3 mentees.
Mr Silver concluded by opening up to the board for questions, but not before reminding them that the money for this program has been allocated by the state in step 7d. Dr Joy had a few questions to start off. First she noted that the Recruiter role appears to be an HR role rather than a teacher role, and she was curious if this was an indicator that teachers were filling gaps for the HR department. She then asked whether or not the recruitment efforts are being focused primarily on HBCUs. Dr Gibson suggests that is not the case, and in an agitated manner goes on to clarify a few things.
Well I want to clear up what might be some misconceptions. First and foremost, this plan, number 1, is a requirement of the state. It's not optional. Number 2, the entire of it was to honor teaching staff by giving them additional pay for the work that they are doing. So yes, we are talking about taking teachers with us when we go out to recruit. All teachers, teachers who are willing to come and do this extra work.
So there is number 1, yes we have a recruitment person in HR, and yes they are the ones going to the job fairs and who are chasing folks down and who are doing postings and who are making the phone calls and guiding people through the certification process. When we go on those, what people want is they want to talk to someone who is already teaching here, and they want to know how it is. How is it really? Let me talk to you really, and we go to all types of colleges.
We went to the colleges that have the largest graduating classes of education students, and those are the ones we have been virtually sending information to and working with and trying to recruit from. Does that include HBCUs and HACUs? Yes it does. It also includes a number of colleges that are not HBCUs or HACUs. It is a difficult environment out there, and this is an opportunity with a mandate from the state, with money from the state to do exactly what the board said they are interested in which is giving our own teaching staff, exemplary teaching staff, the power to be able to advocate for Jefferson, and to make us better in every single aspect. So all of this is going to our current teachers. I want to be very clear about that.
One of the board members asked if the state had actually increased the money they sent for "step 7" allotments, and it sounds like they did not which means other state funded programs under the same rule will need to be cut I imagine. We will look into this house bill and step 7 to see if we can determine what might be lost with this new program.
Next in line for the meeting agenda was an update on technology, transportation, and other operational procedures. One thing from the child nutrition portion of this report I thought was really cool was apparently the students of Page Jackson have been growing several food items which are being integrated into the menu in the form of taste tests. I imagine this makes the kids very proud of their work. Next the meeting moved on to the "Bond program" where they covered various school infrastructure maintenance and improvements. After this they moved to approving the meeting minutes from the prior meeting before beginning with citizen comments. For those who want to watch this you can get skip to about 1 hour in.
The first 3 citizens who spoke took the opportunity to thank the board for mask mandates and social distancing in the schools and ask the board to vote to continue the mandate. After these citizens who all spoke remotely via Zoom were done, a parent stepped up to the podium who had a different opinion. He said that according to the numbers he had available to him that only 12 school age children have tested positive in the past 7 days. He pointed out that across the whole country the number of school age children who have died from Covid according to public records is still below 550. He pointed out that seasonal flu, RSV, and a number of other conditions are actually higher risk for kids than Covid, and that even in Dr Reidy admitted that this was not really affecting children.
As far as mask effectiveness, a large Bangladeshi study came out that showed basically that cloth masks are no more effective than not wearing a mask. 350,000 enrollees in that study. The board should certainly consider providing students with appropriate masks if the continue to enforce the mandate.
He asked the board to set an endpoint if they were going to continue the mask mandate (Spoiler alert: No endpoint was set). He said he wanted them to let educators be educators and let parents decide whether or not their own children should wear masks. He reminded them that they work for the people of Jefferson County, and that if they continue to implement a mask mandate and follow CDC guidance which is not in line with the existing scientific understanding, "hopefully you won't be in your positions much longer".
Next was the comedic prose of Jodie Karren who disagrees with the mask mandates, wokeness, and the Board's wasteful spending habits. She cracked a few jokes about gender before asking "If there's gender fluidity why can't there be racial fluidity? Yeah, I think that would solve the CRT problem." Her whole point is that so much of modern social philosophy is not far removed from complete ridiculousness, and she conveyed her point in an amusing way.
Jennifer Krause followed Jodie with more serious tone. She pointed out that Dr Reidy is not speaking on behalf of the County Board of Health when he comes to speak to the board and offer advice on the masking policy, and she reminded them of the resolution passed by the health department after the school board first implemented the county wide mask mandate. She reminded them that masks do come with a cost to the health and well-being of children, and she asked why they continue to pretend that Dr Reidy is speaking as an official representing the recommendation of the Department of Health when they have publicly renounced the mask mandate recommendation.
Shame on you Dr Reidy, and every member of this board. You have contributed to the rising rates of drug abuse, overdose, and suicide in Jefferson County.
She then proceeded to bring some interesting statistics to the board's attention regarding the perceived risk of covid in the Jefferson County area. According to her there have been a total of 84 deaths attributed to the virus in the entire county since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Age <=20: 0 deaths
- Age 21-50: 4 deaths
- Age >=51: 80 deaths
After covering the concerns she has with the direction the school board is going with the mask mandates, she brought back to the board's attention a request she had at the last meeting. In that meeting she had asked them to write a letter to the NSBA and Attorney General Merrick Garland in response to the letter sent to the Biden administration which inspired an official memo to go out to the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate parental involvement in school board meetings. She calmly requested in the last meeting that the school board draft a letter that rebukes the NSBA's decision and tells The AG that the extra attention is not necessary because "a parent has every right to speak up against mandates and policies that are harmful to our school children". She was still speaking when her 3 minutes was up, and the microphone was cut before she wrapped up.
Next up was Karen Buck who has also been regularly attending these meetings to discuss concerns she has with recent financial decisions by the board. She first talked about locality pay for teachers. HB 206, signed by the Governor in 2019 has a section under article 4 which says school boards "may pay extra money to qualified teachers based on training, experience, responsibilities, and other requirements". "What requirements?" she asked before continuing to read from the bill many of the new titles to be created when the board elects to do so through the new "Teacher Leadership Framework". You can read the whole bill directly on the WV Legislature website. If you search the document for "A-4" or "Master Teacher" you should be able to find the specific section she was referencing.
What I'm reading is that not all qualified teachers get the extra pay. Only those teachers who are given other titles by this board. So who doles out the locality pay? This board. Who get's to pick the lucky teachers? This board. Has this board been making decisions in favor of our teachers and kids? No. This reeks of favoritism and loopholes.
She moves on to inform the board of what duties have been outlined for them according to official policy. "The policy manual is 319 pages long" she said. She then proceeded to read an excerpt on the responsibilities of the board.
The Board is the policy making body for Jefferson County Schools. They articulate aspirations and expectations that the citizens have for their schools. These policy statements include what is wanted (what the parents want in the schools), why they want it, and to what degree. The Board provides broad guidelines directing administrative action and then holds the administrative team accountable. The Board fulfills a communication function between educators and the public, and then communicates to administration what we want and explains the programs to the public.
She asked 2 questions which she said she does want answers to. The first question was about the "administrative team" referenced in the policy. She would like to know who they are, and she wants a copy of the source document for the duties outlined in the policy. That source document was the minutes from a Board of Education meeting that took place on the 27th of September in 1973.
That concluded the citizen comment period, and the Board went on to the consent agenda portion of the meeting. There were 2 edits to the agenda, and very little discussion on the agenda items before they unanimously approved the agenda and moved on to unfinished business. The first bit of unfinished business was of course the decision to continue the mask mandate. Mr Kable motioned to continue the mandate. When discussing how long this decision would be valid for, Mr Kable said "I don't think we need to set a specific cutoff at this time". Ms Skinner seemed a little concerned that he didn't want to set a date, but that didn't change her vote. During this discussion some of the parents began to speak up before Dr Gibson interrupted with an authoritarian rant about how they were given their chance to speak and now it's time for the grown ups to get work done. Things kind of broke down temporarily as Laurie Ogden got in on the action over Zoom and suggested that debate on these issues was not worth the time.
Everyone eventually quieted down and they board voted 4-1 with Ms Ogden being the only NAY. She was not satisfied with the undefined time period. Interesting then that she didn't want to debate isn't it? This decision to approve the motion upset attendees and several left in distaste. The last issue discussed was the awning at CW Shipley which is part of the bond project discussed earlier in the meeting. The proposed cost for a single awning was $60,000. There was a bit of discussion that took place, and the Board ultimately voted 5-0 for the proposal. There was no executive session so this was the last issue before the Board convened.