The Escambia County School District, centered in Pensacola, Florida, has got to be the most inept, incompetent, and even perhaps corrupt school system in America. I say this not as a parent, though as a parent I certainly have concerns there as well. No, I make this bold statement as a result of having worked within the system myself, as well as being married to a woman who has and is still working as a teacher. I also say this as a warning to anyone who is considering moving to the area to become a teacher. Don’t do it! Run as far away from the Escambia County School District as possible.
Why? Well, aside from the fact that teacher salaries in the district are the lowest in the state-not to mention several thousand dollars a year below the neighboring district in Santa Rosa County-there seems to be a systemic and at times maddeningly purposeful desire to consider mediocrity as just too high a target to shoot for by the Escambia County School District Superintendent and School Board members. Consider just this most recent example. In kindergarten and first grade classes, each teacher is assigned a paid assistant known as a “granny.” Anyone who has ever been inside a kindergarten classroom knows that the term chaos seems to have been invented just to describe the situation. Especially at the beginning of the year when you have anywhere from twelve to twenty five year old kids, many of whom have never spent a day away from home, much less in a classroom atmosphere. To put it bluntly: Most politicians making the decisions on education in this country wouldn’t last half a day inside a kindergarten classroom during the first week of school. At no point during the school year do kindergarten and first grade teachers need assistance more.
So what do the geniuses at the Escambia County School District do? First they decide that every one of the “grannies” must be fingerprinted before they can go back to work in a classroom. I guess I must have missed the news that the world was being overrun by elderly female terrorists. Okay, fingerprinting in and of itself isn’t such a bad idea. But when did those geniuses heading up the Escambia County School District decide to take this bold step? A week after school let out in May? During the summer? Naw, that would be too intelligent and farsighted. No, Superintendent Jim Paul and the good old boys and girls on the School Board decided that fingerprinting elderly female teaching assistants should be mandatory a few days before school reopened! Not only that, but none of the “grannies” can return to school until all of the “grannies” have been fingerprinted. The result? Not one single kindergarten or first grade teacher has had help this year welcoming a bunch of rowdy little kids who don’t know nothing ’bout learning in a classroom. So you can see how Superintendent Jim Paul and the rest of the Einsteins at the Escambia County School District are to be commended.
When I worked at Washington High School, a teacher told me a story that illustrates just where the priorities of the Pensacola educational system lie. Just a little background first. The Pensacola school system’s three most famous living alumni are Emmitt Smith, Roy Jones, Jr. and Justin Gatlin. Keep those names firmly in mind as I relate the following story. I was having problems with Nettie Eaton, the Principal at Washington High School when a female teacher came to me and told me this. Apparently, she was in her room alone when a male student entered and began making some minor threats toward her and moving menacingly around the room as if trying to trap her from getting out. She said she was terrified, but managed to handle the situation and get him to leave. Afterward, she told Nettie Eaton about what had happened. Nettie Eaton told her that the boy would be punished with at least suspension and possibly expulsion. This satisfied the teacher. And by the way, I might also add that this teacher has a tremendously good reputation with both students and fellow teachers, so I really have no reason to doubt her story. Especially in light of what I myself experienced at the hands of Nettie Eaton and Assistant Principal Rick Shackle.
A few days later a meeting was held between Nettie Eaton, this particular teacher, and others where it was announced that since it was her word against the student, no action could be taken without risking a lawsuit. On the surface, of course, that does seem to make sense. There are two problems, however. One, there is a long precedence not only within other school systems, but within the Escambia County School District itself of students being punished with suspension due to threatening a teacher without there being any other witnesses. I think the second reason, however, is far more enlightening. Because, as it turns out, this young man who threatened a teacher in her own classroom turned out to be a star athlete.
At this point insert your own ironically dramatic duh-da-DUH! musical cue.
Yeah, big surprise right? An attractive young female teacher may have come closer in her life to being raped that she’ll ever known and the boy who threatens her not only isn’t punished, but is allowed to remain in her class for the rest of year! Remember, folks, Nettie Eaton was the Principal who oversaw. By the way, she’s not Principal anymore. She must have done something really wrong to be removed and placed elsewhere in the system. I can’t imagine what, since she followed the district line when it came to my own legal situation. I can’t get into since I am still considering taking legal action, but let’s put it this way: If you are a teacher working within the Escambia County School District, you’d best remember that you are unofficially required to give up your right to proclaim innocence until you are proven guilty. When it comes to the Escambia County School District, you are guilty with no recourse to prove your innocence.
That’s right. Here’s just one of the perks of being a teacher working for the Escambia Country School District, currently being run under the ever-watchful eye of Superintendent Jim Paul: Until you achieve tenure you can be fired for any reason and you don’t have the slightest right in the world to be told why and if you are accused of something in particular you aren’t even asked to give your side in either a written or verbal statement. But surely Escambia County has a teacher’s union that will help, right?
Umm, no. I called the teacher’s union and asked if they could help with my situation. Based on what I was told, they should change their name from the teacher’s union to the union dues-payer’s union. In effect I was told to take a hike. If you aren’t willing to shell out the fifty bucks a month in dues, the union won’t help you out in the Escambia County School District. You are on your own.
The Escambia County School District also has a habit of not recognizing when it has something good. There is one Principal in this town who goes to lengths to make her school a better place that would be the envy of any school district in American. This Principal took over a F-school from Principal who allowed teachers to show movies and serve popcorn in class the year before. In just one year, she took the school to within six points of being a C school. Through her diligent hard work, and with little help from the district, she has gotten local businesses to provide a laptop computer for every teacher; she has gotten churches to donate money to buy bikes and other prizes for those who achieve a certain level on standardized tests. She has done virtually everything humanly possible to make this school that was a state-wide embarrassment just two years ago get featured on national web sites. And to show how much she appreciates the community, her students, the parents, and her teachers, she chose the school as the site of her upcoming wedding.
And then those Einsteins from Escambia County School District come in-after months of knowing this was going to happen-and tell her just two weeks before the even that she can’t do it. What other Principal would love her school and her students and teachers so much that she’d wanted to get married inside an almost hundred year old decrepit school? Nettie Eaton wouldn’t haven, I can guarantee that. And to show their appreciation for all she’s done, Jim Paul and the boys heading up the Escambia County School District put the kibosh on it.
So, again, I offer stern words of advice to anyone even potentially considering the idea of coming to teach within the Escambia County School District. DON’T! Stay away. Any other district in the country would be a better place. You’ll get paid more and respected more.