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Why Hillsborough County Schools Need Stephen Gorham – and Must Dump Carol Kurdell

Elections are rarely inflection points – especially as they relate to education – but the Tampa, FL area has one tomorrow.

Hillsborough County Schools have endured a hell of a bumpy ride – and it’s not over. More than a year ago I detailed the tension on the school board and I frequently point to Tampa-area education commentators whose knowledge, honest thought and commitment is, in my opinion, unsurpassed. NYC-area edufolks beat them with volume and vitriol, but Tampa’s got them on genuine quality. Parents, teachers, taxpayers and academic lifers lay bare their thoughts on their local schools, sometimes at significant risk. As an outside interested party, I appreciate it a great deal.

And their school board and administration largely fights them. They’ve got champions in April Griffin and Susan Valdes, but two resilient board members isn’t enough. The established, entrenched and misguided thuggery of the others is a significant hurdle for reform in Tampa.

There’s Jennifer Faliero, whose ineffective chairmanship is a parody of an iron-fisted leader – perhaps a Colonel Klink?; Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, whose communication and leadership skills rival Lord Cardigan’s; and that series of Toadies – Jack Lamb, Doretha Edgecomb and Candy Olson – who largely fiddle while Rome burns.

But it’s Carol Kurdell who’s on the chopping block this time around. Challengers Stephen Gorham and Jason Mims showed Kurdell’s vulnerability in the primary, and now Gorham is in position to replace her tomorrow.

I’m a staunch, well-versed Conservative – change for the sake of change is unconvincing, misguided and usually detrimental. There’s a time, though, when chronic dysfunction mandates the removal of one and the installation of another.

Carol Kurdell’s tenure on the Hillsborough board has become arthritic. It’s ever-present pain and decreasing functionality that facilitates an arrogance with ignorance that has almost overcome the board.

But again, right now is an inflection point. Hillsborough can switch its direction. No more needless kerfuffles on small expenses, no more embarrassing editorials.

I’d support challenger Stephen Gorham even if he wasn’t the young, well-educated, energetic force that he is.

Kurdell can’t [and shouldn't] be blamed for most of this, but her complacency and partisan inaction – that is, unless she’s got an opportunity for partisan action – is a detrimental force on the ailing board.

That, and her third-rate dishonest politicking. That’s a turn-off, Ms. Kurdell.

If you’re in Hillsborough County, don’t get stuck voting on party affiliation in this one. The Democrats are pushing Gorham and the Republicans have approved Kurdell, but it doesn’t matter. As a registered Republican, I’m comfortable saying that Carol Kurdell is useless and that the state party has made a mistake in approving her.

And I don’t give a whit that the Dem foot soldiers are pounding pavement for Gorham. He’s the better candidate, so Godspeed.

I can’t vote in Hillsborough’s election tomorrow, but I do hope that Mr. Gorham will take his place on their school board.

Today’s Reads, Mostly Education, Some Educational

Working on other projects. I still read, though.

“Democrats are Standing up to the Teachers Unions: Can this be True?” asks little Ed over at Ed is Watching. Maybe he’ll get some answers on September 19th [if the event doesn't run past his bedtime]. Yet another thumbs up for the DFER folks.

From RightWingProf, who came across this dandy fop opining out of San Diego: “Sarah Palin often uses lots of notes when she speaks, even going so far as to use tabs and different colors of notecards. This is just so unbelievably tacky and small town I am considering killing myself.” Yipes. I know that frustration, though. I see it every time I obliterate, shame, or otherwise invalidate an argument made by someone who has contempt for ignorant, small town rubes [like  me].

Brown University reformed its curricula in the late 1960s. I wouldn’t have done it, and not the way they did, but no one asked me then. They’re reforming things now – and ACTA says that it’s not perfect, but that it’s a step in the right direction.

Mike S. Adams has founded F.A.S.H.I.S.T. at UNC-Wilmington – Faculty Against Sexual Harassment Initiatives and Sensitivity Training. He asks whether “mandate” is sexist, and then says, “Five years ago the administration chipped in $60,000 to help bring Ludacris to campus. He sang a lot about hos. Shouldn’t we be forcing the administration to attend mandatory sexual harassment training not the other way around?”

Haaaaaaaaaaaahahahha. Awesome.

An interesting video about Senator Obama and edu-huckster extraordinaire, Bill Ayers.

The Onion: The Word “Presumptive” Prepares for Another 4-year Hibernation.

BIG NEWS: Detroit Superintendent hung up the phone on someone. My school board members barked at me like junkyard dogs, used school facilities/organizations to campaign against me, and school employees used in-house computers to suggest that I was a drug dealer. I don’t hang up on anyone [nor do I take or sell drugs].

Today is Battle of Britain Day in the United Kingdom. British resilience is a trait I love, and one that we in Upstate New York share. Let us hope that steely resolve makes a comeback in the wake of Sharia law.

BREAKING: Hillsborough Election Results Are In, Valdes Wins, Kurdell Doesn’t

get thee to another profession, carol kurdell

I’m on a slightly political bent, so I’ll call this fairly good news.

It’s a non-partisan primary, but if a candidate gets a majority, they win. If there’s no majority selection, the top two finishers runoff in November.

With 90%+ precincts reporting, we’ve got the following results:

hillsborough county election results

Susan Valdes over Schmidt. Good, she’s alright. I guess this means Faliero’s childish attacks didn’t work. Sorry, Jennifer.

Carol Kurdell doesn’t win – and thank God for that. Kurdell is the posterwoman for do-nothing, self-satisfied, status quo school board members nationwide. You can read about all 3 candidates – Gorham, Kurdell and Mims – here.

Stephen Gorham is a great choice. He’s young, well-educated, confident, experienced – good stuff all around. The thing I like least about him is that he doesn’t live in my school district. Hillsborough County Schools need him very, very badly.

Jason Mims has been a dedicated community member and hopefully isn’t too disappointed with 17%. He’s made his concerns known about minority issues in Hillsborough’s schools, and I’m sure he’s not going anywhere.

And Carol Kurdell, whose hobbies seem to be rubber-stamping, bloviating and dishonesty, got what she has long-deserved. This edu-huckster is going to bed tonight without a win.

It might seem that I’m a bit hard on Kurdell. In truth, I actually feel guilty for not railing against her weeks [months?] ago because her in/actions warrant it.

Most recently, Carol Kurdell touted in campaign literature her success in cutting property taxes and fuel prices [one can only assume that her having ended the Cold War and liberating Europe in WWII wouldn't fit on the flier]. Oh, the pander, the pander! And had any of it been true, I’d have praised her.

Unfortunately for Kurdell, not everyone in the Tampa area is an idiot. The St. Pete Times cut her down in short order by pointing out that the FL legislature – not local districts – set the tax rate, and that she’d flubbed the fuel prices. Her response?

It [campaign lit] doesn’t note that she was one of seven elected officials involved in the decision.

“Well, you know. The board did it. I was part of the board,” Kurdell said.

Let’s hope that Mr. Mims’ supporters get behind Mr. Gorham in the runoff, and then “was part of the board” can stick to Kurdell. 16 years of mediocrity – including coddling, with the occasional turning of a blind eye, of an ineffective Superintendent – is enough.

Quick Hits: Hillsborough County, Everyday Antiracism and Stephen Krashen Worship

Some old, some new, some blogs, some traditional media. All worthwhile, ‘cuz we’ve got Florida, race and Reading First.

jennifer faliero, hillsborough county school board

The travel debate in Hillsborough County, Florida [St. Pete Times].

The travel expenses are in – board member Susan Valdes spent a lot, no doubt. But $50k over 4 years isn’t all that much if the travel/conferences were worthwhile. Her unfriendlier colleagues on the Board point to the gaudy number and never once address what she actually did with the funds.

There’s no evidence of impropriety, just frequent professional development. The horror!

And cue the gall from Jennifer Faliero:

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero, who requested the four-year analysis of travel by elected officials, agreed. She led the call for a temporary halt on out-of-county travel at the last meeting.

She doesn’t think travel should continue during a time of budget cuts, but acknowledged that other board members don’t agree. She is pushing for oversight and budgeting that would equalize travel among officials.

“We didn’t have a policy, so you leave yourself open to all kinds of abuses,” said Faliero, whose own expenses totaled $13,000. “Even though you hope people will use common sense, that hasn’t happened here.”

Golly gee, it’s almost as if Ms. Faliero doesn’t want Ms. Valdes to win re-election!

Of course, everyone will remember that Ms. Faliero didn’t see it fit to live in the district she was actually representing [she moved back after public pressure]. If anyone is to criticize a board member about using common sense, it isn’t Faliero.

In the tradition of Ann Landers, I’ll issue a Confidential to Jennifer Faliero:

Grow up, you partisan hack. Or at least be politically savvy enough to conceal your motives more effectively.

mica pollock, everyday antiracism

Getting Real About Race in School [Eduwonkette].

This is old news, but it’s worth revisiting. Eduwonkette featured as a guest blogger Harvard’s Mica Pollack, author of Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School.

And to think, I’ve only been committed to anti-racism on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Saturday!

Pollock’s guest post is another in a series of Eduwonkette’s reminders that you [or me, or anyone, I guess] should know Pollock’s name. May 21st’s summer reading list suggestion and May 30th’s “Cool People You Should Know” nod apparently weren’t enough. Perhaps a hidden tenet of “Everyday Antiracism” is that we need to be reminded of it every day.

But Pollock’s debate is what warrants attention here. After repeating the 4 bullet points that explain the core of “Everyday Antiracism” – I’d bother linking to them if they weren’t repeated in half of Pollock’s posts – some commenters engaged Pollock in rigorous, sensible debate.

And you know how it goes. When the going gets tough, some just get going. Not everyone thought Pollock’s Kool-Aid tasted sweet, so she huffed, puffed, took her ball and went home.

I came late to the party [and the commenters raised all the issues I wanted to address, so I was content with just reading], but I’ll reprint my comment here:

“If you have thoughts on how guest blogging could be organized differently, let me know – but I don’t see any other way around this.” [eduwonkette]

It’s a very, very simple rule that can apply to guest bloggers – don’t engage in a discussion you can’t finish, or at least stick with for a little while.

I’m not particularly interested in the excuses for why Pollock or anyone else can’t be expected to carry on a discussion. And really – Pollock is committed to reforming humanity’s attitudes on race, but can’t be bothered to address substantive points made by interested, knowledgeable commenters?

I’ll draw on Senator B. H. Obama’s recent rhetoric to sum this up:

“Any fool can write a blog post… it’s the courage to engage in discussion that makes you a blogger.”

Pollock abandoned her blog-baby the moment it started teething – end of story.

I suppose we’ll see further discussion at

rotten apple

Silence [right here on the Aughts].

Silly me, I decided to judge Stephen Krashen’s latest Reading First USAToday Crap-Ed piece on its merits. I thought that Reid Lyon’s argument was more compelling.

Gary Stager took me to task. His pith:

“Dr. Krashen is an internationally respected expert in how children develop language. Reid Lyon is not.”

Very true. In related news, Gary Stager sports a mustache while I prefer a full beard.

Anyone can put out a stinker regardless of what they’ve done in the past. I happen to think that Krashen is full of stinkers, but that’s beside the point. His editorial, again, was not compelling – and when you write as many letters to the editor and op-eds as Krashen does, it happens. I replied:


I have and will continue to put more stock in the merits of one’s argument than in one’s CV.

Oddly enough, you cited Krashen’s reputation as evidence of his superiority on this issue just a day or two before you busted on David Warlick for being hired, largely based on prior work and reputation, to deliver keynotes when you intimate that he has little to offer. [I found it refreshing that David admitted that it was getting tougher to develop proper keynote topics, but I digress.] If you’ve got a rubric that determines when reputation is an asset, a la Krashen, and when it is to be discarded, a la Warlick, I’d love to see it.

Silence, silence, silence.

Education for the Aughts Podcast: Dennis Prager and Independence Day, Hillsborough County Grade Inflation, and Utica Area Schools Falter

This edition of the Education for the Aughts Podcast addresses three topics:

  • A look at patriotic curricula in public schools – what we had and where we’re not;
  • Grade inflation in Hillsborough County, Florida;
  • Lack of accountability in New Hartford, NY and a financial boondoggle in Utica, NY.

You can play this Education for the Aughts Podcast by clicking on the triangular ‘play’ button on the player below [or at the bottom of the post if you’re reading this in RSS] – it will expand and begin streaming audio. Alternatively, you can download an mp3 file of the podcast to listen in your own media player.

And, if you like what you hear, you can subscribe to Education for the Aughts Podcast using RSS or using iTunes.


… and a partial transcript with links from the podcast is below.

I listened the other day, as I do most days, to talk radio host Dennis Prager. He lamented on this Independence Day that American children just don’t sing patriotic songs anymore – and he’s quite right.

Dennis’s point reminded me of something in my historical archives – a program of instruction for Arbor Day in New York State Schools, May 8, 1896. The program is a 16-page guide from the Dept. of Public Instruction that outlines activities and themes that schools might cover on the celebration of Arbor Day.

Near the end of that program is a list of songs that school-children could sing:

Keller’s American Hymn
Flag of the Free
Hail, Columbia
Star-Spangled Banner
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Columbia, Gem of the Ocean
Columbia, God Preserve thee Free
and America

Following that, there was an “exercise on the American Flag.”

Remember, folks, this was for *Arbor Day*. That our current celebrations of American holidays pales in comparison to what we’ve done in the past for even fairly unimportant holidays, shows how much we have, to quote Virginia Slims, come a long way, baby – and that’s not always a good thing.

The inimitable Suzie Creamcheese, who blogs at The Wall, passed on yet another tidbit about Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County, Florida – for those of us outside the state, we can just think of this as the greater-Tampa area – has a grade inflation problem. A big one.

As The Tampa Tribune opined a few weeks ago:

“It used to be that a 4.0 grade-point average was considered a perfect “A,” but the numbers posted by some recent Hillsborough high school graduates have been positively stratospheric – including the county’s top GPA of 8.68 earned by a student at King High School who was this year’s numbers leader.

Who knew there was even such a thing as being more than doubly perfect?”

Well, Tribune editors, if you hadn’t realize by now that Superintendent Elia and her administration think *they’re* doubly-perfect, now you do. See, they’re just passing on to the students the back-patting that’s given administrators in Hillsborough County a grievous case of bursitis over the last year.

Later in the piece – and it’s a must-read – we see real evidence of grade inflation from the mouths of babes:

“As one Chamberlain High School student recently put it: “In our class, anything under a 5.0 is considered mediocre to sucky.” And here we thought a 5.0 was better than perfect.

The district would provide considerable more transparency and accountability if it ceased monkeying with the labels and scoring systems and simply made high school courses appropriately hard and fair.

Schools should give extra credit to students who push themselves the extra mile, but there’s no need to pile it on so thick.”

A sensible suggestion, no doubt.

In an absolutely useless rebuttal to the Tribune’s editorial, Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, back-patter extraordinaire and anything but a scholar, explained to we who are so intellectually deficient, why these GPAs are so high:

“The Tribune’s June 14th editorial is yet another unnecessarily harsh jab at the public schools.”

Actually, Ms. Elia, it’s a fair treatment of a glaring problem with your terrible administration. She went on to explain to we who are ignorant dolts and the like why, exactly, these GPAs are so gosh-darn high:

“There’s a simple reason the GPAs are higher: Students take more classes and more challenging classes. Good for them.”

Yes, Superintendent Elia – and since you’ve weighted those class grades so outrageously, your students wind up with GPAs that mirror Mary Lou Retton’s scores on the floor exercise.

Your system created the problem, then you tell us that we’re dumb for not realizing how the system works. If you want to know why I don’t live in this otherwise wonderful part of Florida, there ya go.

[April Griffin's endorsement of Stephen Gorham]

On a more local note, there’s a bit of news out of New Hartford, New York regarding public information requests. The blog New Hartford, NY Online, an offshoot of the New Hartford Concerned Citizens, would like to see New Hartford Central School comply with the Freedom of Information Laws – or FOIL, for short. They say:

“That’s right; it is a law, but the New Hartford Central School just doesn’t seem to think they need to comply.

We have received emails from our readers asking us when we think we might get a copy of the Employees Union Contract that was approved by the school board in January. The clock keeps ticking…”

Hopefully their clock has a fresh battery, because it may have to tick for quite some time before the district responds. One is sometimes driven to think that FOIL, to public school administrators, is just something you make hats out of in ed school.

And on Fault Lines, the Greater Utica Blog, we learned that the Utica City Schools administration is pushing a $187 million dollar bond. Says one Ms. Bernadette Eichler in the Utica O-D:

“Over the years, I have worked with brilliant, creative and caring administrators, teachers, members of the Utica Board of Education, college staff and community members.

Their wisdom, leadership, support and ideas did indeed bring the students in the Utica district to a higher level of academic achievement. These abilities and talents also created a stimulating environment for learning, as well as provide opportunities for students to explore and try new ideas.

Now this leadership and support groups of Utica have an unbelievable opportunity to once again demonstrate their wisdom and talents by supporting the $187.6 million bond issue.”

Fault Lines mashes the nail right on the head:

“Wow. These are the same people who studied a project for months that they could not carry out, shuffled administrators like they were a deck of cards, couldn’t keep student schedules straight, ran out of textbooks, and spent a ton of money at Proctor and now want to spend more at the same school.”

And to make matters worse, a commenter on Fault Lines said that the project:

“won’t cost tax payers a dime.”

To hearken the earlier Arbor Day discussion, we’d do well to remind our kids on the next Arbor Day that money, especially tax money, doesn’t grow on trees, contrary to what their schools’ administrators seem to think.

Ms. Eichler may find this bond proposal to be an “unbelievable opportunity,” but she’s wrong – I most certainly believe it, as it’s just another in a series of local boondoggles we in Upstate New York are asked to approve. I’m reminded of one we defeated here in Cooperstown – I forget how much, probably in the trillions – about which an architect on the project explained that new windows would, “Increase learning by double digits.” I was tempted upon hearing that explanation to show him a *single* digit – and if you can’t figure out which one, pretend it’s the old SAT and go with “C.”

The only bit of sweetness here is when we read that Ms. Eichler is a retired deputy superintendent of the Utica City School District. Thank God for that.

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