Posted on June 19th, 2009 No comments
School grades: Record number earn A’s and B’s, but high schools lag
The state today released school grades, which are based on FCAT scores. Search for the 2009 grades here.
Leslie Postal and Denise-Marie Balona
Sentinel Staff Writers
June 18, 2009
A record number of Florida public schools received A’s and B’s on the state’s 2009 school report card, but high schools continued to struggle, earning few gold stars this year.
Statewide, 78 percent of schools got A’s or B’s this year, up from 74 percent in 2008.
Central Florida school districts mostly mirrored the state, with more schools earning A’s but with high school grades declining, according to annual results released Thursday by the Florida Department of Education.
The Orange County school district had more A-rated schools than ever and — for the first time — will have no schools with F’s. Mollie Ray Elementary in Pine Hills was one of six Florida schools that jumped from an F in 2008 to an A this year.
The Osceola County school district was the Central Florida standout. Eighty-one percent of its schools earned A’s and B’s, up from 54 percent last year. The district expected better grades this year because of improved student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Still, officials were elated.
"We made outstanding gains," said Jay Wheeler, who has served on the Osceola school board since 2002. "This is one the best days I’ve ever had as a school board member."
But in Osceola and elsewhere, high school grades gave educators pause. Poinciana High in Osceola earned Central Florida’s only F grade — one of 44 in the state — and will have to offer its students transfers to better-performing schools. Sixteen other local high schools earned D’s.
Florida calculates school grades based on FCAT scores, figuring how many youngsters do well and how many improve. The grading system started in 1999.
This year’s better marks were driven by elementary and middle schools. Across Florida, nearly 90 percent of elementary schools and 80 percent of middle schools got A’s or B’s.
At Ortona Elementary in Daytona Beach, which went from a C to an A, Principal Juanita Collins said new reading specialists came in to help struggling children last school year. "That made a big difference," she said.
As schools reveled in their progress, however, an education policy group called for tougher standards for elementary schools.
With so many of them earning top grades, Florida should raise the bar and make it harder to earn an A, said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, launched by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
"With our great success in raising achievement in the early grades during the last decade, we risk complacency if we don’t raise expectations once again," Levesque said in a prepared statement.
The news for high schools was discouraging, with grades dropping more often than not, even among usually high-performing schools.
In Seminole County, for example, the only high school to earn an A was Crooms Academy, a technology magnet school. Six of nine got A’s in 2008.
"It is very disappointing," said Walt Griffin, the high schools’ director. "We have a solid initiative. We have our best teachers working with the reading students."
Many of the high schools that dropped a grade — 106 across Florida — ran into the so-called penalty in the grading system, officials said. It docks schools by a letter grade if their lowest-performing students do not make adequate progress in reading. It’s a controversial piece of the grading process created to ensure that high-performing schools do not ignore their weakest students.
High schools have long struggled under the state’s grading system, in part because of many of their students do poorly on the FCAT reading exam. They have trouble with the test, educators say, because the 10th-grade exam is tough, some kids missed key lessons when they were younger, and teenagers don’t always care about standardized tests.
This year’s high school results erased the modest gains made last year. Across Florida, 33 percent of Florida’s high schools got D’s or F’s, up from 22 percent last year. Evans and Jones high schools in Orange, which have alternated between D’s and F’s since the grading system started, got another round of D’s.
Education Commissioner Eric Smith said in a statement that improvements are needed, but "I’m confident that we are implementing changes that are needed to ensure our children are fully prepared to compete in today’s global economy."
The changes include new academic standards and new efforts to diagnose and then remediate students’ deficiencies, which he said "will help take our higher grades to the next level."
Schools that earn A’s or improve a grade get extra money from the state. The reward used to be $100 per student, but it was cut because of state budget shortfalls. This year, 2,043 schools will be eligible for $75 per student.
Dave Weber of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Leslie Postal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5273. Denise-Marie Balona can be reached at email@example.com or 352-742-5928.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel
Posted on May 7th, 2009 No comments
AroundOsceola.comMonday, May 19 2003 Costs of Celebration School play take center stage 30 Jan 2003 By Charlie Reed News-Gazette Staff Writer
At least one school board member is seething that Celebration School administrators and parent volunteers must raise between $35,000 and $48,000 to repay outstanding debts for a school musical.
School Board member Jay Wheeler’s concern prompted the recent school district audit of Celebration School’s November production of “Annie.”
The audit shows more than $48,000 in unpaid bills, including $15,700 still owed to Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, where the event was held.
The total cost of the musical was $96,000, according to the audit.
“I think this is just appalling,” Wheeler said of the total cost of production. “I don’t think we (the school district) should be exposing ourselves to a shortfall that benefits so few people.”
“It’s not the school district’s job to underwrite aspiring actors,” he said.
All costs associated with the production were funded through community and parent donations and fundraisers, excluding $1,700 that came from the school improvement fund at Celebration School, according to Bill Collins, a school district auditor.
Frank Harmer, a Celebration School dean who also volunteers as a drama coach, said the outstanding debts are closer to $35,000, some of which should be forgiven or reduced.
Superintendent Blaine Muse said the audit did not report any “criticism” but rather “concern” because the debts are still outstanding.
But Harmer said the remainder of the debt should be easily repaid through a series of community fund-raisers.
The school must repay the money by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, or the debt will be encumbered by the school district.
Harmer’s wife, Barbara, who also volunteers with the student drama troupe, told the school board Tuesday that Wheeler has been “sabotaging” the school’s efforts to repay its debt and intentionally destroying the reputation of those involved with the production by spreading false rumors about the situation.
Barbara Harmer also alleged that Wheeler violated the state’s open meetings law, commonly referred to as the Florida Government in the Sunshine laws and has acted in an “unprofessional” manner.
State open meetings law prohibits more than two elected officials from meeting to discuss government business.
She asked the school board to launch an investigation into Wheeler’s conduct and to issue an official press release concerning the school’s debt for the production.
She said a potential investigation could lead to grounds for Wheeler’s removal from the board.
While Wheeler admits he can be sarcastic, he disagrees that he has committed any improprieties and said he welcomes any investigation into his actions.
“I wasn’t hoping there was a shortfall,” Wheeler said. “But it’s a question of right and wrong.”
Muse had not reviewed Harmer’s allegations by press time.
But School Board Chairman Tom Greer admonished Wheeler for looking into the matter.
“It’s not your responsibility to investigate,” Greer said. “We have to work as a board and not five individuals.”
But Wheeler insists he did not act out of turn and informed Muse of his concerns.
“(Muse) sent the audit staff out there, not me,” Wheeler said.
Greer also chastised Wheeler for discussing the cost of the school’s production with school board members from other districts at a Florida School Board’s Association event.
“Talking to other state school board members, I was embarrassed about that,” Greer said.
Known for its professional quality and outstanding performances, the Celebration School’s drama troupe has presented three other productions in recent years.
The school’s past productions have been more expensive than typical school plays, the Harmers said, but “Annie” went over budget because of unforeseen circumstances.
The musical, cast with all girls, originally was slated to be the first major production to premier at the new district-owned auditorium at the former Tupperware center.
However, the venue became unavailable in October because of health and safety issues that could not be resolved in time for the production.
“It must be noted that canceling the show in October due to ‘life-threatening conditions’ at the former Tupperware Center would have resulted in the loss of approximately $20,000, which the school district would have been responsible for due to their cancellation of the venue,” wrote Celebration School Director Susan Brasfield to Muse in a memo dated Jan. 14.
Barbara Harmer said she, Brasfield and others contacted every available venue “that people would go to” and had no other choice than Gaylord Palms.
Gaylord Palms did not profit from the performance that spanned two weekends and in fact, lost money, according to company spokesman Keith Salwoski.
“But we were happy to help the Celebration School in their time of need,” Salwoski said.
Negotiations about forgiving the school’s debt are still being discussed with Gaylord Palms and other technical stage and lighting companies that are still owed money.
The Harmers said although they are confident all debt for “Annie” will be paid or forgiven by June, local businesses that would have donated to the cause now are intimidated because of Wheeler’s actions.
Barbara Harmer said Wheeler and others who have criticized the production are “jealous” and “envious” of the school’s success.
But Wheeler said he will continue to scrutinize expenses and internal school accounts.
“I hope you raise the money, I do,” Wheeler told the Harmers Tuesday night, “But if you don’t, it’s the taxpayers who are on the line.”
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Posted on June 9th, 2005 No comments
Published Thursday, June 9, 2005
Osceola School Board Member Tells Executives Better Superintendent Is Needed
By Mike Grogan
CELEBRATION — Jay Wheeler thinks there’s a culture of mediocrity in the Osceola County School District, and he is urging change at the top.
"If a child isn’t arrested or pregnant, that’s seen as a success," Wheeler, who represents District One on the county School Board, told a small group attending a Celebration Area Council luncheon meeting at Stetson University last week. The council, made up of business owners in Celebration, operates under the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce.
"I think our expectations are not high enough," Wheeler said. "People will live up to the expectations we give them."
Wheeler cited recent scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, which showed that of Florida’s 67 counties, 58 scored better than Osceola on third-grade reading tests and that Osceola was the only county not to have increased its test scores from the previous year.
"I find it intolerable to be at the bottom end of the scholastic scale," he said.
On the other hand, 10th-grade readers did show improvement with 26 percent reading at grade level in 2005, up from 25 percent the year before.
But Wheeler said having a little more than a quarter of students reading at the level they are supposed to is not exactly a sign of success.
"It is a leadership issue," he said, adding that a change has to be made in the superintendent’s office, starting with the superintendent of schools himself, Blaine Muse.
"We need an inspirational, motivational, driven, strong and charismatic leader," he said, adding that Muse is not that person.
His luncheon address was not the first time Wheeler has called publicly for a change. He made the same statements about Muse in an editorial he wrote for the Osceola News-Gazette on May 27.
But, he said to the Celebration group, that change is not likely to happen because other members of the School Board are satisfied with Muse’s performance.
"I’m the squeaky wheel on the board," he said. "I’m the one the other members don’t like."
Wheeler did have some good things to say about the district. He praised the board’s decision to remodel an abandoned K-Mart store on U.S. 192 and use it as a remediation center for ninthgraders.
"These are kids who need extra help. Who have not succeeded under usual school conditions," he said.
The center will house about 1,000 students and will also be the location for the district’s alternative programs such as those for teen mothers and students studying for GED exams.
Cliff Akey, a Celebration businessman who attended the luncheon, said he has seen similar programs fail in other places and questions what Osceola County will do to make its remedial center succeed.
"You have to pick the right person to run it," Akey said. "You can’t just put the worst performing principal in there."
"We’re not," Wheeler said, adding that Sheryl Alexander, who has been the principal at the county’s New Beginnings Alternative School, will be the center’s first principal when it opens in August.
Pam Bailey, corporate training and meeting planner for Stetson University in Celebration, asked Wheeler if it is possible to offer merit pay increases to the teachers who choose to work with atrisk kids at the school.
"I’m a big fan of merit pay," Wheeler said. "The one problem you have is the teachers’ union."
The union, he said, opposes merit pay and characterized any attempt to institute a merit-pay system as "an unwinnable battle."
Mike Grogan can be reached at Mike.Grogan@theledger.com or at 863-421-5811.
Posted on March 26th, 2005 No comments
Anti-Semitism next door
By Lyn Payne
Chana Heidtman-Quach was walking her kindergartner to his school bus stop in her St. Cloud neighborhood last Monday. She told the “Heritage” that, as they passed a neighbor’s house, the neighbor jumped out from behind a van parked in the driveway and yelled, “I thought you said you were going to f—ing kill them.” “I am going to f—ing kill them,” the neighbor’s husband replied, in the hearing of Heidtman-Quach and her young son. “Mommy, why are they saying this to us?” her son asked.
This wasn’t the first incident of hateful behavior this couple had shown. According to Heidtman-Quach, it was the culmination of a history of verbal abuse and intimidating behavior that began two years ago, after Heidtman-Quach had called the police when these neighbors, who live on her cul-de-sac, refused to turn down their loud and disruptive music.
“This is the worst anti-Semitism I’ve ever experienced in my life,” said Heidtman-Quach. She has lived in Charleston, S.C., Skokie, Ill., Oklahoma City, New Orleans, New York City, Germany and Japan.
Heidtman-Quach said that the same man and his wife have spray painted swastikas on trees on their own lawn and property, in full view of her family. She said that they have frequently yelled abusive and anti-Semitic remarks at her when they have seen her outside; the yelling has often gone on for hours. The couple have yelled insults such as “f—ing Jew” and the man has run down the street chasing Heidtman-Quach’s husband’s car and the cars of other neighbors.
On one occasion, Heidtman-Quach said that she was with her children and other neighborhood children who were playing in her yard when the man suddenly came into his own yard with an ax. He began to chop down his own mailbox, looking steadily over at Heidtman-Quach as he did so. “He glared at me the entire time he was chopping,” she said. It was a “very, very threatening gesture.” Heidtman-Quach did not know of a reason the man might have needed to destroy his mailbox.
Other neighbors in the cul-de-sac have been sporadically harassed by the couple, said Heidtman-Quach, but she knows of no one else who has been subjected to the persistent abuse and hate speech directed at her family.
Heidtman-Quach said she has made at least 20 reports to the police in St. Cloud complaining of these incidents over the last two years. Officers have come to talk to her, and on one occasion she watched as an officer went to the neighbors’ house and spoke to someone for a few minutes at the door. Heidtman-Quach said that she believes the police department may not be sure how to handle such an incident. Until last week, she said she had seen no result of her complaints. That was when Jay Wheeler, Osceola County School Board member, learned of the incidents and decided to do what he could to help.
Wheeler, who is Jewish, said that he spoke to Heidtman-Quach in her home after the incident at the bus stop. He has since brought the matter to the attention of the deputy mayor, Wade Davis; the city manager, Paul Kaskey; and the chief of police. The city of St. Cloud, said Wheeler, “haven’t handled it as well as they could have.” He also believes that the city may not have known the best way to deal with such an incident. Wheeler noted that the city manager and the police chief are relatively new in their positions. But, said Wheeler, “I’m confident that the City of St. Cloud will do the right things.”
Wheeler said that St. Cloud officials have realized that their region is “growing in a different way,” toward a more tolerant atmosphere that will make the area more attractive to new residents. “You can’t expect to get a more affluent clientele” of residents and business owners, he said, if the area has a reputation for bigotry.
Wheeler said that he would defend the rights of anyone, Jewish, African-American, Hispanic or a member of any other group, to live free of harassment. “I’ve never liked bullies,” he said.
St. Cloud deputy mayor Wade Davis contacted the “Heritage” last Friday and said that he had spoken to Heidtman-Quach by telephone, and has brought the matter to the attention of the city manager and the police chief. Davis said that the police chief is currently looking into the matter; as of last Friday he was awaiting the chief’s report. Davis said he himself had not been aware of Heidtman-Quach’s previous complaints until last week.
The day before the incident at Heidtman-Quach’s bus stop, the “Orlando Sentinel” published a story about an unrelated series of anti-Semitic incidents in the city of Maitland. That March 13 story said that Lisa Green and her family, who live near the Jewish Community Center campus in Maitland, were the target of a neighbor’s harassment in a series of incidents in 2004. Green has filed police reports with the Maitland Police Department, and the matter is now in the hands of the Orange-Osceola state attorney’s office, who have charged Green’s neighbor, identified by the “Sentinel” as 77-year-old Geraldine Ballard, with disorderly conduct.
Green has stopped walking her two young sons to the JCC preschool, because, she told the “Heritage,” she feared for her own and her children’s safety.
According to Lisa Green and to Maitland police reports, Ballard on three separate occasions confronted the Green family with behavior ranging from verbal abuse to threatening gestures. On every occasion, the Greens’ two sons, ages two and five, were present. On one occasion, Ballard waved a large stick at the Greens, and Lisa Green’s husband, David, stepped between Ballard and his family to protect them. Ballard has called the family “kikes,” “dirty Jews,” “a—holes,” and “trash,” among other insults. She and her adult daughters continue to glare at the family as they now drive past her property, and one of Ballard’s daughters has spit onto the ground as the Greens approached on the sidewalk.
Ballard owns several properties on Sandspur Road. Lisa Green said that in one incident, she and her sons were walking past one of Ballard’s properties when Ballard was in the yard. Ballard, again carrying a large stick, followed Green and her sons across the street, then went into the yard of another of her properties and continued to glare at the Greens.
During one of the Maitland police department’s responses to Green’s complaints, an elderly woman came to the door of Ballard’s residence and told the officer, “Jews need to stay off my property.” The woman also called the police department “Jew lovers” and the officer a “pig.” Lisa Green said that she and her family have never set foot onto any of Ballard’s properties, that they have only walked past on public sidewalks.
Green praised the Maitland police department’s response highly. “The Maitland police did everything right,” she said. The police report recommended that Ballard be charged with felony stalking; the state attorney’s office has instead filed a lesser charge against Ballard, that of disorderly conduct. Ballard is scheduled to answer that charge in the Orange County courthouse on Thursday, April 14. According to the “Orlando Sentinel” on March 20, “there was some question about whether Ballard might be charged with additional counts.” Disorderly conduct is a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a possible sentence of no more than 60 days in jail and no more than $500 in fines.
In a statement on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Federation CEO Susan Bodner and incoming Chairman Dick Appelbaum said, “Anti-Semitic incidents are not acceptable anywhere. The Jewish community is pleased that our partners in the City of Maitland are responding appropriately and in an expeditious manner to make it clear that this behavior is not acceptable in Maitland, and is not an accurate reflection of the philosophy of the City.
“We are troubled that the response in St. Cloud has not been as immediate and appropriate, and we are working with the authorities in hopes that St. Cloud will also become the kind of community where all are welcome.”
By Monday, Jay Wheeler had spoken to the St. Cloud city attorney and mayor, both of whom told him that they planned to contact their counterparts in Maitland for advice in dealing with Chana Heidtman-Quach’s situation. Wheeler told the “Heritage” on Monday that the matter is “new territory” for the St. Cloud officials, and that he remains confident that they will address it appropriately.
At press time Tuesday, the “Heritage” spoke to St. Cloud police chief Patrick Kelly, who said that that afternoon he had sent a lieutenant to Heidtman-Quach’s home to talk with her and to explain her rights. Kelly said, “She’s not the only one who’s had problems with [the disruptive neighbors].” He said that he and his officers would take care to monitor the situation and do whatever follow-up is appropriate. “We’re on top of it,” he said.
Both Lisa Green and Chana Heidtman-Quach told the “Heritage” that it is important to them to stand up for their rights. Heidtman-Quach said, “Even if I cannot stop the harassment, by telling others about it, especially in the Jewish community, it helps to wake people up from their apathy.” She went on, “I am a person that believes that everything happens for a reason. This has been so painful, but there must be purpose in it all.”
Green said that her late mother-in-law, whom she never knew, was a Holocaust survivor. Salome Green was a French teenager in Metz when her father was taken to a French prison and then to Auschwitz. Her mother was also taken away by the Nazis. Salome Green told her son David that her own mother’s last words to her were, “Take care of your sister.” Salome cared for her five-year-old sister, and both of them survived. When contemplating their response to their neighbor’s bigotry, Lisa Green said, “David and I talked about how far we wanted to pursue this.” “What would your mother do?” she asked him.
“That’s what made the decision for me,” said Lisa Green. “At the end of the day, I have to be able to tell my children that I did everything” to stand up against hate.
Posted on November 19th, 2004 No comments
AroundOsceola.com - your online source for local news.
Saturday, November 20 2004
Controversy over principal nominee
Muse stands behind White to head Celebration High
19 Nov 2004
By Ed Scott News-Gazette Staff Writer
Osceola County School Superintendent Blaine Muse stands behind his recommendation that the School Board hire former Collier County Superintendent Dan White as the next principal at Celebration High School, despite White’s involvement in a lawsuit and allegations of controversial actions.
White, 55, was superintendent in Collier County when that district hired a private investigator to spy on a teacher.
That information was revealed in a civil lawsuit brought by the teacher – Tom Briscoe of Lely High in Naples – against White and the Collier district.
“Every person we have talked to in Collier County has glowing recommendations of Dan White,” Muse said, adding that White was interviewed to be a principal, not a superintendent.
“With 14 years of high-school principalship under his belt, that’s what we were looking for.”
Muse said the negative stories he has read about White are based only on allegations.
“People are writing things as if it were already settled,” he said of the lawsuit. “We can’t talk about it either, because it’s an ongoing investigation down there for him and the (Collier County) school district.”
Muse said he’s not swayed by the fact that White never told Osceola district officials about the one-time spying incident or the lawsuit, during an interview.
“A pending lawsuit, as Superintendent Muse has mentioned, is not a settled lawsuit,” White said. “We don’t have a verdict yet. Those kinds of subjects would not come up at this stage (of an interview). There is no law that prevents a candidate who is in a civil litigation process from applying. It might even be discriminatory for one not to be hired on the basis of a lawsuit in another school district that hasn’t been settled.”
White is appealing in federal court on the basis of Florida law that he said exempts administrators and educators from being personally sued for decisions they make while in their position. A decision is not expected until next spring. If White loses on that point, a jury trial may ensue.
Osceola County School Board member Jay Wheeler said he first learned about the new information regarding White from one of the readers of his periodic, unofficial e-mail newsletter about district happenings.
Wheeler told Muse about the new information Wednesday. Wheeler said Muse responded that he “didn’t know anything about it. Based on the information he had prior to (Wednesday), (Muse) may not have made a bad decision, but he didn’t have all the information,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler added that Muse “may have been duped by this candidate.”
Muse said he then immediately contacted White, who answered all of the questions he was asked.
“Was he dishonest? In my opinion, no,” Muse said.
Wheeler said Jim DiGiacomo, deputy superintendent for school administration, who supervises principals, told him that White did not disclose the new information in an interview.
Speaking in general terms, Wheeler said candidates for principal positions should be forthcoming.
“In the interviews, this person, who we are considering for a leadership position, never shared with the hiring manager some of the background information that I would think would be relevant,” Wheeler said Thursday. “It’s not incumbent upon HR (human resources) to necessarily dig and dig and dig. That person should be forthcoming.”
School Board member Tom Greer supports Muse in the selection process.
“He’s got some great experience,” Greer said of White. “He’s been a principal and a superintendent. I don’t see a whole lot of controversy. Anybody can bring charges against anybody. Let’s let the superintendent do his job.”
Wheeler said if “this person” has not been forthcoming about this information, “what else isn’t he sharing, or what in the future might he not share? If you are going (for an interview), you disclose everything.”
White took exception with Wheeler’s comments.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we have a person on the board who feels so strongly that he would use a term such as ‘duped’ when he doesn’t even know me, nor has he talked to me yet, which I would be glad to do,” White said. “The standard operating procedure in every district on interviewing is that every candidate gets the same questions. If they want to ask other questions, they can do that. They didn’t. But because it’s not a case that has been settled, and was brought by a disgruntled employee against the School Board and myself, I cannot comment on the case, even though I would like to.
“It appears to me that by (Wheeler’s) statement that he is questioning my honesty, integrity and forthrightness, when there has been no finality of the case to indicate a right or wrong outcome.”
Meanwhile, Celebration High math teacher Bruce D. Gillett, a member of the selection committee for the Celebration High principal opening, wrote a letter this week to Mike Brizendine, who works in the district’s professional development department and coordinates the hiring of administrators. Gillett indicated that he was withdrawing his support of White for the position.
“The information that has become publicly available lately about the circumstances surrounding his departure from his previous position is very troubling and should have been provided to the Principal Selection Committee as part of our confidential deliberation,” Gillett wrote.
In an e-mail dated Tuesday, Nov. 16, Muse informed Wheeler and the four other board members that he would be recommending White for the position at the board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
“Dan has a tremendous background that he will bring to the position including 14 years as principal at Naples High School in Collier County,” Muse wrote. “He also served as Superintendent in Collier County from 1998-2003.”
While the superintendent recommends new hires, in Osceola County a candidate for principal must be approved by the School Board. Wheeler said he asked Muse to delay the vote on White or reconsider recommending him. Wheeler also requested that the School Board’s attorney, Suzanne D’Agresta, gather information about White from the Collier County Clerk of the Courts.
“I don’t even mind the fact that somebody might have some lawsuits,” Wheeler said. “(But) in the course of an interview, I would think that you would share that with somebody. In his mind, maybe he didn’t have to.”
Wheeler said he wouldn’t assign blame to Muse or any other district employee for not knowing more about White.
“But there was a precedent set this year,” he said, referring to Carlota Mendoza Iglesias, who was offered the principal position at Boggy Creek Elementary School.
“There was some information that came out and we asked that person to step aside and not take that position,” Wheeler said.
The current principal at Boggy Creek is Susan Brasfield. Celebration High Principal John Bushey retired Nov. 5.
White made friends and lost some during his tenure as superintendent in Collier County. According to the Naples Daily News, “activists formed groups to confront (him) about his policies, berating him at board meetings with raised voices: One group called for the superintendent position to be elected.”
White stepped down and became deputy superintendent of the district in May of 2003. But eight days later his successor, Ben Marlin “asked White to leave because he wanted … the staff to be clear that there was only one boss at the top,” WINK-TV reported in September 2003.
“It didn’t have anything to do with performance,” White said. “He chose to eliminate the position rather than keep me on, for economic reasons, and exhausted the buyout clause in the contract.”
White retired after 25 years with the district. His severance package was $354,555, the Daily News reported. The board adopted a resolution in September 2003, indicating that he had retired in good standing.
The Daily News reported that under state law, White had to sit out at least a year before he could work again as a school administrator.
White’s wife, Ruth, is also an educator. She taught in Collier County for 24 years. Dan White moved to Naples in 1978 to be an assistant principal at Naples High. One year later he began a 14-year run as principal of that school. He then held assistant superintendent positions until he was named superintendent in 1998.
The suit against White and the Collier County School District was scheduled to be heard in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers in August. But it is currently under appeal, as attorneys for the district seek to have his personal role dismissed, according to Briscoe’s attorney, Sam Gold.
Briscoe, a European and world history teacher, is suing over what he alleges was a history of quashing district employees’ speech on matters of public concern, Gold said. Briscoe also said the district attempted to lift his certificate to teach in Florida. He is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.
Muse said Scott Muri, Celebration assistant principal, was one of two “outstanding” candidates to succeed Bushey.
“I think the world of Scott Muri,” Muse said. “We took (him) into consideration. We took into consideration that we have an applicant (White) here also, who has a tremendous amount of experience in the principalship ranks.”
White’s response to allegations in the Daily News were that he could not comment on the details of the case, but he emphasized to the parents of Osceola County students that these were statements that were being made only through the newspaper, Gold and Briscoe.
“The facts for the School Board and myself will be revealed, refuting these allegations as the case proceeds to its mediation or its end by jury trial,” White said.
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Posted on November 19th, 2004 No comments
Choice of principal takes flak
Celebration parents plan protest; unresolved lawsuit stirs concern
By Tania deLuzuriaga
Sentinel Staff Writer
November 19, 2004
Collier County’s former superintendent, Dan White, appears to be coming to Osceola — not as a top district administrator, but to head Celebration High School.
Even as Superintendent Blaine Muse makes the recommendation to the School Board at a special meeting Tuesday, some Celebration parents are planning to protest the move, saying the position should go to interim Principal Scott Muri.
"He’s been here since the beginning of education in Celebration," said Garry Stephens, who has two daughters at the school. "I can think of no one, regardless of credentials, who’s better qualified."
Muri has just a few years’ experience as an assistant principal, while White spent 14 years as principal at Naples High in Collier County — years he said were the best in his career.
"In all my 32 years in education, being a principal was the most satisfying position I’ve had," White said Thursday.
He and his wife moved to Orlando this year to be closer to their two grown daughters, he said. His wife got a job teaching in Orange County, and White said he didn’t feel he was ready to retire.
"When I saw this opportunity, I think I saw a calling," he said.
White is involved in a lawsuit with Collier County teacher Tom Briscoe, who has accused the former superintendent of trying to quash his and other teachers’ First Amendment rights after they formed a reform group critical of the school district. According to the suit, in 2000 White approved hiring a private investigator to infiltrate the group and secretly tape-record the meeting.
A federal judge ruled in July that the case should go before a jury. White appealed that decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta. The appeal won’t be considered until spring, Briscoe’s attorney, Sam Gold, said.
Osceola district officials were not aware of the case until Wednesday but said it should not affect White’s standing.
"It did not come up in the interviews," Muse said. "We talked more about his experiences as a high school principal."
Some School Board members said this week that they would support tabling Muse’s recommendation to hire White until more information about the suit is available.
"I can’t imagine Blaine trying to get this done with this thing hanging out there," School Board Chairman John McKay said. "I’d like him to investigate this and make us comfortable with what the particulars are."
School Board member Jay Wheeler said he is especially troubled by the revelation after learning about the suit from a reporter, adding that School Board attorney Suzanne D’Agresta and Deputy Superintendent Jim DiGiacomo told him that they weren’t aware of the lawsuit until Wednesday.
"He [White] never shared it with the superintendent," Wheeler said. "If he’s not forthcoming with that, what else isn’t he forthcoming with?"
White said he was prepared to answer any questions the interview committee had about the case.
"They didn’t ask," he said.
White would not comment directly on the case because it remains unresolved, but he said it’s nothing that should concern teachers or parents.
"I think that my record of 32 years in education and not having a grievance filed against me, other than this case, says a lot," he said. "I’ve always been a teachers’ advocate."
Though people in Collier remember White as being a good high school principal, his time as superintendent from 1998 to 2003 was more controversial.
"Things got very rocky," Collier County School Board member Linda Abbott said.
In addition to the lawsuit, White was lambasted for spearheading the construction of a $14 million administrative center, which critics said was too costly. Teachers and School Board members also criticized White’s communication skills.
"He was extremely professional, very gentlemanly," Abbott said. "But he did struggle with being real social."
White’s contract as Collier superintendent was renewed for three years in 2001, but the following year, he announced plans to step down in 2003 and take the district’s No. 2 job as deputy superintendent.
When the new superintendent, Ben Marlin, started in May 2003, one of his first acts was to fire White, saying the former superintendent’s presence raised questions about who was in charge. He got a $354,000 severance package to leave the district, according to the Naples Daily News.
Stephens, the parent in Celebration, called the lawsuit "a big red flag." He is trying to organize a rally at the School Board meeting Tuesday for parents to show their support for Muri.
"If they can do it for Cheryl Cassano, they can do it for Scott," he said, referring to Celebration School’s assistant principal, who was fired last spring and then rehired after an outcry from parents.
School Board member Tom Greer said he is going to stick with Muse’s recommendation.
"As a superintendent, you’re going to be named in a lot of lawsuits," he said. "If Blaine’s comfortable bringing it to us, then I’m comfortable approving it."
Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at email@example.com or 407-931-5934.
Posted on June 21st, 2004 No comments
Board member out to make changes
Osceola school leader Jay Wheeler annoys some, but others think he’s doing a good job.
By Tania deLuzuriaga | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted July 21, 2004
KISSIMMEE — People call him a maverick, a jerk, or worse. But none of it bothers Jay Wheeler, who is perhaps the only school official in Central Florida who has publicly made politicians cuss and schoolgirls cry.
"I’m not trying to rock the boat, but if something’s wrong, it’s wrong," he said.
Since joining the Osceola County School Board in 2002, Wheeler has annoyed some people and been praised by others.
Seldom dull, he stands out among the board members of Central Florida’s fastest-growing school district.
In just an hour at a recent board meeting, Wheeler went from extolling the virtues of televised board meetings to asking that the public be closed out of the board’s conversation on the superintendent’s annual performance review.
"He’s really rubbed me the wrong way," said Mary Tumbleson, a teacher who was offended after Wheeler said that if teachers worked harder, the district’s test scores would go up. "He’s not a team player."
Where some see a rebel, others see a revolutionary.
"I called him because he is controversial and outspoken," said Jil Robertson, who telephoned Wheeler last August when a child threatened her fourth-grader at school.
"He dropped everything he was doing and came to talk to me," she said. "I don’t know a lot of people who would do that for me."
Wheeler, 45, has built his image by rallying for children’s causes and encouraging parents to be involved in their children’s schools.
School officials have found themselves doing damage control on more than one occasion after Wheeler said or wrote something inflammatory, though.
In February, school officials apologized to a 15-year-old girl who burst into tears during a classroom discussion with Wheeler. He told her that the United States is the best country in the world and if she didn’t like it, she should leave. Wheeler’s reaction? "I didn’t make her cry, she chose to cry."
In April, he shocked Osceola’s political community by calling for someone to run against School Board Chairman Tom Greer after the two got into a profanity-laced shouting match outside a County Commission meeting.
A lifelong Republican, Wheeler grew up in Rochester, N.Y. Although he attended Kent State University and Ithaca College, Wheeler didn’t graduate.
"The last courses I took, I was bored stiff," he said.
He lived in California and then Hawaii before moving to Orlando in 1990 with his wife, Laura.
It wasn’t until after his 1995 move to unincorporated Osceola County that Wheeler said he became interested in politics. He said his children, Jane, 7, and Ben, 4, inspired him to go into public service.
"I saw the way things here were run, and thought I can either complain or work to make things better," he said.
The third try was a charm for Wheeler, who lost a 1998 bid for School Board and a 2000 bid for County Commission.
Many credit his success to the name recognition garnered in his earlier campaigns, much of it coming from Celebration.
His allegiance to the Disney-built development is obvious in School Board meetings, where he frequently brings up Celebration-related issues. He is also a frequent contributor to a Celebration-centered Internet message board.
Communication is key for Wheeler, who works as a sales manager for Nations Title Agency. Each week he sends a diary-style e-mail to about 1,600 people highlighting his activities and opinions about local issues.
His messages now carry a disclaimer saying they aren’t an official communication from the school district, a move that stemmed from other board members accusing Wheeler of acting unilaterally.
Six months after his election, Wheeler cast the only vote against retaining Superintendent Blaine Muse. He later sent an e-mail containing parts of a supposedly private conversation with Muse.
Wheeler’s crusade continued last week when he again called for a new superintendent, saying the job had outgrown Muse.
"Jay came onto this board with an agenda," School Board member David Stone said. "It was clear from the first day that he wanted to get rid of the superintendent."
Wheeler’s flair for controversy has pushed his reputation beyond the borders of Osceola County. However, as Central Florida school districts coordinate their activities to accomplish more at the state level, some question whether individualism helps.
"In truth, you can’t be very effective on your own," Volusia County School Board Chairwoman Judy Conte said. "That doesn’t mean rubber-stamping everything with the other board members, but engaging in meaningful dialogue."
Conte would not comment specifically on Wheeler, but said tactics like his "are counterproductive to good government."
Wheeler insists that he has no political aspirations beyond Osceola County, saying he serves to make a difference.
"People didn’t elect me because they liked the way things were," he said. "People elected me because they wanted change."
Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-931-5934.