Facts matter

Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.

By Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D., Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — I find the recent lovefest between Pinellas County Commission candidate Rene Flowers and Republican City Council member Robert Blackmon very interesting.

Somehow, a very eloquent statement by Blackmon found its way into Flowers’ campaign. He commends Mrs. Flowers for her work as a school board member based on a scheduled visit to Lakewood Elementary School.

Lakewood Elementary is one of the five schools featured in the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Failure Factories,” which chronicled academic failure in south St. Petersburg’s schools in Flowers’ school board district.

During the dialogue between Blackmon and Flowers, the notation “Facts Matter” appeared. I couldn’t agree more and would like to review a few facts for the reader.

First, of the five schools profiled in the Times’ series, Lakewood Elementary remains the only failure. Melrose, Maximo, Fairmont Park, and Campbell Park Elementary schools have all met state-mandated requirements.

These schools are in the Transformation Zone previously under Nikita J. Reed’s oversight. You recall Ms. Reed, the African-American female who recently left the district and was replaced by a white female, still trying to get her footing.

Fact two, Blackmon attended a scheduled, planned meeting at Lakewood Elementary along with State Commissioner of Education Richard Cochran, Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego and other officials. Based on what he saw and heard at the meeting, Blackmon praised Flowers and commended the teachers, staff and scholars. He indicated his pessimism, fueled by the Times’ negative coverage, was dissipated based on his visit.

There is yet another very obvious fact. One visit does not translate into a resounding truth. If I were cynical, I would posit the school leaders prepared vigorously for the visit and even promised the scholars treats if they behaved.

Order is essential to learning, but far too often, there is an overemphasis on order at the expense of teaching and learning. This is the correctional system mentality that has permeated educational systems for years.

Success is defined as the absence of disorder. Quiet kids in orderly rows eating treats became the mission. Low expectations by teachers and instructional leaders also contribute to this phenomenon and result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, given facts matter, what does the data say about teaching and learning at Lakewood Elementary?  I examined the Florida Department of Education’s website and found Lakewood’s record has been less than stellar for the last three years.

  • 2017 – D
  • 2018 – F
  • 2019 – F

Due to the pandemic, testing was suspended; thus, there is no grade for the 2020 school year.

The obvious question then is, why are Blackmon and Flowers celebrating failure? Are they familiar with the data?  After all, “facts matter.” During Blackmon’s previously referenced eloquent dialog, he indicated a need to “show off the positive.”

I concur and cannot understand why a herculean effort was made to profile Lakewood Elementary rather than showcase educational leaders, teachers, scholars and staff at Campbell Park, Melrose, Fairmont Park and Maximo Elementary Schools where the scholars are orderly, the teachers and staff are engaged and more importantly, teaching and learning is effective. The data bears it out.

One might speculate and conclude Flowers’ motive for celebrating failure was self-serving. Blackmon complimented and commended her.  His statement is good campaign material.

However, given “facts matter,” I prefer to examine behaviors by School Board member Flowers that are not speculative. For example, except for photo ops, she was seldom visible in Transformation Zone schools.

Facts matter, and it is a fact that Mrs. Flowers eagerly carries Dr. Grego’s less than fully transparent message regarding black high school graduation rates. She gleefully touts the increase but consistently fails to inform the community that the increase is due to concordance, and the majority of the students receiving concordance diplomas are not proficient in reading and math.

This fact was validated in a community forum entitled The Hidden Faces of Racism by a fellow school board member who added, concordant graduates may have difficulty finding employment and gaining college entrance.

Facts matter, and it is a fact that Flowers gave a full-throated endorsement and support to an elementary school principal who ordered what amounted to segregated classrooms.  The leader was subsequently dismissed and later arrested for assaulting a student.

Facts matter, and it is a fact that Superintendent Grego challenged Mrs. Flowers and another board member during an official meeting for an unwarranted challenge of expenditures for Transformation Zone staff Professional Development Training conducted by African-American contractors.

Facts do indeed matter. And, while I care for the scholars, educators, and parents at Lakewood Elementary, I am not sure the principal or Flowers have earned the right to take a bow.

Lakewood Elementary is managed by an outside operator and has more human working capital than the four aforementioned Transformation Zone schools — yet, they rise. The DATA — not a visit or walk through — supports four teaching and learning success stories and one school, Lakewood, still in need of the improvement necessary to meet state mandates.

Facts matter, and the fact is neither Flowers nor Blackmon publicly celebrated Nikita J. Reed and the Transformation Zone scholars, education leaders, staff and teachers’ success in 2019.

All four schools met state requirements and received passing grades — Lakewood did not. I reported the success in an article entitled “Causes to celebrate” in the July 18, 2019, edition of The Weekly Challenger.

The fact is, for attentive observers, school board member Flowers has done little or nothing to earn the adulation of Councilman Blackmon. Her representation of parents and students in south St. Petersburg schools has not been stellar or characterized by unqualified candor.

I have spent 40 plus years lobbying the Pinellas School District on behalf of Black and brown children. I have been involved with two lawsuits and knew all of the Black school board members who preceded Flowers. They all made what the late civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Sadly, that legacy disappeared approximately eight years ago, and as she is fond of saying: we “know Rene.”

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