“Dr. Wobbly arrived shaky, remains shaky, and has yet to demonstrate the subject matter expertise or commitment needed to lead the zone effectively.”
BY DR. GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — Before the COVID-19 pandemic — with one exception, Lakewood Elementary — schools in the Transformation Zone (Campbell Park, Melrose, Maximo, and Fairmont Park) were on par with state mandates to continue to improve the educational experiences of our Black and Brown children. The progress was led by the former Transformation Zone Director Nikita J. Reed and embraced by the scholars, educational leaders, teachers, coaches and staff of the various schools.
Three events coalesced to change the trajectory of progress at the four aforementioned schools: Ms. Reed left the district, Dr. Wobbly (Webley) replaced her, and COVID-19 resulted in virtual learning. In an article I wrote regarding Ms. Reed’s departure, I stated: “The learning curve for Ms. Reed’s replacement is going to be a steep one… [I]ssues of culture, ethnicity, and local community norms will predictably be challenging…”Dr. Wobbly arrived shaky, remains shaky, and has yet to demonstrate the subject matter expertise or commitment needed to lead the zone effectively.
While student progress/achievement at Campbell Park, Melrose, Maximo, and Fairmont Park Elementary schools regressed during the pandemic, ironically, Lakewood Elementary’s composite scores earned the school an ‘A’ letter grade. Previously, Lakewood’s record was less than stellar: 2017=D, 2018=F, and 2019=F. Testing was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic. And now the miracle of 2021 – an A. How did it happen, and who was the miracle worker?
Lakewood Elementary was at risk of being taken over by the state based on its history of failure. An outside operator was managing it in an attempt to ward off a takeover.
There are two schools of thought regarding the miraculous improvement. One school posits they cheated. This position holds that there is no way numerically one can attain the A status given the population of students zoned for the school. Since the population demographics did not change, the dramatic turnaround in one year is inconceivable.
The other school of thought suggests it is possible given the grade is a function of fifth-grade student performance, and the school received special attention from the district at the expense of the other four schools in the zone. For example, the school population was reduced by nearly half from 600 plus students to just over 300. Problem students were transferred to other zone schools, and new students were not enrolled. Additionally, Lakewood Elementary had more human working support capital than the other four schools and a significantly lower teacher-pupil ratio. A significant number of students had been retained, resulting in a longer period to master the skills.
Lakewood Elementary also hosted high-level state and city officials. Education Commissioner Richard Cochran, Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego, School Board members, and a member of St. Petersburg’s City Council all attended the high-level meeting supporting the school’s leadership and staff.
Those who allege cheating suggest the scores may have been impacted by who proctored the tests, individuals feeding students answers, and a host of other factors. Nonetheless, the incredible turnaround is enough to make the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Ronnie Milsap, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder all wonder: how did it happen? It is the kind of thing that makes you go, “Hmmmm!”
Far be it from me to suggest anyone cheated. Rather, if this miracle is, in fact, real, it appears the district has figured it out. Therefore, it is time to replicate. However, replication should not be at the expense of other schools. All the Transformation Zone schools should receive the same treatment. Expense should not be an excuse given the significant funds the district receives based on our demographic. The money is there. Let’s reevaluate how we spend and allocate the dollars.
The leaders and teachers who had to work with double the population, diminished support staff in the form of coaches, behavioral specialists, etc., and a wobbly leader deserves better. They deserve a qualified, committed advocate and a supporting voice. They do not have that with Ms. Reed’s replacement, who dismantled effective processes, installed all-white coaches, and has little regard for diversity and inclusion.
So, what exactly has Dr. Wobbly (Webley) done for the Transformation Zone or the district? I am sure, like me, other inquiring minds want to know.