The Franklin County School Board, as well as a Carrabelle community activist who delivered a sharp critique, focused March 7 on how the schools can come to terms with an issue often not publicly addressed – the troubling problem of county students migrating to other schools, and other school districts, for their educations.
Members of the school board grilled Superintendent Nina Marks, and Assistant Principal Eric Bidwell, on enrollment projections, and learned that the district is projecting a total of 1,086 students next year, which includes the nearly 350 students enrolled at the k-8 Apalachicola Bay Charter School.
This would be more than 60 fewer students than are currently enrolled, which is about 1,148 students.
Bidwell said the district lost four students over the previous week. He was asked to outline how the school district keeps track of the reasons students and their parents say they are leaving.
“Most has been academic struggles; the child has actually been behind. A lot of times it’s a problem between two students,” he said. “We need ROTC, we need the building program, we need some things to keep these kids in school. We have to have some strategies to keep these students in school.”
Marks said several students have moved to the First Baptist Christian School.
School board member Teresa Ann Martin suggested teachers have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the problem. “If they’re not teaching it well to the student, it’s frustrating to the student,” she said. “It’s not always the student’s fault with something like that.”
In his remarks as a member of the audience, Carrabelle’s Dan Rosier was even more explicit in his critique that a segment of the faculty is part of the problem.
“I am troubled, by the good, the bad and the ugly,” he began. “We have a brand new school, we have good teachers, good students, and we have good parents too.”
But, he continued, “we have a very high withdrawal rate and no one can tell me why. That’s the ugly thing. We’ve had 12 withdrawals from December to January, I can’t understand that.
“We have staff using social media to discredit the administration, that’s an ugly thing,” said Rosier. “We have a divisive element within the staff that impedes our progress. We need to get rid of them.
“We’re having kids going to Wakulla County, kids going over to Gulf County for school when they live here in Franklin County,” he said, noting that even Gadsden County has a higher letter grade than here.
“They have an A and we have a D,” he said. Franklin County High School and District actually are graded as C schools by the Florida Department of Education, although that grade is in keeping with a state policy that a district can not drop more than a single letter grade in a given year.
“I’m just a citizen but I’m an advocate for the students, the board and the superintendent,” Rosier said. “We have an opportunity to do something. We can’t stand by and let this stuff go on. We’re not making good decisions.”
He said he “had a parent tell me the other day, that in sixth period her kid is on the phone calling, and the parent is begging her ‘We have three more months, hang in there.”
Rosier offered five suggestions, including improving the food and school uniform, shortening the days, putting in an auto shop and replacing some staff.
“This is all I’m hearing, replacement of staff,” he said. “I think some of them are parading themselves as teachers. All the teachers I know that teach real well have a passion for teaching.”
Rosier said the district needs to follow a procedure in which employees receive verbal, and then if necessary, written warnings followed by suspension if it is warranted.
“The next step is termination,” he said. “I don’t know if it still works that way or not, but that’s how we get rid of them.”
He said with average teacher pay in the county about $50,000, including benefits, “we should expect more from them and we should get more.
“What’s the difference between that school and the ABC School?” Rosier asked. “How many withdrawals have we interviewed to find out why they leave? How many school districts have we visited to see what models they have? What will the profile of our next principal look like? What changes are we willing to make to improve the achievement level of the Franklin School?”
Rosier said he and his preacher have prayed about the situation. “I say to you even though the odds might be stacked against us, if we do the right thing God will show favor,” he said. “If the devil has his foot on your neck, his gonads are exposed.
“If we all start rowing in the same direction I think we can raise the level of achievement here,” he said.