Lack of district accountability from a parent's perspective


This parent's outrage concerning the elimination of dual enrollment at Pine View and the subsequent lack of accountability is us all.

Subject: RE: Restore DE at Pine View school
Date: Sun, August 12, 2018 6:35 pm
To: "'Covert Stephen'" <>,
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Dear Dr. Covert (and School Board Members),

Thank you, sincerely, for your response to my recent written concerns around dual enrollment (DE) at Pine View (PV) and issues around Mrs. Allen’s role and impact on teacher evaluation at PV.  I believe that only an open dialogue and transparency between Pine View’s administration, the school board, parents, and students, can these issues be successfully addressed and the goal of providing the best possible education for the students be achieved.   I apologize for my slow response to Dr. Covert’s email. I have been out of the state on vacation and I apologize for the lengthy response below but have tried to lay it all out by topic to be easier to digest.

Let me first address the SCF / DE issue:

This is Dr. Covert’s statement:

Our students at Pine View have access to Dual Enrollment (DE) programs, as well as Advanced Placement (AP) courses through the College Board on our campus.  There are also opportunities for students to take courses on the campus of State College of Florida (SCF), as well as virtual courses at the University of Florida (UF) and the University of South Florida (USF).  When SCF made their decision to offer the majority of their DE program offerings at their SCF campus or virtually, over 80% of the impacted students at Pine View in the mathematics area chose to stay on our Pine View campus and take highly-rigorous courses with our PV, gifted-endorsed faculty.  Far more than half of the students in the English-Language Arts (ELA) area chose a highly-rigorous option with our PV faculty, as well.  In addition, Pine View will continue to offer some DE courses on our campus.  I cannot speak to SCF's motives or rationale other than reiterating what Mr. Cantees shared at the public forum held with parents, and the letter I sent home with students.

Dr. Covert doesn’t address the issue at hand around DE – specifically that SCF made the decision to eliminate DE at PV in Nov 2018 and notified PV in February of 2018.  

  • This was not communicated to parents or students at PV until May 2018 - AFTER students had completed fall class registration (over 200 students enrolled in classes with pine view knowing that they would not be available)
  • No reason for the end of DE was given to parents / students and in his statement above Dr. Covert claims to not know SCF’s  motives or rationale but this information was given to PV and the Board in February
  • SCF has clearly stated their reasons for ending the program, none of which reflect Dr. Covert’s claim that students preferred to take the classes offered on campus with PV faculty
    • The reasons, obtained by concerned parties through the Freedom of Information act come from the SCSB and SCF itself and detail a disturbing lack of accountability on the part of Pine View School as one of the main reasons, specifically the 2016 Climate Survey results showing an alarming lack of faith in the Principal and both the Principal’s and District’s unwillingness to address the grievances (more on the Climate survey results later). 
    • Issues with the inaccuracy of PV transcripts was also cited by SCF as a reason (academic integrity was not a given) and although addressed by the district and PV, it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that no third party was brought to examine the issue and confirm that trust with transcripts can be re-established in good faith

Action needed: DE is a long-standing tradition at PV and one that serves the special needs of the advanced students who need a broader continuum of choices to reach as far as they wish to go in their academic areas of interest. DE is also a ‘right’ of students in the District and both Dr. Covertand the Board should take decisive action to address the reasons for SCF’s withdrawal and ensure that full access is reinstated. If it cannot be reinstated, Dr. Covert needs to be transparent with the student body and the parents ASAP about why DE was pulled from PV and what steps he is taking to reinstate it.

I want to call out a couple of other things from Dr. Covert’s statement about the academic opportunities at PV, specifically access to FLVS

  • PV staff is continually and consistently refusing access for students to FLVS despite the Chancellor’s letter of a few years ago, stating that no student can be refused FLVS except if the student attends a magnet / or special focus school.  This is causing a lot of stress and upset among students and parents, who FIRST have to know someone like me who knows their rights and can forward the Chancellor’s letter to them, SECOND have to go around the school to sign their students up for FLVS rather than follow the protocol and advice of school staff (who should be there to facilitate student’s academic needs, rather than the Principal’s efforts to stop FLVS enrollment). This practice is producing a great deal of dissatisfaction with parents and students at PV and shouldn’t even be an issue

Action needed: PV and the Board should be providing accurate and truthful information about student access to FLVS to every PV student and their parents

The Climate Survey – let’s go back to that, because it’s the elephant in the room that Dr. Covert never addresses.

He says….Notwithstanding these very positive trends in objective measures of success and achievement, there are always areas for improvement, and Pine View has a School Climate Committee which analyzes climate surveys and makes recommendations to administration which we review with Mr. Cantees at least semi-annually.  We have been sincerely responsive to the recommendations, and have implemented their suggestions.  If you have suggestions, we welcome those, as well, REDACTED.

our School Improvement Plan (SIP) is developed annually and approved by the School Advisory Committee (SAC), and they will be reviewing and analyzing these data in depth, and making recommendations on areas and opportunities for growth

I am completely unaware of any School Climate Committee or of their activities and have had children at the school, served on various committees, was a member of SAC for two years, am a regular reader of the Pine Views, receive Remind messages, etc. I have NEVER heard of it.  I am also shocked to hear such a committee exists and given Dr. Covert’s comments around the climate survey in the past, suspicious of who is on the committee, whether it includes all relevant stakeholders (faculty, staff, parents, and students) and what actions this committee has actually taken, as the Climate Survey results continue to be extremely poor. Dr. Covert has twice dismissed out of hand in my presence (at a SAC meeting and in an email) Climate Survey results as being only those teachers / staff / parents / students who are disgruntled and a small sample (he actually gave a memorable and disturbing quote to this effect to the Sarasota Herald Tribune after the first poor showing).  The Board and District have also been turning a blind eye to the Climate Survey results for PV. The scathing results from the staff / teachers at PV toward their ‘boss’ in that survey show a massive problem encompassing communication, expectations, trust, etc. and are only solidified / verified by the roughly 30 staff / teachers who left PV during or after the 2016-2017 school year.  And the survey results cannot be dismissed as a small and only disgruntled sample, unless you want to apply the same logic to the climate surveys for other high schools, which are vastly more positive.

  • I served on SAC for two years and despite SAC’s clear mandate to help with addressing any school improvement issues, the issues on the Climate Survey were never once discussed (I was told it was not the appropriate setting)
  • SAC is charged by the District with preparing the annual SIP.  In only a couple of meetings did we even discuss the SIP and only at a level of who was completing what and when (Covert’s staff were in charge of every word and action). A few parents, including myself, raised issues around how the standard measurements for the District are not wholly applicable to the PV student body, as PV students perform well on all measures (as expected).  We proposed having a look at any of the students at PV who were performing at a lower level (e.g., a 3 on the FSA vs. 4s and 5s) in an effort to identify if there was a means of helping them improve their scores.  Dr. Covert did not stand in the way of these efforts but as I recall, almost never spoke in the SAC meetings other than to talk about current events, activities, awards, etc, which is what we spent most of our time on, never getting to the SIP. We were also left, as interested parents, to chase down the raw data for our school on FSA
  • Dr.  Covert may point to Town Hall meetings at PV as giving stakeholders an opportunity to address these concerns in an open forum but NONE of the scheduled forums had the Climate Survey, staff complaints, or the related issues (teacher / staff exodus, teachers bullying students, etc) as set topics.  As a personal note – I am an involved parent, with a desire for school excellence, which I believe starts at the top and nurtures excellence among staff and students but NONE of the Town Hall topics were even remotely related to any issue that I view  as a pressing problem at PV. You’d think there would be ONE but transparency is a BIG issue with this administration
    • The only Town hall I could document was the very first on March 2017: Construction project; I could not find any other PV Town Halls in any Pine View Schedule or via Remind held since then but I think there was probably another and I vaguely recall it might have had to do with STEM
  • The impact on the students and the PV community from the dissatisfaction shown on the Climate Survey (and in the mass faculty/ staff exit) that I’ve seen / heard about include: loss of very experienced and strong teachers in key subjects, students hearing the complaints of disgruntled teachers during class time, unhappy and stressed out teachers being mentally disconnected as they consider their option to stay or go, stressed out teachers taking out their unhappiness on students, an influx of newly hired faculty who do not have the skill or ability to teach the courses they are assigned, stressed out APs charged with evaluating teachers who are already at the end of their ropes, good teachers being harassed by APs, a decline in the sense of community and camaraderie among and between students as well as between students and staff (evidenced in a number of ways), a dire need for instruction through another avenue (FLVS)

Action needed: The Board needs to demand that Dr. Covert take swift and decisive action to identify the source(s) of faculty/staff dissatisfaction and lack of faith and convene a committee that involves representatives from all stakeholders, including faculty, staff, parents, and students.  From there, I would expect Dr. Covert to again, take action that would have a high likelihood of improving the work conditions and satisfaction of PV faculty in the short term – address the big negatives FIRST; work toward rebuilding trust, communication, and community where everyone (including students and parents) is on the same ‘side’. The other option for the board is to consider replacing Dr. Covert, which should be on the table if the aforementioned action is not taken. All actions taken in response to the Climate Survey should be out in the open and transparent for all stakeholders. The Climate Survey results are out in the open, so the response also needs to be.

Let’s talk more about the information flow and what Mrs. Allen is up to or how the admin is evaluating teachers. Dr. Covert says…

I appreciate Ms. Brown responding to your email, and I am happy to share information with you.  Unfortunately, you have some incorrect information in your email, so I am very pleased to have the opportunity to share accurate information with you.  If someone has told you something that sounds concerning or a rumor you may hear, please know that we are only a phone call or an in-person visit away, and we are more than happy to provide you with correct information.  We want correct and accurate information to be shared among and with parents, and is a major reason why we collaborate with PVA for the monthly Town Hall meetings, as well as sending messages, PVA's Pine Views, and letters from the school.  I believe Pine View School is the most active school using Remind.comin the district to share information with parents and community members.

I appreciate your sharing your concern related to Ms. Allen and her doctoral studies.  Ms. Allen is the assistant principal for curriculum and is a student in a doctoral program for education.  She takes classes and studies for her program outside of school hours, does not do any of the required work during her duty day at Pine View, and it does not conflict with her work with teachers at Pine View in any way.  She is not conducting or participating in any research studies whatsoever, and has not solicited or invited anyone to participate in any research study.  Ms. Allen has evaluated teachers solely based on the district-approved evaluation instrument.  If you have information to share which suggests otherwise, I would very much appreciate your sharing that with us so that it can be investigated.

The constant flow of teachers leaving Pine View is damaging the school – obviously the morale and satisfaction of teachers but also the morale and ‘community’ among the students. Dr. Covert wants to tout PV’s ‘gifted-endorsed faculty’ but a gifted endorsement alone does not an excellent teacher make and PV cannot hold onto excellent faculty. 

  • Dr. Covert can point to all of the awards and accolades of the student body BUT HE CANNOT TAKE ANY CREDIT FOR IT. There is no evidence that the teachers have done anything to improve student performance at PV.  In fact, credit probably needs to be given to the instruction that more and more students are opting for through FLVS or because more parents are hiring tutors for students and those tutors are sometimes former great PV faculty.  Most likely, the credit belongs to the students themselves. These students have tested gifted and perform as gifted learners on every test, assessment, academic opportunity you throw at them. The students make PV what it is but it is getting harder to ensure a smooth journey toward success
    • Great teachers have left – leaders of curriculum in critical subjects like math, science, language – and been replaced by people with a lot less experience and ability
    • Students are opting to avoid certain teachers  / courses by taking them on FLVS. Despite the school’s effort to curb use of FLVS, I would venture to say enrollment has gone up dramatically (I would actually love to see the numbers on that, being the REDACTED I am)
    • Students are avoiding the bad teachers (who are becoming more difficult to dodge) by requesting another option if possible (I’ll bet the amount of teacher switching at middle and high school levels has also gone up dramatically at PV in the last few years)
    • Students themselves are communicating with each other and parents around who the bad teachers are, how they are bad, and even starting petitions to get rid of some.  The students talk to parents and the parents then become involved in trying to remedy the situation for their child but most don’t have the time or energy to help remedy the problem for the student body on the whole
    • Parents are hiring more tutors – I have been lucky enough to hire two past math teachers, each heads of their subjects, as tutors for my CHILD. Both left PV not because they wanted to or even because of the drop program but because of the stress and problems brought on by Dr. Covert’s leadership

Action needed: Address the issues in the Climate Survey to encourage the retention of experienced and high quality teachers and ensure that high quality teachers are interested in taking open positions at PV – unless and until this is addressed, I would expect the same downward turn in instructional quality and high demand for FLVS, etc

  • On the Mrs. Allen issue…the admin, as far as I can see (and the climate survey and turnover indicates) does NOTHING to nurture and support the excellent teachers who are left and they are speaking out in frustration TO STUDENTS and PARENTS about their frustration with the admin. That’s how it gets to parents and becomes what Dr. Covert is calling ‘incorrect information’ or ‘rumor’ about the parameters upon which they are being evaluated and those parameters being tied to Mrs. Allen’s dissertation. I guess the issue is, if you don’t look, you choose to deny, avoid, and bury issues (CLIMATE SURVEY), the issues do not go away. They start to bubble up everywhere.  It’s the Principal’s job to investigate.  I am realizing that the teachers do not talk to him or the APs directly about anything of substance / complaints because NOTHING happens or improves for them and they put themselves at risk of losing their jobs.  
    • If staff are being evaluated based on a district-approved evaluation instrument, my next question is going to be…is Mrs. Allen using the results of the findings from this instrument in her dissertation in any way, shape or form? I think Dr. Covert had better find out.  
    • If the evaluation instrument includes teachers conducting ‘team building activities’ and writing their daily curriculum on the board, Dr. Covert should be working with the District to address how relevant this is for the students at Pine View. PV students SHOULD be exposed to a curriculum designed specifically for gifted students and therefore the standard device for measurement and evaluation of teachers is not likely to be applicable. I do not have any evidence, however, that Dr. Covert understands or is interested in the research around gifted learning. I’ve never heard him speak about the student body at PV as needing any specialized approach to learning but if you are familiar with the research, they do and it should be incorporated into how teachers are evaluated. Dr. Covert touts the gifted-certifications of his teachers but if he’s subjecting them to standard non-gifted criteria for evaluation, then something is very amiss.

Actions needed:

  • Dr. Covert the Board / District need to begin addressing the Climate Survey in earnest, including some means by which teachers have the ability to express their specific areas of dissatisfaction to their administrators without repercussion
  • Start conducting exit surveys with a sample of those who leave every year to find out the cause and their suggestions for improving the satisfaction of faculty and staff
  • Put the issue on the agenda for SAC and tap the parents, students, and teachers who have the will and energy make steps toward improving the ‘climate’ and operational health of the school. 
  • Instruct Mrs. Allen to undertake an exploration of the available research on gifted learning / curriculum and develop a proposal to the Principal, the Board / District, and ALL RELEVANT STAKEHOLDERS around core elements of gifted learning that might be appropriate to integrate into PV’s curriculum and ultimately inform faculty evaluations that are relevant to this special population of students 

On the issue of test results and school performance, Dr. Covert brings up the Magnet school ranking

This year, Pine View was ranked as the #6 Magnet School in the United States- something it has never done before. 

  • The only reason the magnet ranking ‘has never been done before’ is because this was the first year the school could be entered as a magnet school. Unfortunately, in the national ranking, PV dropped to #19,  - I know in 2013 it was #5 and 2014 it was #6 – I could not find the other years in a brief search but did not see it among the top 10 in 2015 or 2016.
  • The magnet designation was a concern for parents – one they brought before the board, I believe. It was done without any clear reasoning or purpose, and though the box was checked to make PV a magnet school, it does not appear to fit the definition of a magnet school.  This leads me to wonder…
    • Was it done so that PV could officially deny students access to FLVS?
    • Was it because the school has been dropping in rankings since 2014 and this would give it a smaller playing field and make it more competitive? This one really gives me pause because Dr. Covert didn’t even mention the overall National ranking in his comments with all of those other achievements
    • The ranking process / methodology is probably not without its flaws and as a REDACTED I know how small things can change a statistical outcome but if the magnet designation was in direct response to changes in how schools were being nationally ranked by US News or Newsweek, the Principal and Board need to be transparent about it. Instead, the actions have and are being taken in the dark, without stakeholder input or real answers, and that just naturally breeds suspicion – and dissatisfaction!!

Action needed: Communicate with your stakeholders on decisions that impact the educational choices of students, how the school is measured against other U.S. high schools, etc etc. Transparency, transparency, transparency

As far as the other achievements Dr. Covert listed, you can see my comments above about the students deserving credit. The students, their parents, and the remaining strong faculty are making a way through to success but often seem to have to do it on crutches or without certainty, or having to jump through numerous hoops because of the lack of transparency and support from the Principal. They also just don’t tell the whole story of what’s going on at the school. Statistics never do and they don’t even tell the whole story of how those scores are derived – I’ve heard enough to know how some school-related stats are manipulated and have enough experience with statistics to know how easy it is.

  • Pine View’s enrollment is down and has been for the last couple of years or so.  The kids and families are choosing to go somewhere else. Word gets around through all those faculty / staff, parents, and students alike that PV is maybe not the best choice anymore. 
  • Bad actors are left in their teaching positions at PV and by ‘bad actors’ I mean teachers who are verbally and emotionally bullying their students, even as young as age 11. The bullying and bad attitudes of teachers, even fairly decent ones, are having a detrimental effect on the morale of students. Teachers are angry and dissatisfied and take it out on students
  • The pure ‘bad actors’ are given a pass – no effort is made to get rid of them.  Dr. Covert explained to me personally that he has no recourse with one teacher. When I called Steve Cantees on the issue, he was ‘sure’ the admin was addressing these problems with staff (no they are not – it’s a long story about how I know this). His other rationale for why the student and parents should put up with teachers as bullies is that ‘everyone knows that PV is very challenging’ – yes, academically but teachers do not have a right to bully and abuse students. His third try at a rationale was that ‘by the time the kids graduate from Pine View, they are sure to go to a great college’ – this is a rationale for teachers being allowed to bully 11 year olds?!! There IS NO RATIONALE or excuse. PV does multiple anti-bullying talks every year to students but maintains an environment that protects teacher-to-student bullying.
    • It may be difficult to get rid of teachers who have been there for a long time but I KNOW they can be largely sidelined. I know a few teachers who should have files an arm long on their abusive behavior but I highly doubt admin is documenting the complaints unless parents insist on it.

Action needed: Develop a strategy to identify, support, and nurture your best teachers and one to get rid of or sideline the teachers who are known bullies or just terrible teachers.  Maybe start by taking student petitions to get rid of certain teachers seriously, listen to their concerns, create a plan for teacher improvement or dismissal. Stop subjecting students to teachers who don’t teach, causing the students to have to teach themselves and ENSURE there is no emotional abuse / bullying going on teacher to student.

This email will likely be VERY upsetting for Dr. Covert and unpopular among his supporters, and I along with it, I’m sure. I just can’t continue to be silent on so many issues of such great importance having to do with my children’s education (and that of hundreds of other kids).  I HAVE reached out to him directly via email a few times over the years and via SAC, and a couple of phone calls but to no avail.  I really care about these kids and I care about faculty and staff satisfaction and there are many other parents who feel the same and would gladly be involved in working toward solutions.  Faculty and students need a place to go on a daily basis where they feel supported and valued.  We need to give the kids their lane, whatever it is and let them run their own races academically, along with a sense that they are in a caring and supportive community, one that understands and responds to their special educational needs.  I can’t imagine how or why anyone else’s agenda should supersede that goal and it is painful to see Dr. Covert and the Board/District completely discount and ignore years of deeply rooted dissatisfaction among PV faculty / staff.

I will say that I expect the Board, the Superintendent, the District, and the Principal of Pine View to do much better.  I would hope you would expect it from yourselves. The election for Board members is coming up and I will do my part to thoughtfully consider who should be at the helm and will encourage all my friends to do the same.  I suspect most people in the school district don’t know the board members or what the board does but they really should because when you have issues with leadership at a school, the board is the next recourse. I’m not sure what it will take to get the board to engage in the ongoing issues at Pine View but I hope it doesn’t have to be that Pine View stops being a national and international draw and enrollment shrinks so dramatically that it can no longer bolster the B rating the other schools would earn for the county without it.