Paradise Lost

Milton’s, Paradise Lost, is an epic poem about the fall of mankind. Part of the poem has to deal with the temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and believe it or not a modern day comparison can be found on the West side of Jacksonville.

My friend Milton Parker, a veteran of both the army and seven years of teaching at Forrest high school was recently cast out of paradise, though his paradise wasn’t the Garden of Eden. No, his was a crumbling and dilapidated school on Firestone road, known more for who it was named after, Civil war general Nathan Bedford Forrest who founded the Klu Klux Klan and the fights it’s students routinely post on you tube, than anything else.

I spoke to Milton who is married and has two children and asked him what happened. At first he started talking in stops and spurts. It took him a while to put sentences together as if he was still stunned by what had transpired just a few days earlier. When he could talk, he started with, “at 5:45 last Tuesday (August 2nd) I got a call from the principals secretary saying I had been reassigned. She didn’t give me any details, answers or explanations.” He paused for a long time and then added, “I later had a ninety second conversation with the new principal, (the third in three years at the west side school by the way) where he told me, my last years f-cat scores weren’t good enough and that was it. The last seven years of my life, all the hard work, staying late and sacrifice was worth just ninety seconds to him and his explanantion was my f-cat scores weren't good enough. I felt like after all I had done (Including serving as chairman of the shared governance committee the last two years), I was being tossed out with the bubble gum that was scraped off the bottom of desks. There was no thank you, no good luck and no goodbye.”

Forrest is one of the area schools that has received a school improvement grant or SIG and if you are wondering what that is, you’re not the only one. Many of the details of the grant even a few days before school begins are being kept secret. I do know that students will be given an extra forty-five minute class per day for either enrichment or remediation, though if they called it f-cat prep that would probably be more honest. Nobody could tell me if the kids will be getting credit for this extra class or not. Teacher days are in turn extended forty-five minutes for which they will be paid for. Teachers who don’t make whatever gains required can be reconstituted, that’s forcibly transferred or let go and even though the SIG grant is taking place for the first time this upcoming school year, previous years are apparently being looked at. Other than that any guess you had would be as good as mine.

Forrest and other schools are being showered with money. It’s almost as if the state finally is going to agree with it’s critics and just throw money at the problem. And for all this money they just have to keep doing things the same way. This means for their students, teach just to the test, ignore discipline and squeeze the joy of school for kids and for their teachers, throw a few under the bus.

During our conversation I asked Milton why he stayed so long at Forrest. Most of the teachers I know who worked there were three and out transferring as soon as they became eligible to do so, something he confirmed when he said after just seven years he was one of the more senior teachers their. Forrest has a reputation for being the wild west of schools and despite that Milton said he never considered transferring. “My priorities were always the kids and how am I going to make the school better today.” He continued saying, “My feelings are pride are really hurt. I gave a lot to that school.” He didn’t mention his bank account but that’s got to be hurting too.

Most teachers get paid all at one time for the summer and as the summer is rapidly coming to an end so too are many teachers bank accounts fast approaching zero. If he would have been told he was going to be surplussed at the beginning of the summer he may have been able to apply at other schools in the county or at schools in neighboring counties. Though who knows what he might have done. Who’s to say if he would have received such shoddy treatment earlier in the summer he may have decided to look for a job else where. However now since he was informed so late that he was being surplussed, his options are severely limited. Though this is par for the course in Duval county as teachers are often the last to know many things.

He has been told that by Friday, ironically enough the 13th, he would be placed at another school though he has no idea what or where that school will be. He also might be switched to a junior high school too as his English certification covers grades six through nine. He won't be given a choice, he will be assighned like it or lump it fashion. Where this means there is a good chance he will still have a job it also starts a chain of dominoes. If he is going to another school where will the teacher he replaces be sent to and so on. He isn’t the only teacher who is probably going to loose because of this, other teachers will as well.

Though some of us think teachers have been loosing for quite sometime. Teachers are given all the responsibility but known of the authority to both educated children and to literally save their lively hoods. They are put on learning schedules, required to follow pacing guides and have a next to an impossible time removing disruptive children. They are bogged down with more tasks than they can possible do and many are lucky to get any support from their administrations and from the parents of their students. In effect they are put in unattainable situations and then blamed if they don’t meet some arbitrary number established by some far off bureaucrat who thinks teaching is easy because teachers get summers off.

“If teachers were to treat their students like I was treated people would be outraged” Milton later added, “but because I am teacher, I am supposed to sit back and just say it is what it is.” Milton hasn’t seen what “his f-cat scores” (that’s what the new principal called them though in reality they are the scores of his children) were yet but he admitted it had become harder and harder to just teach to the test. “I would love for all my kids to be great students, but if they are great citizens I would love that even more.” That was the final thing he said to me and to me that sounds like something a great teacher would say. Sadly however it’s a sentiment that may have cost him his job.

Paradise Lost was about the fall of mankind as they are tricked into believing something false and there is a parallel on the west side of town and that’s this SIG grant will miraculously improve things. Unfortunately without Milton Parker in the halls of Forrest high school it’s already two steps behind.

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