Pensacola, Florida
Sunday October 21st 2018


Outtakes—Who Is Listening?

By Rick Outzen

Escambia County has business leaders, corporations and non-profit organizations rising up to help fix public education. The realization is the problems with literacy, poor test scores and low graduation rates are simply too much for the Escambia County School District to handle alone.

We’re passed the “chicken or the egg” debates—Are bad parenting and poverty the cause of our bad public schools? Or have generations of bad public schools led to our poverty and bad parenting?

The Studer Community Institute has focused on early learning. Its research has found that every year about a thousand Escambia County children are not ready when they enter kindergarten. One out of five of those kids are so far behind they will never catch up, which leads to a lower graduation rate that, in turn, leads to lower wages, lower job talent and higher crime.

Achieve Escambia is the name of a collective community effort focused on improving education and workforce outcomes for our community. Its motto is “Every child, every step of the way, cradle to career.”

Navy Federal Credit Union, Gulf Power Company, Sacred Heart Hospital, Baptist Hospital and other major employers in this market banded together for this initiative to build more support for public education. Achieve Escambia sprang from their discussions and aims to create a united vision and shared strategy for improving our schools and helping our children be better prepared to join the workforce.

These initiatives could not come at more critical time.  The census numbers show newcomers are choosing to live in communities with better schools. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Escambia County’s population has only grown 4.5 percent in the past five years, while Santa Rosa County has seen a 10.4 percent jump. Baldwin County, Ala. has grown 11.8 percent. People simply aren’t moving to Escambia County, and the school system has had a relatively flat student population since 2010, increasing by only 429 students. Santa Rosa County’s student population has jumped by nearly three times that number.

The question is will Superintendent Malcolm Thomas listen? To date, his track record for openness and allowing input hasn’t been stellar. The few successes have not held up from year to year, and best practices aren’t being instituted across the system. We’ve seen schools get an A grade one year, then fall to a D or F a year or two later.

In the end, we can pass out all the balloons and t-shirts we want announcing new programs with snappy slogans, but nothing will change without more open, responsive leaders at the top of the system.

When Superintendent Thomas begins to listen, meaningful change will begin.