Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Systems Not More Speeches

By Rick Outzen

School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas recently encouraged his administrators, principals and teachers to aim higher. Using what he read from the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” he asked them to develop a growth mindset.

He told NorthEscambia.com, “There are teachers in the system that have been there a long time, and they teach like they have always taught. A shift has to be made toward the growth mindset.”

A growth mindset is based on the belief that anyone can be good at anything because one’s abilities are entirely due to your actions. Academic success is due to practice, not inherent abilities.

While the concept may be refreshing for some Escambia County teachers, history shows us that rousing speeches from the superintendent don’t have a lasting impact on the district’s performance.

In the summer of 2013, Bellview Middle saw its grade drop to an F. Workman Middle School, the home of the Escambia County School District’s first International Baccalaureate middle school program, dropped to a D grade. Woodham Middle had a D grade. Warrington Middle fell to an F.

At a mandatory meeting with principals and assistant principals before the 2013-14 school year, Superintendent Thomas emphasized the need for a quick turnaround.

“We have to become incredibly focused and develop a sense of urgency to act now,” Thomas said, according to the PNJ. “We’re driving 35 miles an hour and we need to be driving 70.”

The next year, the middle schools did show improvement: Bellview Middle went from F to C. Warrington Middle from F to D. Workman and Woodham improved from D’s to C’s.

In March 2015, Bellview Middle School was one of 22 in Escambia County to receive a portion of $1.42 million in School Recognition Program funds from Gov. Rick Scott because it showed so much improvement in the 2014 school year. Three months later, the new grades came out, and Bellview had dropped to a D. Other middle school grades also dropped–Ernest Ward from A to B and Woodham from C to D. Warrington maintained its D.

Today Bellview, Warrington, and Woodham are among the 20 worst performing middle schools in the state.

The rousing speech of August 2013 had no lasting effect.

Something more is needed. An extra hour of class time and motivational speeches are not lasting solutions. Systems need to be put in place that build continued improvement and success. It’s the responsibility of Thomas and the district administration to establish those systems.

Without them, the school district will flounder.