Pensacola, Florida
Saturday February 23rd 2019


Outtakes—May, Paul Were Better

By Rick Outzen

Malcolm Thomas has not improved the Escambia County Public School District as he promised when he was elected in 2008. The school grades have dropped steeply under his leadership.

While the number of high performing public schools has risen in Florida, the past 10 years have been dreadful for many Escambia County public school students. Our schools graded higher under Thomas’ predecessors, Jim May and Jim Paul.

In FY 2000, his final full school year, Superintendent Jim May had 14 ‘A’ and 2 ‘B’ schools. Of his 32 elementary schools, 15 were ‘A’ or ‘B’ schools—47 percent. He had one ‘A’ and six ‘C’ middle schools, and all seven high schools earned ‘C’s.

Superintendent Jim Paul turned the school district around. By his final full year, FY 2008, he had 20 ‘A’ schools, a 23.8 percent improvement in eight years. Of his 34 elementary schools, 19 were ‘A’ or ‘B’ schools—56 percent. Four of his nine middle schools earned ‘A’s and two earned ‘B’s—a combined two-thirds of the middle schools. Of his seven high schools, three were ‘A’ or ‘B’ schools.

For FY 2018, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas only had eight ‘A’ schools—a 43 percent drop since 2000 and down 60 percent since 2008. Only a third of his 31 elementary schools earned ‘A’s and ‘B’s. Of his six high schools, Thomas had one ‘A,’ West Florida, and one ‘B,’ Tate.

The middle schools have been a disaster for Thomas. Of his nine middle schools, only Brown Barge earned an ‘A.’ Ransom, which had an ‘A’ under Paul, received a ‘B.’ Ernest Ward and Jim Bailey were ‘A’ schools under Paul. This past year, they earned ‘C’s. Thomas made Workman Middle an IB middle school, and its grade has dropped from a ‘B’ under Paul to a ‘C.’ Three middle schools, Bellview, Warrington and Woodham, are among the bottom 10 percent in the state.

Thomas has improved the high school graduation rate over the past nine years. In 2008, the graduation rate was 53.5 percent. The graduation for 2017 was 79.5 percent—a 48.5 percent jump. However, Thomas has done it with students that spent their first four years in elementary schools under the Paul administration. The next superintendent won’t be as fortunate.

Thomas is lost when it comes to meeting the challenges of educating Escambia County children. His experiments at Montclair Elementary, Warrington Middle and Workman Middle haven’t worked. He also tried extending school hours, adding tutors and drilling students on the tests.

Jim Paul did meet the challenge, as have other superintendents around the state. We shouldn’t have to accept mediocrity or any more excuses from the district administration.