Pensacola, Florida
Saturday October 25th 2014

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Outtakes 4/14/11

FOOLISH IN Actress Grace Zabriskie talks about aspiring to be the fool. She told the audience at a recent program at the University of West Florida, “There are kings and their courts, filled with ladies, nobles and advisors. Then there is that unique one—the fool—whose job is not just to advise, but to tell the truth. He must know the king well enough to somehow tell him the truth.”

She went on to say, “I do aspire to be that fool, trying to figure out somehow to say the truth, to spend time watching, listening, paying attention and trying to see things as they really are.”

At the IN, we strive to tell truth. The mission of our investigative reporting is to shine light into the dark corners of this community, that we so dearly love, so that we can openly, honestly and vigorously work to deal with the issues holding this area back.

Our story on Warrington Middle School (Independent News, “Tarnished Turnaround,” April 7) was a rare look inside a dysfunctional, inner-city school. It’s not often that school administration is investigated for funds being mishandled, an apparent fundraising scam, sexual misconduct by students on a bus with no adult chaperone, and of assaults on teachers and other violence going undocumented by school officials–all in the same school year.

The fact that Superintendent Malcolm Thomas had completely gutted the faculty, pumped millions of dollars into the school and declared his “dream team,” which was directly under his supervision, was going to make WMS the district’s premier middle school, made the investigation even more important.

Teachers and parents seldom speak to media. What made the WMS investigation possible were the detailed reports and interview notes of District Investigator John Dobbs, the offense and information reports of the school resource officers and Florida’s public record laws.

The truth is Superintendent Malcolm Thomas made a colossal blunder firing former Principal Christine Nixon and her staff. Had the same funds and efforts been put into her team that Sandra Rush and her crew received, we might have seen a significant improvement at WMS. Instead, the school lost its momentum—the school had gone from a “D” to “C” prior to the turnover—and struggled to maintain order for most of the 2009-10 school year.

Thomas’ intentions may have been good, but his execution fell far short, putting teachers and students at risk. Our hope with the article was that the Escambia County School Board would address what happened at Warrington Middle School and look at what is happening in the middle and high schools across the district. Since publishing the article, parents and teachers have come forward with similar problems at other schools.

Unfortunately, King Thomas and the “lords and ladies” of the school board have circled the wagons and denied there is a problem.
When the king refuses to listen to the fool, it may be time to get a new king.

rick@inweekly.net