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PWC Schools: We Don’t Need No Stinkin Rules!

By Greg L | 29 January 2009 | Prince William County | 13 Comments

Taxpayers provide the staff at the Prince William County Schools with various IT resources that they’re supposed to use for their jobs.  These include the usual things like email systems, websites, and computers that we’re all pretty familiar with in our jobs.  When we start using our work computers and the IT resources of our employers, we’re usually doing so subject to policies that dictate that we’re not supposed to use these resources for personal business.  That holds true with our public employees, who are restricted by regulation from using public resources for personal business, including political activity.

They do anyways, and some members of the School Board couldn’t care less.

Selected sections of PWCS Regulation 295-1 “General School Administration”:

Activities in direct support of this purpose such as professional development, administrative communications, grant applications, new project announcements, and student product publishing, are acceptable. It is the general policy that Prince William County Public Schools’ network facilities are to be used in a responsible, efficient, ethical and legal manner in accordance with the instructional mission of the school division. Faculty and students must acknowledge their understanding of the general policy and guidelines as a condition of receiving access to the network.

Failure to adhere to this regulation and the standards below will result in disciplinary action, including revocation of the offender’s network access privilege by the building administrator. Willful misuses will lead to serious disciplinary action and/or to criminal prosecution under applicable state and federal law…

The following is a non-inclusive list of examples of unacceptable actions or activities…

10. Any use of a forum for communicating by email or any other medium with school users or outside parties to solicit, proselytize, advocate, or communicate the views of an individual or non-school sponsored organization…No employee shall provide names, email addresses, or other personal information to outside parties whose intent is to communicate with school employees, students or their families for non-school purposes;

11. Sending mass emails to school users or outside parties for school or non-school purposes without the permission of an administrator;

12. Use of the PWCS Network for political purposes, including any use requiring students to convey or deliver any materials that (a) advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for public office; (b) advocate the passage or defeat of any referendum question; (c) advocate the passage or defeat of any matter pending before the School Board, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, or the General Assembly of Virginia, or the Congress of the United States;

I’ve gotten a lot of info from confidential sources that school staff has been willfully violating this policy when it comes to defending the questionable “Math Investigations” program.  Here’s one case in point that I can share with you now:

From: Linda Zborofsky [mailto:zborofln@pwcs.edu]
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2009 8:44 AM
To: Karen Bazin; Ayanna Burris; Brenda Hamlett; Kathleen Harhai; Nancy Joseph; Michiko Kraft; Marian Lomis; Joyce Mannherz; Wendy McGrael; Rebecca Miller; Angela Nunnally; Patricia Parkinson; Celeste Petrie; Jo Petty; Adrienne Setorie; Betty Settle; Lois Silvis; Elizabeth Whitacre; Ruthann Zalewski
Cc: Carol Knight; Donna Stofko

Subject: Your support is needed

The reason I am writing to you is to make you aware of what the Board is considering. Please read the attachment. As leaders in your building, I hope that you can attend this meeting on Jan. 21 in support of the Elementary Mathematics Program. I hope you will also consider speaking and/or writing to the Board.

The Board also needs to hear from positive parents. This small group of parents has now started an email campaign via their blog and forum and like the other information they have put out there, their recruitment is based on misinformation. Your efforts are greatly needed to dilute this with positive parents speaking and writing to the Board. As you know, happy people don’t generally write to the Board, but at this time, happy people do need to express themselves also.

Below are some statistics regarding the parents who have spoken to the Board over the last year and a half: There have been a total of 18 different parents speaking against Investigations in the past year and a half, and altogether they have Spoken 70 times. Mr. Barlow has spoken at 16 different meetings. Two of the Parents no longer have children in PWCS schools. (30 different people have spoken in favor not counting the Math Team.) Of the 70 speeches given by these 18 people, 87% of them are from four schools only. But what is even more amazing is that 74% of the speeches are from only six families. This small group has spoken a total of 52 times! This does not include the emails they personally have sent and recruited to be sent spreading information which is not true….yet there are people who seem to believe it at face value and respond.

Please share with the Board the wonderful results that your school has had over the past couple of years in math. Also please share with the Board the numbers of parents you have had at your math parent nights over the past three years and the responses you have had as a result.

Thank you for the leadership you are providing in your buildings and let me know your thoughts as we move forward, please.

Thank you,

Linda

Linda Zborofsky
Prince William County Schools
Elementary Math Coordinator
Title I Math
Bldg B-8-2
703-791-8849

It was pretty apparent during the meeting of the School Board on January 21st that a mass email campaign by school employees was done to drive turnout to the meeting, since about the first twenty-five speakers were almost exclusively teachers, principals and other school staff.  These public employees descended on the Board meeting in order to thwart the attempts by some parents to seek solutions to deficiencies they observed in the education of their own children.  This effort to engage school employees in this political battle, as we can see above, was clearly undertaken with taxpayer resources in absolute defiance of county policy.  Not only is it very questionable from an ethical standpoint whether public employees should engage in political battle in opposition to the taxpayers they are supposed to be serving, but it is outrageous that they would use public resources in order to make that happen.

One has to wonder if school staff will so willingly toss aside policy and law in order to engage in a political battle they rightly should be recused from whether a similar lack of ethical behavior characterizes their arguments.  If you throw away your moral obligations, is there any doubt you’d be willing to discard the truth as well?

Don’t bother asking School Board Members Grant Lattin and Don Richardson this question.  They strongly endorsed this violation of county regulations during the January 21st meeting.  When members of the School Board couldn’t care less that individuals in the organization they’re supposed to be overseeing are blatantly disregarding their policies, it’s no wonder we’re seeing plenty of violations.  Fish rot from the head down, remember?



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13 Comments

  1. AWCheney said on 30 Jan 2009 at 6:02 am:
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    Greg, what makes you think that they weren’t doing their “jobs”…as they were instructed to do them.

  2. Old Soldier said on 30 Jan 2009 at 8:29 am:
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    Today’s WAPO - Well-Connected Parents Take On School Boards

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/29/AR2009012904176.html?nav=rss_email%2Fcomponents

  3. KFD said on 30 Jan 2009 at 9:03 am:
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    The board should not allow teachers/administrators/school personnel to make statements at these meetings. Teachers should never be allowed, let alone encouraged, to openly oppose parents in their pursuit of options for their children. The parent-teacher relationship is vital to the successful functioning of the school, and any actions taken to build or support an adversarial relationship between the two units is highly damaging. Teachers are school employees and are there to teacher, regardless of the curriculum, and using the curriculum that the board decides is best, based on feedback from concerned citizens, parents, research on available curricula, etc.
    It is, in my view, appropriate for board members to visit schools and teachers and informally ask how the program is working, how comfortable students are, what they are learning, what the feedback from parents has been, etc. in an attempt to gather information to help build a bridge to resolution. That’s as far as it should go. Teachers should never be allowed to address the board in a public meeting like that. Counterproductive and out of place. Typical. There’s another new regulation we need to encourage Mr. Johns to consider-one that prevents teachers and other school personnel from communicating with the board in an open forum as it isn’t appropriate for school personnel, who are paid by citizen tax dollars, to involve themselves that way. I’ve suggested to him that there needs to be a formal policy in the regulations by which parents can petition the board for changes/additions to policy, a way parents can be assured that if they have an issue it will be heard in a timely and fair way.
    I think I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that even though I have long avoided the issue of vouchers because I do recognize the problems that could arise from their use, and because I believe in the ideals of public education, it’s time for me to say that the use of vouchers would go along way to fix this problem of unresponsive boards and confused educators. Of course, so would new board elections, so sad that elections are so far off at this point! KFD

  4. Mark said on 30 Jan 2009 at 10:17 am:
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    Crooked is as crooked does. That school employee, Linda Zborofsky, should be disciplined. You know, of course, that won’t happen. The school system is a closed universe unto itself. It sounds, though, as if some clever attorney could file a grievance against the school system, if that email is, in fact, true. I mean, if the code says this won’t happen, and then it does, then a lawsuit should be a no-brainer, to prevent further misuses.

    Any good attorney’s on this board, or are we all just armchair quarterbacks here, myself included?

  5. KFD said on 30 Jan 2009 at 10:38 am:
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    Ok, y’all, give me a minute here and just hear me out…I agree that this administrator should be made aware of her atrocious mistake, and perhaps she has a history of this behavior, which would cause me to think more serious action should be taken. But, I want everyone to recognize the bigger problem. This administrator, and the teachers who came out at her suggestion, are acting in accordance with the climate set by the superintendent and the board. I’m sure those teachers truly believed that they were looking out for the best interests of their kids. For this you can’t fault them, even though they were in the wrong and seriously misguided.
    We, as parents, have to recognize that in a school system run as it should be, teaches and parents are the best teammates for a common goal. We want to work to make that a reality and so we have to be careful to put the blame where it belongs.
    I, like everyone else, am outraged by these antics, and further disgusted that the board allows these things to happen. BUT…I do believe that by making some real changes at the top, where it matters, and by supporting our teachers in ways that help them to realize that we are there to assist them in serving our children, that we will strengthen the teacher/parent relationship and get it back to what it should be; teachers as instructors for kids and expert advisors to parents who, in turn, make the final decision for their children. We, as parents, need to reach out to our teachers outside of what our hot point issues are and find out ways in which we can be of help to them so that we can begin to rebuild the culture of mutual respect that PWCS has demolished.
    Mark, you are not an armchair quarterback! And…it scares me to think that we need attorneys to make a difference. They have their use, but many times make situations a lot worse before they make them better. We, as parents and concerned citizens, need to do what we can to make our own voices more powerful. We need to continue to join together and appear at board meetings to let the members know how we feel, and we need to work to make more parents and voters aware of the situation so that when the time comes to make a real change, we can do it at the polls. YOU are powerful. I hope to see you next week at the board meeting! KFD

  6. Mark said on 30 Jan 2009 at 11:03 am:
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    I see your point KFD. Your arguments make sense in a world where compromise is the standard, however, can you really see much compromise going on here or anywhere that’s political for that matter in today’s day and age?

    Your comment about attending the next board meeting is real though and I agree with that. We should do so, in large numbers, if possible, for what we perceive to be the right thing.

    I don’t like attorneys that much either, and do think we are litigated to death in this country as is, but when something so blatant occurs, it really gets me steamed, especially when that idea of compromise is not so evident on the other side and appears to be a thumbing of the nose at the very people you are supposed to “serve”. I guess that just makes me as guilty as the other person doing the non-compromise thing, eh? :-) Errrr…..

    >

    Thanks,

    Mark

  7. Anonymous said on 30 Jan 2009 at 12:24 pm:
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    I guess I’ll be in the minority here and defend the administrator. I’m not sure to whom the email was addressed, but I assume the intended recipients are school employees - perhaps other administrators. While I believe the tone of the letter and finger pointing against the parents is unacceptable and perhaps unethical, I tend to think that her message informing other administrators of the issue and alerting them that it was subject for debate at the next board meeting is probably one of her duties.

    Having said that, her letter goes well beyond informing staff of an issue which might affect the instructional programs at their schools. I’m not sure that the finger pointing at the one parent or the entire group was necessary and is certainly inadvisable from a public employee. I can’t help but wonder how much taxpayer funded time she or her staff spent gathering the statistics which were presented in the memo. All of that, from my perspective, was completely unnecessary and is indicative of what has caused this issue to become so horribly heated and personal.

    I have to say that the issue has brought to light some rather severe problems facing the school system. The school system has, apparently, a number of teachers who are so fearful of recrimination and retaliation that they don’t dare speak their minds and express their concerns with administration policies. The teachers are, it seems, being treated as little more than tools used to fulfill the administration’s wishes. The school system has relegated parents to spectator status and classified them as little more than fleas annoyingly nipping at their heels. I’m not sure how one goes about fixing that, but those are the sorts of problems that will destroy a school system.

  8. Anon2009 said on 30 Jan 2009 at 4:32 pm:
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    The Board hired Dr. Walts and he sets the tone for the schools. Principals want to keep their jobs so they follow the directives from the top. Teachers want to keep their jobs so they follow the directives from their Principals. The losers in this are the kids.

    Our school system is not world class and no amount of stating this over and over will make it so!

  9. CONVA said on 30 Jan 2009 at 7:57 pm:
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    Private schools, Charter schools and Home schooling is the correct answer. Then there would be no need for administrators, and the private/charter schools would hire the qualified teachers, so no need for the “indoctrination centers” commonly called public schools.

  10. KFD said on 30 Jan 2009 at 10:14 pm:
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    CONVA, Just a note of clarification for all before I move forward: Charter schools are public schools, run by the counties in which they exist, designed by a concerned person or group and allowed by the state and NCLB. Private schools are independent of public schools and are self supporting (no tax dollars) and home school…ok, I think everyone gets that one. I just wanted to make sure anyone reading this would be clear on those distinctions.
    So…I agree that these options provide a jump start for changing the paradigm that exists in many districts across the country, not much different than what we see daily in PWCS. I ask you to consider however that a properly functioning public school can be the best option for most students and families.
    Vouchers, which are certificates that allow you to take your approximate 15,000 a year (give or take some by district) that your taxes pay for each of your children who attend public school and apply those funds to the private school of your choice, would make districts have to wake up and participate more ideally in order to stay competitive and keep students.
    The argument against vouchers is two fold- 1) many concerned parents who strenghthen and do contribute some level of accountability to the district would pull their students out and public schools, at the very basic school level, would be left with less to use to serve the students whose parents weren’t as aware and progressive:) This makes for a depreciated educational experience for the children “left behind”. 2) Many students already attend private school at their parents’ expense, and although the schools don’t receive money for those students who are not enrolled, the parents are sitll paying the same taxes. This means that not only would the schools lose the money that they were receiving for the students who decide to move schools, the state would lose additional funds in providing vouchers for all of the students who had never had the opportunity to use the educational portion of their taxes previously (because they were attending private schools at their own expense). I don’t know if there is an estimate of how many tax dollars would be spent on this allocation to currently non-public school attending students, but if anyone expresses interest I will do my best to uncover studies that may give us a figure.
    Now, if we were to totally abolish public schools I don’t think we would have found the answer, but rather duplicated the problem. I had the unusual and enlightening experience of having both public and private school education during my K-12 yrs. My children have also spent time in both systems and I have taught with teachers in both environments. Although the problems in private school are different than the ones in public school, the lack of control that parents have is similar. With private schools, you have two options in the event of a conflict. You can take your child out and put the child in another private school that you like better, or you can donate enough money to the school to build a new library and gymnasium, in which case they will eagerly listen to your opinions. If you don’t have the money to influence them in this way, you will either have to move your kid to another school or sit frustrated on the sidelines while you watch wealthy parents run the system.
    It’s not as contrived as it might sound, but it’s survival of the fittest, and private schools depend on donations, not tuition, to prosper and do well.
    So…vouchers are a great way to make public schools stand up and take note, a way to convince them to get off the high horses and cooperate, and a fabulous way to get a child into a more regulated climate. As a long term plan, I see serious effort dedicated to the paradigm shift in public schools as the more rewarding option. We need public schools, and we need them to function well. Running to private schools is not the answer.

  11. Sue Brown said on 1 Feb 2009 at 4:12 am:
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    This is how FCPS got stuck with Everyday Math, a terrible math program. The administration packed the speakers list, at meeting after meeting, with teachers, principals, and administrators, telling the board how much the LOVED this silly math program. Parents who objected, which was all of them who learned of the programs, never stood a chance. Of course the board always supports staff and teachers over parents and students. Staff wants over students needs, every, single, time.

  12. Sue Brown said on 1 Feb 2009 at 4:14 am:
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    Let’s break the monopoly and have vouchers for every child to run to any school that they choose. Just like the rich liberals do.

  13. Kipp Hanley said on 4 Feb 2009 at 3:40 pm:
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    Sue,

    Do you live in Fairfax? I was just curious. I wanted to speak some people on this blog for my story. Please e-mail me at jhanley@insidenova.com if you are interested.

    Thanks,
    Kipp Hanley
    News & Messenger
    Reporter

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