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Invoking Migration to Charters, A Split Flagler School Board Favors Move Toward Uniforms

| October 18, 2011

They want to be Imagine too: Uniforms at Imagine School at Town Center were invoked by the Flagler school board Tuesday as one example of why parents were pulling their students out of traditional public schools. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County School Board has a clear majority of three members favoring school uniforms: Sue Dickinson, Colleen Conklin and John Fischer. Two other members, Andy Dance and Trevor Tucker, aren’t necessarily opposed to uniforms, but they don’t think it’s the most important issue to delve into right now. Tucker is worried about the district’s budget for the coming year, which will require more cuts. Dance is worried about families’ budgets: this isn’t the time to impose new costs, such as uniforms, he says.

But it was the slim majority of three that carried the board’s decision Tuesday to move toward a uniform policy for the district. So as not to repeat the errors of 2007, when Conklin and Dickinson were on a board that had voted to approve uniforms only to rescind the decision in the face of intense public pressure, the method this time will be more guided by Superintendent Janet Valentine.

“The number one piece that makes this either successful or unsuccessful is that parents get involved from the beginning,” Valentine said. “One of the things that I think we made a mistake, in looking back, even though we had town hall meetings and workshops on this, we didn’t just put it out to all parents to get their input. Why don’t we start there?”

The next step will be a public opinion survey on uniforms, which Valentine will bring back to the board before any other decisions are taken. But it was clear Tuesday evening that the trio wanted to move toward a uniform policy, and it was just as clear why: if, for Fischer—who is driving the initiative this time—it has mostly to do with discipline, self-respect and character-building, for Dickinson it’s become a matter of self-preservation.

“If you went to Imagine School and you surveyed those parents, they’re thrilled with those uniforms,” Dickinson said. “That’s one thing that is the competition against us, is that parents are pulling their kids, believe it or not, for a uniform.” And they’ve been doing so in droves: the district’s traditional schools are losing population. Charter schools are gaining it, even as the overall district population stagnates. Uniforms may be a way for the district to hold a few back.

Ironically, the discussion that led to that decision was more fractured than uniform. And at no point was the matter of evidence discussed: whether there is an actual, documented problem with the dress code in Flagler schools, whether it rises to the severity of a policy change, whether uniforms in Flagler would make a difference in academic achievement or other ways, though Osceola County’s uniform policy was invoked several times—without once noting the differences between the two districts. Osceola’s school district has four times as many students and has consistently lower FCAT scores across the board than Flagler does, with or without uniforms. For that matter, Imagine School’s FCAT writing scores for 8th and 4th graders this year and last have been lower than scores at all other Flagler district schools (except two other charter schools), and lower than the state average. Third graders’ reading and math scores improved at the school this year, but remain below those at Belle Terre and Old Kings Elementary, and beat the district average for only the first time in six years.

The lack of a particular goal in bringing uniforms prompted Tucker to raise the question: “Are we doing this for student achievement are we doing this for disciplinary reasons? I’m just curious. What is our path directing that forward, exactly?”

The answer from Dickinson and Fischer was: all of the above, though Fischer again said it was less of a statistical matter than that it’s “for safety, it’s for character building, it’s for discipline control, it’s to enhance our code of conduct.”

andy dance flagler county school board

Andy Dance (© FlaglerLive)

Dance is concerned that, as in 2007, much will be said, plenty of energy expended, the school community riled up, only for the board to step back again. “What I don’t want to see us doing is expend a huge amount of our human capital on something that’s not going to go forward,” Dance said, noting that district staff’s time is already jammed with responsibilities. “At what stage are we moving forward and what’s the next step? Because we have a ton on our plate. We have, as a district, tons of large issues that are facing us, and we need to be able to appropriate that time in the most constructive avenues possible.”

“What you’re hearing is yes we want to gather more public input and we want to continue the conversation, period,” Conklin told Dance. “That’s the consensus of the board right now. But if you’re asking for an up and down vote right now, I don’t think you’re going to get it, nor should you.”

Conklin on Tuesday put up a survey of her own on the Facebook page she hosts as a school board member. After 107 votes by this evening, 77 were for, 30 against (72 percent against 28 percent). The votes include one in favor from Bill Delbrugge, the former Flagler superintendent now heading an exclusive private school in Egypt, where the school’s own elaborate uniforms are mandatory. “The response that I’ve gotten thus far from people in the community, there seems to be support for it, and whether I like it or not or I think it’s convenient or not, that’s who I’m representing so I’d have to say that yeah, I’d be open to the discussion,” Conklin said, speaking a different tune from just a few weeks ago when, despite strong public support for arming school cops with Tasers, she vehemently opposed the measure and was the only dissenter in a 4-1 vote. Conklin says the input she got at the time from those who contacted her was also strongly against Tasers.

Dickinson started Tuesday’s discussion, during a workshop–when the board doesn’t take actual votes—by asking her colleagues to clarify where they stood on the matter so as not to waste time exploring an issue that doesn’t have a consensus.

“I really don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other,” Tucker said. “I do feel though that we have other bigger important issues to look at right now, mainly the budget, and I’d love to have that handled before we jump onto something this large. That’s my opinion on that. I mean, we don’t know where we’re going to be next year on the budget, we haven’t even started on that, I think we need to start now on something that large. So me, I’d rather focus on something else right now, but I have no problem bringing it back where, if the majority of the board wants to talk it now, we can.”

Fischer, now the strongest advocate for uniforms, read from a statement that stressed projecting the right image, dressing for success, and seeing uniforms “not as punishment, not as dictators, but as role models, support. It must be consistent and enforced. Uniforms are not to be meant as punishment or a figure of power. I do believe uniforms make a difference. I believe it is one part of building a positive image and impression. Character-building, builds courtesy to oneself and others, builds respect to oneself and others.”

john fischer flagler county school board

John Fischer (© FlaglerLive)

Fischer had a stack of papers—statistics, questionnaires, research, articles in support of the notion, though he conceded that the statistics could make the case either way, and that there is no conclusive evidence showing that uniforms raise achievement. It goes beyond that, he said, with a majority of people favoring the idea. “I would be happy to do all the town hall meetings, I would do a survey, whatever it takes of my time, I would do everything I can to at least get a consensus from our entire community. Who do we get these answers from? Parents, students, teachers, administration, and our community.”

Students didn’t get much sympathy during the discussion, beyond token concessions to student opinion. Dickinson was especially derisive of students who, in 2007, appeared to have turned the discussion against uniforms after the board had voted for them. The board had the votes for uniforms at the time, as it does now, Dickinson said, “and then, who turned the decision?” she asked. “The kids. The kids turned the decision. Not a parent, not any adults, not any faculty, not any staff. Kids, we made the decision because of a group of high school children that got riled up by their teacher. We all know that happened, too. So, you know, are we going to go this road and do it for the right reason, or are we going to go this road and make the decision because all of a sudden the room is full of kids that don’t want to get rid of their hoodies, and the board melts because we’ve got a group of kids in front of us. They’re our constituents too, but are we going down to those folks or are we going to keep this on the adult level? Yes, they should have input, but we know what their input is going to be.”

To Dance, it was all a matter of economics. “At this time a lot of things that come before us have to do with timing, and right now, it’s not a good time to move forward,” Dance said. “Not only is our county feeling the throes of the depression much worse than other places in the state or even the nation, which affects our parents deeply, we’ve got parents, I believe, over 60 percent, that are on free or reduced lunch, and again we have statistics that argue both ways on cost, but I think what parents face at the beginning is that initial investment.”

The caution had little impact on a board that just last year voted to lay-off some 40 teachers and cut more than 3 percent of its budget, a prospect it is likely to face again this year.

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14 Responses for “Invoking Migration to Charters, A Split Flagler School Board Favors Move Toward Uniforms”

  1. Kip Durocher says:

    Tucker and Dance have the correct position for now…..

  2. I'm just saying... says:

    I am all for school uniforms since I have kids in the school system. Before we address the kids I think the faculty and teachers and administration should be adressed first. I’m sorry but some of them come into work like they just left the night club!! Lead by an example.

  3. Flagler parent says:

    Firstoff, I think we should investigate closely to see if any of the board members who proposed this action (which has been shot down REPEATEDLY already, from what I have read) stands to gain in some way by having every kid in the Flagler school district purchase uniforms.

    There are approximately 2400 kids in Flagler Palm Coast High School alone. I was told that nearly half already require some form of assistance, whether it be in the form of free or reduced lunches or other programs. How exactly do you expect those 1200 families to pay for these required uniforms, not to mention the hundreds other kids in low income families throughout the district? What happens if they can’t afford them–do the kids receive disciplinary action, or are they booted out of school? How do you expect THAT to benefit the community?

    It’s already been pointed out that uniforms have not resulted in any increase in test scores for the charter schools who have required them. I am far less concerned about the way the kids look than the quality of their education. I would respectfully request that the board quit wasting time and money on this trivial issue (which–once again–has been voted down REPEATEDLY. What’s the definition of “insanity”?) and focus their energies on maintaining and wherever possible improving the quality and scope of education the district provides as much as they can in the face of rampant funding cuts. This issue just takes emphasis off of more pressing matters in the district.

  4. Nancy N. says:

    Flagler parent – the board actually addressed the issue of how to pay for the uniforms for low income families at the workshop. They said they want to tap community resources like the educational foundation to pay for a student “clothes closet” to provide uniforms to families that can’t afford them. Which means that a lot of time is going to have to be spent setting that up and that money won’t be available to be spent on other educational projects like technology for our kids or teacher grants, because it was spent on khakis and polo shirts. I seriously think we have better priorities for our district to spend time and money on!

  5. Yellowstone says:

    Well . . . we used to kick kids out of school because they looked different; ie boys with long hair, girls with short skirts. That worked – – didn’t it? Or did it?

    Did the discipline improve? Did the grades get better? NO!

    So what’s the big deal about getting everyone dressed up looking the same? is this the beginning of a government driven youth-military? Pretty soon the parents will all be driving the same colored cars – if not you park in the “C-Lot”.

    Come on folks. Wake up! If you want your kids to improve – you have to get involved in helping them to behave as they should. Be a good (no great) parent.

    Suppose we compromise on this – – Let’s start by having all the School Board members dress exactly the same. Perhaps they will begin to behave and their scores will be better.

    Also, teachers must dress in the same ‘unforms’ as the students – everyday.

    Nothing better than a good role-model. That’s what I say!

    (A retired classroom teacher and curriculum developer)

  6. Mom to 5 says:

    I recently moved my children from Wadsworth to Palm Harbor. This decision had nothing to do with Palm Harbor requiring uniforms. We moved because my children are offered a well rounded education with science clubs, math clubs, field trips, and even student government. They can also work at their own pace instead of being left behind or bored. The main reason we left is because of the push for FCAT testing in public school. I do believe that the FCAT is important and has a great purpose within our states school system. However, I do not believe that it should be as vital as it is. When we choose to leave Wadsworth we spoke with all our children’s previous teachers. They even stood by our decision to leave, they said that their hands are forced and the can only teach what is required. Yes my children have to still pass the FCAT but they are not taught so strictly on how to pass the test. I do not believe that uniforms make much of a difference in a child’s education. I think a great deal of other factors contribute to a positive education experience. I do know that it is expensive to have to purchase 2 sets of clothing as they cannot just walk around in their uniforms all the time. Educators and parents make the children successful not uniforms.

  7. Liana G says:

    If school uniforms do not make a difference, why do the wealthy educated folks ( it’s hard to be rich or hold onto wealth with a mediocre education) send their kids to uniform wearing private schools?

    The school board cited Osceola School District. I lived in that district for a while, home to many Disney and Universal employees. These are the parents I lived among who voted for school uniforms. My kids would all loved to work for these employers – Marketing, computer graphics/animation – and I don’t have a problem with that.

    I would also point out that Osceola has a large minority and ELL population, has not been flagged for high erasure marks, and has a well rounded curriculum in addition to students making district gains.

    I don’t see Osceola on this list. And why are we on this list? We are supposedly paying these incredibly high salaries for great talent. Where are the results? We are a very small school district compared to those listed below. In addition, we do not have a large minority and ELL population.

    ” [2011]The Florida school districts that must investigate suspicious test scores on FCAT and algebra end-of-course exams are: Broward, Miami Dade, Duval, Flagler, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lee, Leon, Manatee, Orange, Palm Beach, Polk and Seminole.”

  8. Kip Durocher says:

    Something interesting out of Chile ~ this type of problem has appeared in nations who have experimented with privatization and previously had a strong public education system;
    “For Chile’s education system, privatization through a subsidized voucher system has led to an increasingly stratified society, with underfunded, underperforming public schools.”

    I personally feel that we are seeing the beginings of this here in the USA

  9. Nancy N. says:

    Liana, uniforms in private schools are just status symbols. They aren’t what creates the great education. They are incidental to it. They are how the people taking part in that elite institution show off that they are part of what they consider an exclusive club – it’s how they say “look, I am special, I can afford to pay $20k a year to educate my kid instead of sending them to school for free like the masses do.” It’s like the fraternity sweater or the letterman’s jacket.

    Osceola is possibly a better district than us and I guarantee you it’s not because of the uniforms. Clothing does not set budgets or curriculums, dictate parent involvement, or the level of community resources that can be called on – all of which factors I assure you are at play in Osceola. I think you need to look at those factors rather than what shirt someone is wearing to school.

    Seriously, do you think that making kids put on a different pair of pants and shirt is going to be a magic wand that will fix the serious problems in our schools? Oh, if only it were that simple….

  10. Tired HS Teacher says:

    As a teacher in one of our district high schools, I can tell you this will be a NIGHTMARE at the high school level. Many, many disciplinary referrals already come from dress code violations: drooping pants, too tight shirts on girls, bedroom slippers, pajamas. We have barely enough time to teach (especially now that the day is only six hours long) and it wastes precious class time to stop kids at the door, check out what they are wearing, then sit down, write out a referral and send them do the dean. While the teacher is doing that for 1-2 kids, the 28 others are sitting in the room, waiting for instruction to begin, since each referral takes at least 2-3 minutes to complete. Two referrals could easily consume 10% of available class time –or more.

    And keep in mind that not only do we have to check their clothes, we have to check and be sure they have an ID on. If not, that’s another referral. Cell phone goes off anyone? Another referral. Tardy by a minute? Another referral. Those in our Dean’s offices are already drowning in paperwork! I say “pick your battles.” There are far, far more important educational battles to fight. We are underfunded, our class sizes are getting larger, the state keeps cutting our budget. Some teachers and parents have to pay $900 or more per month for health insurance. And the school board is arguing over UNIFORMS???

    Why are we worrying about clothing? We are in a recession. Now is NOT the time to be forcing people to don a particular type of apparel. At this point, some families are lucky they EVEN have clothes on their backs. I have students in my classes who can’t afford eyeglasses! I have one boy who by necessity alternates between the same two shirts. True, we have the “Stuff Bus” but if this policy is instituted, that Bus is going to end up stocking uniforms exclusively, and who will donate those?

    In theory, we are already an “A” district, so how much more is this change going to impact us in the first place? At the high school, kids don’t fight about clothing. Very little clothing is gang related, or carries offensive messages. They fight about their boyfriends, and girlfriends and other such nonsense. In all my years of teaching, I have heard many insults hurled by students –but never ONCE has it been about what another student was or wasn’t wearing. I provide all students with the same high caliber of instruction, regardless of what they wear or don’t wear — or in spire of what they wear. They come to my class with nose piercings, tongue piercings, purple hair, blue hair, mo-fros, Afros, Mohawks, nose rings and more… some of the more flamboyant also happen to be some of the brightest now and then! And some of the most conservatively dressed sometimes are amongst the lowest performers. Clothes really have no impact on educational achievement, at least that I have seen.

    The School Board needs to concentrate on more important things. There are so many more weighty issues than is one. It isn’t uniforms that sent people flocking to charters. (Changing the school hours at the middle school did that handily!!!). I am a parent as well, and I can tell you, no parent I know is leading the charge for uniforms. Most parents just want their kids to get an education that will prepare them for college and careers –and you don’t have to wear a uniform to do that! Why are we wasting our time on this, seriously!

  11. Jim Guines says:

    As a former school board member, I want to thank you for your ideas. You are in the middle of trying to make all of this stuff work. Frankly, from experience, I know that school board members do not have much to do but hire and fire the superintendent. I am sure that some of them feel that they must do something to get reelected to earn the $30, a year. This drive to get reelected causes them to find something that they can take credit for like pushing for uniforms which failed a few years ago. Now Mr. Fischer wants to have his try at it.

  12. judyv says:

    Three cheers for Tired HS Teacher – you are truly appreciated, though not compensated nearly enough for all that you do. I worked at FPCHS for several years myself and thought perhaps I was crazy, having never seen or heard anyone make fun of anyone’s clothing.

    But the bottom line should be the education of the students. This uniform battle is a waste of time and energy that teachers cannot afford. And Dr. Guines, once again you have hit it right on the head. Perhaps Mr. Fischer should look into a problem that truly exists and try tackling that AND include the students.

  13. Jay Wheeler says:

    In Osceola we have over 70% of our students on free/reduced lunch. School uniforms have changed the culture of our schools, especially high schools. My only regret is that we did not approve them sooner. I have been on the Osceola County School Board since 2002.

    School uniforms are no panacea. School Uniforms are a simple way to quickly improve any public school district. Bottom line is that they are good for kids. We have 53,000 students who wear uniforms every school day in grades K-12 at every school.

  14. Pcmomma says:

    Uniforms are not the reason why Imagine is growing. The teachers get to teach, imagine that. The children feel that they are listened to and are also learning to be good citizens. Visit their middle school, the teachers are amazing!! The charscter education program is amazing. GO Imagine for changing the culture in our community!

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