The Buzz 10/31/19
School District vs. Navy, Part 1 In early October, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola informed a chamber of commerce luncheon that the Navy was facing challenges attracting families to serve in the Pensacola area due to the educational landscape.
On Monday, Oct. 21, Escambia County School Board Chairman Patty Hightower met with CO Capt. Tim Kinsella to discuss the issue further.
“I thought it was a great conversation,” Hightower told Inweekly. The school board chairman said that she and Capt. Kinsella discussed items such as how the school district and Navy might better inform military families of already existing options, such as the ability to enroll a student in a school other than that for which they are zoned.
“We made some plans about some things that will hopefully help in the future,” Hightower said.
Hightower said that, in particular, she thought the district could better convey information to military families. The district has a military liaison on staff and also a dedicated section on its website catering to military families, though the chairman conceded that information wasn’t easy to find.
“You’ve got to know what you’re looking for to find it, and sometimes even then it’s difficult,” she said.
Hightower said that she planned to bring the issue up to the school board in November, suggesting that the district improve its delivery of information.
Another issue discussed, one that the school board chairman said she was unaware of previously, was the matter of some servicemen choosing to leave their families behind when stationed at NAS.
“He made the comment that it might be because of the schools they were districted to,” Hightower said.
The two nearest schools serving NAS, located in Warrington, are both D schools. There is the option of school choice, but when alternative schools fill up, that option disappears.
During his Oct. 10 remarks, Kinsella specifically mentioned the concept of creating a charter school that serves military families. Hightower said she was open to the idea of a charter but that she wasn’t sure that was the best route to take—not to mention that the chairman is only one vote on the school board.
“As I told him, I’m a school board member; I’m one of five,” she said. “I can make some suggestions and we can have some discussions, but I can’t make anything happen.”
Following Kinsella’s comments, other school board members have assumed a somewhat defensive posture, with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas calling the CO’s assessment “disparaging” and “disappointing.”
“In using educational jargon,” said school board member Paul Fesko last week. “It’s just not fun being under the bus sometimes.”
Fesko, the school board member representing the district serving NAS, noted that many Navy families utilize the district’s school choice option and said that he had not heard from any constituents about the issue.
“I’ve never had a person in the military contact me to tell me, ‘Hey, my kid’s not getting what they need,’” he said.
Fesko also serves on the Greater Pensacola Chamber’s military affairs committee and has discussed the issue of local education challenges with Capt. Kinsella previously.
“It was surprising that the captain would make the comment he did in that public forum,” Fesko said.
Fesko stressed that military families should look at more than just a school’s grade—either assigned by the Florida Department of Education or a third-party website, like greatschools.org—and that plenty of students in Escambia receive quality educations and continue on to further academic and professional success.
“Our kids got a great education,” Fesko said, pointing out that his own children excelled academically while attending struggling west side schools, where his wife was working at the time.
After conceding there were certainly areas the district could improve upon, school board member Dr. Laura Edler expressed similar sentiments.
“I have received all of my education in Escambia County and done well!” Edler wrote in an email. “Children today, military or not, have more opportunities and choices than ever before. I suggest the Captain appreciate the many great educational opportunities children have within our district, learn more about the positive aspects of the overall educational system and assure our servicewomen, men and families that our mission is a quality education for all children.”
School District vs. Navy, Part 2 Last Friday, Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola Capt. Tim Kinsella told Inweekly that he was “an advocate for the service members and their families” and reiterated that his public remarks we’re simply relaying concerns he hears from them.
“I am just voicing the concerns that I have heard from the families assigned to NAS Pensacola,” Capt. Kinsella wrote in an email, replying to a request from Inweekly for further comment on this subject.
“I am not an expert in education, but I wish to work with our local leaders, including the Escambia County School District, to continue to improve the education for our community, which includes military families,” Kinsella elaborated his position in the email. “I commend the school district for the improvements they have made, but my hope is that additional improvements will be made as we go forward.”
Kinsella said that he’s open to any potential path forward that improves the prospects in the Warrington area.
“A charter school is just one option that I have suggested, but I am open to supporting any idea that will improve the education around NAS Pensacola,” he wrote.
Hightower has said she would entertain the concept of a new charter, but others on the school board have questioned the need. Superintendent Thomas has stated that there are not enough NAS students to warrant or support a new charter.
At this point, Capt. Kinsella, officials with the Escambia County School District and also area business leaders via the Greater Pensacola Chamber have indicated that they want to take active steps to improve the education front in the area. However, no concrete steps have been established, other than a general focus on the upcoming process of selecting a new superintendent.
Escambia County School District is listed by the Florida Department of Education as a B district, though it does have a fair number of C schools. Further, Escambia has historically lagged behind when it comes to education, and two of the district’s four D schools are located near NAS. These things don’t translate well when potential Navy transplants check out the district on a website like greatschools.org.
Some have blamed the school district’s struggles on pockets of poverty in the area—Superintendent Thomas, for example, cited a low-income housing development outside the gates of NAS—as well as societal issues, such as a student’s formative years ill preparing them for their foray into kindergarten.
“It’s a tough situation. It takes the whole community. It takes a village,” school board member Kevin Adams said. “It’s going to take a village, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
More Greenways The city of Pensacola has several greenways centered on stormwater projects. It could be in line to get another one if a Pensacola City Council member gets her way.
Councilwoman Sherri Myers gave a presentation last week during council’s agenda review session concerning the creation of a park-like area off of 12th Avenue, a short distance from the Pensacola International Airport.
“This has to do with creating a green space in the north end of the city,” Myers began her presentation at city hall. “We have a lot of nice green spaces, like nice stormwater parks, but they’re all in this area. But we don’t have one in the north end of the city.”
Providing her fellow council members with a map of the area near the corner of 12th and Market Place Road—“this gives you some kind of landmarks; it’s close to the Bonefish Grill”—Myers called attention to the numerous construction projects occurring in the vicinity, then to the stormwater pond tucked behind a chain-link fence.
“Now, a lot of people don’t even know this stormwater exists. It used to be a borrow pit,” Myers said, describing the area behind the fence as “a huge pond with a very large right of way.”
The councilwoman suggested using the sizable right of way circling the stormwater pond to create a walking path, complete with a sidewalk.
“On Market Place, the right of way is big enough to put a sidewalk and a lot of beautiful vegetation,” Myers said.
The councilwoman, who said she was working with Mayor Grover Robinson on a proposal to bring forth to council, did not get into funding particulars of the potential green space project. She did say some of the money could come from the city’s tree trust fund but also said the project would take additional funding as well.
Myers told city council that it would be essential to get the buy-in of businesses located near the potential greenway site. She suggested they be approached to financially sponsor items such as park benches and planters.
“To make this project successful, we really want a lot of the businesses involved,” the councilwoman said, describing an ideal scenario as a “public-private partnership.”
In addition to transforming a currently fenced-off stormwater retention pond into a green space for people to gather and stroll, Myers also said that this potential project would have other benefits built into it. Specifically, she said, the area would serve as a habitat for pollinators.
“What we hope to do with this is to make this whole area, especially here on Market Place, is make it a pollinator and butterfly habitat,” Myers explained. “So, everything that would be planted here would be native, and also a lot of it would attract butterflies and pollinators.”
Such pollinators would likely include bees. Myers reminded council that a beekeeping organization keeps hives on the airport property.
“There are a lot of bees at the airport,” she said. “And [airport director] Dan Flynn is always looking for a place to plant wildflowers.”
Neighborhood Grants The City of Pensacola is now accepting applications for the fall cycle of the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Pensacola Neighborhood Challenge Grant Program, which is a matching grant program that provides City of Pensacola neighborhood associations with funding to complete neighborhood improvement projects.
Applications for the program will be available on the City of Pensacola website during the grant application cycle, which runs through 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16.
Through the Pensacola Neighborhood Challenge Grant Program, funds can be used for various neighborhood initiatives, including beautification projects, signage, sidewalks or other improvements to public property. Funds can be matched by cash, in-kind contributions, volunteer labor or any combination of the three.
Each application must consist of a single project with a clearly defined goal that has a direct benefit to the neighborhood and its residents. Examples of eligible projects include, but are not limited to, family/home safety training, drug and fire prevention programs, cultural exhibit areas, after school enrichment programs and youth literacy programs.
Applications will be reviewed using the following criteria—quality and scope of the project, neighborhood participation and benefit and general match information, including proof the association is able to match the city’s cash contribution with any combination of volunteer labor, in-kind donations and/or cash.
Mark Your Calendar The National Flight Academy will host an open house 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, for families to explore the USS AMBITION and learn about America’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational facility. The National Flight Academy is located at 1 Fetterman Way, adjacent to the National Naval Aviation Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Florida PTAC at UWF offers a workshop entitled “Creating Winning Proposals” 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Synovus, 125 W. Romana St. By participating in this workshop, you will be able to identify contract opportunities that are realistic for you, understand how the government describes what it needs, prepare responsive and effective proposals and improve your chances at winning government contracts. Fee—$20. Pre-registration is required. To register, visit sbdc.uwf.edu and look under Training & Events.
In collaboration with Ch. 3 News, WSRE Public Square will host a town hall production focusing on the opioid crisis in Florida. “Town Hall: Addicted Florida” will be simulcast live on WSRE, WFGX and NewsRadio 92.3 FM & 1620 AM at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7. The program will stream live at weartv.com and via Facebook Live @weartv. The public is invited to join the studio audience in the WSRE Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio at Pensacola State College. Admission is free and studio doors open at 6:30 p.m. Online reservations can be made at wsre.org/speakers.