POINCIANA – In the field of education, children are sometimes called on to stop being childish, and start acting more like adults.
But what happens if the target of that kind of criticism isn’t children at all, and there’s a petition circulating calling on the adults – specifically, the members of the Osceola county School Board – to quit behaving like children?
Wendy Farrell isn’t quite sure, but she sure hopes to find out.
“They’re becoming more like a soap opera, which isn’t what it should be,” Farrell said.
Farrell lives in Poinciana and runs a business there called Signature Promotions. She’s now part of a group circulating a petition calling on the school board to do a better job of representing the citizens of, and schools within the borders of, Osceola County.
“We are launching this petition to let the Osceola County School Board know that we believe that they have not represented the best interests of our children/students’ education,” the petition reads. “We believe that their actions have breached the public trust and negatively impacted our community and its reputation.”
The public is called on to “Take action now and pledge to join the fight to put our students and their education first and to demand that our School Board does the same. Let them know we will not stand by and allow anyone to jeopardize our children’s education and opportunities for future success.”
Farrell said the decision to launch this petition was partly influenced by the decision in March of Superintendent of Schools Michael Grego to resign from the job that he’s held for less than three years — in order, he said, to spend more time with his family.
Farrell said she was disappointed at his decision because she felt Grego was making real progress in improving Osceola County’s schools.
“The petition was brought to me by some parents in St. Cloud, and they wanted me to spread the word here,” she said. “I agree with the thought process. It wasn’t about allegations, it was ‘Can we please get back to the children and the education.’ That’s all we’re trying to do, is focus on learning.
“Mike’s reasons for leaving are Mike’s reasons for leavings, but if you watch the school board meetings, you know there’s only so much people will take.” she added. “A lot of parents and a lot of people in the community didn’t want him to go.”
Farrell speculated that Grego might have decided to leave because of the infighting among school board members, which she said defeats the purpose of aiming to improve education.
“It’s just not a very good example,” she said. “It just doesn’t look good. How on Earth are we expected to attract a reasonable superintendent to replace Mike when you’ve got all this squabbling during the meetings? It’s a distraction away from the important things. People have actually become proud of this school district now, and we want to get the focus back on the school system, back on the kids, and in the meantime we need to get back to schools.”
It’s particularly disappointing, she said, since local schools – including the ones in Poinciana – are getting much better, with rising FCAT grades.
“The results across Osceola County have been amazing in these past few years,” she said. “Poinciana High School went from an F school to a B school. Poinciana High was always the black sheep, and we’ve been able to bring that school up the B it is now. From Poinciana’s perspective, I think everybody is happy with the way our schools are going.
“Before Michael came on, it was all about getting kids to Level 3 FCAT scores and that was it,” Farrell added. “Mike came in and said ‘We need to be pushing all the kids all the time.’ I think we were a bit too focused on our underachievers, and our overachievers were switching off.”
In addition to convincing the school board members to put their entire focus on education, Farrell said Osceola County needs to do a much better job of letting the public know what the district has accomplished.
“People are now proud of their schools,” she said. “It’s not about mudslinging. We just want them to know this is what parents want, they want the focus back on the important things.”
The same goes for news coming out of the schools, she added.
“All too often, it’s always the negative,” she said. “If there’s anything negative in the schools, we hear about it. Everyone wants to hear about controversy and bad news. But Poinciana High from an F to a B is a tremendous achievement, so we want people to see what’s going on at the school now. It’s a total transformation.”
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