A collection of parents and educators gathered in the Cordova Park Elementary library Tuesday evening to discuss how the city of Pensacola might best improve the area’s academic landscape, one with notable bleak spots, were told the community needed a “shift in culture.”
“We need to address the culture of education in the community,” said Michelle Salzman, the transition team member looking at how the city might impact education in the community.
Salzman encouraged people to work within their communities and at schools in poorer performing areas throughout the area in order to improve the educational prospects of students in one of the state’s more-struggling counties.
Insofar as the city’s official hand in matters of education, Salzman explained that the municipality isn’t directly involved in education, as that falls to the Escambia County School District and a field of private institutions.
“There’s only so much they can do,” she said.
Salzman intends to recommend to Mayor Grover Robinson that he focus on communicating the already available educationally-enhancing offerings at the city’s community centers, such as free internet access.
“That’s where I’m headed so far,” Salzman said, “unless there’s a big shift.”
The parents and teachers in attendance at the session threw a number of topics up for Salzman to consider in her research. Some of them fell outside the bounds of municipal purview, but others seemed to be candidates for the city to try to address.
Mike Esmond talked about his ventures to school in the mornings with six children on bicycles in tow. Trying to cross Summit Boulevard with such a caravan can be a trick, and he wanted to know about the possibility of getting a crosswalk put in.
“I literally have to walk out onto Summit and stop cars to get six kids across,” Esmond said.
Mayor Robinson, who was in attendance, said that was something ripe for the city’s attention.
“We’re definitely looking at that,” he said, “and it’s not just Summit we’re looking at.”
Another attendee noted the traditionally low pay for teachers and wondered if there was anything the city could do to address the issue, such as offering low-cost mortgages for educators.
“Maybe get creative and see if there are ways to lessen the load of the low-paid,” said Lee Hanson.
“What are you going to do about middle school?”Mother
One parent expressed a commonly heard concern regarding the district’s middle schools, singling out Workman Middle, which has had law enforcement called to the campus an alarming number of times this year.
“Since my fourth grader was in kinder-garden, the question I’ve been asked in a panic stricken tone is, ‘What are you going to do about middle school?’” the mother said.
Salzman pointed to recent rezoning, which shifted new students into schools, as the cause of the issues at Workman.
“The kids have to get use to each other,” she said.
Patty Hightower, who sits on the Escambia County School Board, said that “middle school is always a challenge for parents.” She said that the district should do a better job of communicating what is going on at various schools.
“As someone said recently, ‘It’s better to hear from you than the 12 to 13-year-old rumor mill,” Hightower said.
Hightower went on to say that Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas would welcome any suggestion on how to improve the area middle schools.
“He’s willing to listen to any wonderful solutions that are out there,” she said.
Frency Ramos Moore, a teacher and wife of Pensacola City Councilman Jared Moore, said that perhaps smaller middle schools would be better.
“If we can provide them with smaller environments, where teachers are allowed to redirect students in a safe environment, I think a lot of our problems will go away,” she said.
Jonathan Green, an educator at Bailey Middle, said he thought the city might could help with one key problem he encounters as a teacher: although students are now given laptop computers to take home and do their school work on, that doesn’t work for all students.
“Not all students have access to the internet when they go home,” Green said. “Maybe some of that ‘shift’ is we have city-wide internet.”
Salzman said she had heard the same request from the superintendent.
“That was the number one ask from Malcom Thomas,” she said.
During a meeting of the complete transition team Wednesday morning, Salzman relayed her conversations from the input session — “it was great feedback” — and Robinson said that even though the city would not be able to do a lot when it came to directly impacting the area’s education, the municipal discussion was good nonetheless.
“How many times have we talked about education?” the mayor asked. “We haven’t.”