Reggie Dogan

Reggie Dogan Project Manager

Education

Last year, 1 in 3 Escambia students didn’t graduate

Grad rates have risen, but county still has a way to go

On a sunlit June afternoon, Hannah Gainer beamed as she zipped up her scarlet gown. Read full story

Education

Are our children ready to learn?

Too many are already behind before they even start kindergarten

Nearly a third of children entering kindergarten in Escambia County aren’t ready for school. Read full story

Education

Our best teachers’ influence never ends

In my three years in the classroom, I learned as much as I taught

I’ve always admired teachers. Read full story

Education

A.K. Suter growing before students’ eyes

When students at A.K. Suter Elementary School returned to class today, they saw bulldozers and heard the cacophony of construction. Besides reading, writing and multiplying, they’ll get used to sharing their building with construction workers for the remainder of the school year. Right before their eyes, brick and mortar is rising from the red dirt to become their new place to grow and learn. “It will great for the kids who deserve a clean, decent environment,” said Linda Moultrie, chairman of Escambia County School Board. “It was designed with an eye on growth in the future.” Moultrie was among a group of school officials, construction workers and guests who toured the new building and got a glimpse of work in progress. A.K. Suter joined Ernest Ward Middle School in Walnut Hill in construction projects paid for by the local option sales tax, which comes up for renewal this year. At a cost of $21 million, the 110,000 square-foot, two-story building has 35 classrooms, a media center — equipped with fiber optic cables for advanced technology — an art room and a spacious auditorium/cafeteria. The current 443 students started the school year in the old building on Pickens Avenue in East Pensacola Heights, It was constructed in 1921 and had its last renovation at the end World War II in 1945. They will move into brand-new classrooms when school reconvenes after the Christmas break in January. The construction’s second phase should be done by July 2015. After completion, the new school can accommodate 600 students but has enough space to expand to 800 if needed. Principal Russell Queen, said he’s excited about the opportunity the new school presented for his students and staff. “This is absolutely amazing,” Queen said. “They (architects) listened to all of our concerns and suggestions, and things couldn’t have gone any better.” After the work is done, the old school will be demolished to make room for more parking as well a covered play area. The new building — with brick veneer and cement board exterior siding — will reflect the style and history of the East Pensacola Heights neighborhood. Curved hallways, covered walkways, stairwells with expansive glass, a slopped roof and a cavernous courtyard for galleries, festivals and other events are some of many architectural amenities, said Morette Construction’s Gordon Gunn, project manager. Escambia schools Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said he’s pleased with the progress of the construction, but he won’t get too excited until students show up in the new building. “Just like a home is not a home without a family, a school is not a school without little people,” Thomas said. “When I see fifth-graders in a classroom, that is what is going to make this worthwhile.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Commentary

It’s still the stupid economy

“It the economy, stupid.” Bill Clinton’s political strategist James Carville coined the phrase that popped in my head as I listened to Pensacola Young Professionals share the findings in its annual Quality of Life survey. Like last year, and the year before, and the year before that, all the way back to the first survey in 2008, the economy and jobs remained the preeminent issue facing both Escambia County and the City of Pensacola. Coming in second for the second year in a row, was crime and drugs, the issue that has since 2008 flip-flopped with education, which this year came in third. Beautiful beaches, a revived downtown, a first-class baseball stadium and a new form of government are positive indicators to show we have been moving the right direction (so the survey says). But those positive indicators don’t mean squat to folks who want and need good jobs and a robust economy to improve their “quality of life.” In front of a packed room at the Pensacola Bay Center during the Greater Pensacola Chamber’s monthly Gopher Club breakfast last week, PYP laid out a year’s worth of data and measurements of our community. Rachael Gillette, PYP’s executive director, said they are committed to making a difference and getting things done. “What can you do personally or as a business owner to make Pensacola better?” Gillette asked the room full of business and civic leaders and professionals at the breakfast. Since 2008, PYP since has used the survey to rate the Pensacola area. This year the survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, sought opinions from 800 registered voters on a number of key issues. To maintain impartiality, respondents were picked randomly from state voter registration files. The sample reflects the demographic profile of county voters. Based on the survey results, the majority of voters in the city (36 percent) and the county (34 percent) said the economy is the proverbial millstone around our necks. As the survey revealed, attracting better-paying jobs and growing the economy tops the list. Until we can solve that conundrum, we will continue to lag behind neighboring communities and never make the progress to fulfill our promise. Defining ‘quality of life’ Before delving into the nuances and numbers, let’s define “quality of life.” It is a relative term and defining it is no easy task. What makes a good quality of life has occupied philosophers since Plato and Aristotle, and countless definitions have been proposed. Nevertheless, there are some elements on which most scholars agree. First of all, quality of life is used to evaluate the overall well-being of people and communities. It shouldn’t be confused with the concept of “standard of living” or income per capita. While most studies on the quality of life take into account indicators of economic success such as income per capita, wealth and employment, they also go beyond those measures to include such things such as the environment, education, leisure time, infrastructure and public safety. The best description is the amount of satisfaction we have with our lives, taking into consideration both material and non-material wealth. Most people will get the most satisfaction when they have both material and non-material wealth. It should be balanced. Having satisfaction with both is part of a high quality of life. The PYP survey found reasonably high satisfaction with quality of life in Escambia County/Pensacola, with high marks going to the mayor and the superintendent of schools. If you’re older, retired and enjoy the beauty of nature and beaches, Pensacola is the place to be (69 percent). Not so for the younger crowd, recent college graduates or single professionals looking for a exciting things to see and do (7 percent). Down to the numbers The survey asked, “Is the City of Pensacola (and Escambia County) headed in the right direction?  Among city voters 74 percent (up 3 points from 2013) said yes. Sixty-three percent (2 point increase from 2013) said the county was heading the right way. It seems people are more pleased about their community today than in past years. In 2008, under 30 percent of voters felt the city was heading in the right direction. Fewer than 25 percent said the county was on the right track. The numbers increased each year, reaching a peak of 89 percent (city) and 76 percent (county) in 2012. The excitement for the city’s direction could well be attributed to the downtown renaissance, the new baseball stadium and the revised city charter. As momentum has slowed, so has the enthusiasm with progress, which may explain the ratings drop in confidence in vision and leadership of almost 30 percent since 2012. A few highlights of results include: Read full story

Commentary

The making of a great teacher

It’s a ridiculous question, one that has been asked for generations, and still asked today: Are great teachers born or made? Reams of research papers and piles of books have dealt with this question, and the answer over and over again is the same: Teachers, like people in every profession, are born. But great teachers are chiseled to their greatness through the fiery furnace of tenacity, toil and tears. A whimsical smile spread across my face when I read the headline on The Atlantic website: “Are great teachers born or made?” I knew from the beginning the anti-climatic ending. As outstanding athletes and gifted musicians are created through dedicated training and demanding practice, so are great teachers. While there are some genetic or God-given traits in rare specimens in all walks of life, by and large, it’s hard work, undeterred ambition and abiding love of learning and sharing knowledge that makes some teachers better than others. “Effective teachers are made over time, through education, perseverance, practice and guidance,” wrote Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp in the Seattle Times. “Newly minted teachers may be shiny and bright, but teachers with experience connect with students. They are the coin of the realm for student achievement. It takes time to get from here to there.” It’s an unfortunate reality that teaching is one of the professions where too many people think that’s it so easy that anyone with half a brain could do it. Most of us don’t think just anyone off the street could whip out a scalpel and perform delicate brain surgery, or put on a blue suit and woo jurors in the courtroom or pull out a calculator and spin numbers like an accountant. Those professions, like many others, require a great deal of training, knowledge and skill before we pay them money for their services. People, nevertheless, would argue that great teachers are born, not made. Perhaps people imagine teaching is easy because in general we’ve all been to school and seen what a teacher does during the day. A good teacher makes teaching look so effortless that you think to yourself, “Hey, I could do this,” while a bad teacher makes you think, “Hey, I could do this better!” I know from experience. My first few days of teaching, I felt like the little boy with his finger in the dike. As soon as I plugged one hole, another one would appear. There were moments during those early days when keeping a classroom full of energy and combustion seemed like an attempt to harness electricity. At any moment the entire lesson could come crashing down (and yes, on occasions lessons did flop like an imploding building). On the outside you try to remain cool, calm and collected, but on the inside you’re about to toss your breakfast, realizing that a few missteps will lead to classroom chaos in even the most well-behaved classes. Eventually, my training and skills kicked in and activities and lessons that would have caused chaos in my first week went by without a hitch. But in every lesson, there was something new for me to work at and make better, or something I needed to do differently and more creatively. I managed to pull things together and remove my proverbial finger from the dike, and instead of a rush of water only a few trickles dropped from the holes. Each day I became a teaching moment and a learning experience for both my students and me. I never thought I was born to teach. I knew that to become a good teacher, like becoming a good leader, lawyer or bricklayer, meant putting in hours of hard work, brick by brick, one day at a time. Find out more about great teachers in The Atlantic. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Community

A voice of tolerance comes to Pensacola

Homosexuality is considered taboo in some places, but in Uganda it used to be punishable by life in prison or even death. The Rev. Mark Kiyimba led outspoken and fearless opposition to proposed anti-homosexuality legislation in the East African county. While judges on Friday struck down the legislation on a technicality, activists say homosexuality remains a criminal offense under colonial-era laws. So, in essence, Kiyimba’s fight is far from over. The human rights activist and minister and founder of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda, has spent most of his adult life fighting for the rights of homosexuals and against discrimination of people affected by HIV/AIDS in his country. Kiyimba, now an exile in Uganda, is coming to Pensacola to share his message of hope and tell stories of his struggle for human rights for those facing intolerance and discrimination in his native land. A reception to welcome and honor Kiyimba will be at 6 p.m. Monday at Polonza Bistro, 286 N. Palafox. It is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Red Ribbon Foundation. Keyontay Humphries, regional organizer for the ACLU of Northwest Florida, said it is important for the ACLU to acknowledge and for Pensacola to hear about Kiyimba’s contributions to civil rights and non-discriminatory practices in Uganda and its relationship to American policy. For too long Ugandan officials criminalized HIV by connecting the disease to homosexuality, thereby disavowing treatment to children affected with the disease, Humphries said. “His heart is for children and his ministry is for children,” Humphries said. “My excitement is because he is such a strong advocate for kids.” In a recent blog post, Kiyimba lamented the sad reality that in the past five years high-profile Western leaders and celebrity pastors supported by American Christian organizations have visited homophobic churches in Uganda that promote intolerance and punishment against gays. “What we need is for influential high profile religious leaders who are tolerant and anti-hatred, to show solidarity with the more progressive churches of Uganda,” Kiyimba said. “We need to organize large religious conferences that teach a gospel of love and dignity for all.” Kiyimba knows firsthand about the power of and pressure from people who are intolerant and oppose homosexuality in Uganda. Police often questioned and accused him of using his church and school to recruit homosexuals, he said. While the government and many religious groups in Uganda spread a message of hate, Kiyimba promotes and preaches love. He runs a primary school for more than 650 students, many of whom have been affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as a children’s home for AIDS orphans near Masaka, Uganda. Kiyimba’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. He received the National Education Association’s Virginia Uribe Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights in Washington, D.C. last month.  The award is presented to a person whose activities in human rights significantly impact those facing discrimination due to their sexual orientation. As a human rights activist and the recipient of numerous national and international awards, Kiyimba is an extraordinary man and minister who has made a significant impact on education and achievement of equal opportunity for people discrimination in Uganda.  “If faith leaders change their tone and begin speaking out against hate and violence, then we can turn the tide of faith-based intolerance in Uganda,” he said. “We can tell those who promote hate and violence in the name of God, that they no longer speak in the name of all communities of faith.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Culture

“A Legacy of Building Peace” comes to area

Three different men from three different parts of the world who practiced three different religions found common ground on one principle: a hope for peace. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Daisaku Ikeda dedicated their lives to the ideals of peace and nonviolence in the midst of tremendous adversity and opposition. In memory and honor of their great works comes the Gandhi, King, Ikeda: “A Legacy of Building Peace” exhibit as part of the MLK Living Legacy Celebration. The touring exhibit will open for display on Aug. 16 at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center Galleries at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. A keynote address by Lawrence E. Carter Sr., dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel will open the ceremony. Carter, curator and professor of religion at Morehouse College in Atlanta, developed the exhibition as a tribute and lasting legacy to the three activists who fought selflessly in their lifetimes to promote peace, nonviolence and justice for all people. Gail Morgan, peace and community relations director for Soka Gakkai International-USA from Panama City to Mobile, said the exhibit was created to help break down artificial barriers that separate people by race, belief systems and cultural traditions. “It will link people from diverse communities with a common dream of peace,” said Morgan, who helped organize efforts to bring the exhibit to Northwest Florida State College. Read full story

Commentary

Suspension policy step in right direction

Escambia County School District’s new suspension policy took me down memory lane. It got me musing about the time I earned a three-day pass from school for what was really much ado about nothing. A teacher said I “mocked” her. I still today chuckle at the oxymoron. Some teachers make a mockery of themselves without much help from their students. What I recall is that the teacher said something I didn’t want to hear, and I contorted and twisted my face while mouthing “blah, blah, blah silently.” Enough histrionics, they reasoned, to warrant three days of R & R for me. I couldn’t wait to plop down Ohio Player’s “Heaven Must Be Like This” on my turntable. Being out of school was heaven on earth. My parents were at work, my two brothers were at school and I was home alone as punishment for a school infraction. School has to be the only place in the world where you can get time off for bad behavior. Drunk on RC Cola and stuffed with Cheez Whiz and Ritz crackers, I lounged around watching Theodore Cleaver get into mischief and following Fred and Barney around Bedrock. It’s wasn’t quite “Ferris Bueller Day Off”, but hey, who’s complaining? If being at home alone with no teachers or tests, no treacherous bus rides or terrible lunches, I wonder why I didn’t find more mischief to get a free ticket home. Because suspensions are usually more pleasurable than punishment, I applaud Escambia schools for the new policy that allows students to make up homework and tests they miss while suspended. The School District decided to change the policy – which previously prohibited students from receiving a grade on work assigned during the out-of-school suspensions – in order to better ensure student success. That makes much so more sense than sending a kid home for basically what amounts to a short vacation, sometimes without parental supervision or pedagogical oversight. Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of Escambia County schools, surmised that suspensions – especially the lengthy ones of up to 10 days – could place students in the position of getting a failing grade because of the amount of work or tests they missed. So, instead of sending them home with not much to do except watch TV, play video games or, God forbid, get in more trouble, the district now gives them the option of making up their work and earning a grade. Besides, suspending students from school isn’t very effective anyway. Time magazine, in a 2012 article, asked the question: “Does Suspending Students Work?” Not much. In fact, suspensions may do more harm than good. Studies have shown that out-of-school suspensions put students on the fast track to falling behind, dropping out and going to jail. What’s more, some groups are disproportionately suspended more than others. Researchers in the April 2012 “Journal of School Violence” noted that most school districts used out-of-school suspensions even for minor disciplinary issues even though they tend to exacerbate problem behaviors and also may lead to academic problems. Even more, out-of-school suspensions are not fairly applied with minority youth being assigned punitive suspensions at greater rates than non-minority youth, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education. The reasons suspensions oftentimes don’t succeed are rather obvious. For one, students are not in class and miss out the on very reason they go to school: to learn. Secondly, allowing students a few free days or weeks from school is anything but punishment for many of them, especially those who more likely to get in trouble and have an aversion to school anyway. In defense of school officials, they need some kind of measures to punish students who consistently break rules and cause mayhem in the classroom. Out-of-school suspension, however, should be a last resort. We need students at school in class every minute of the school day. They can’t afford a few days of rest and relaxation as this highly advanced, technological world passes them by. I remember my suspension as if it were yesterday. It was my first and only out-of-school suspension, though in today’s world of stricter rules and harsher punishment for seemingly innocuous offenses, I probably would have spent many more days at home instead of at school. I was fortunate to be studious enough that my grades didn’t suffer as a result. But too many kids miss too many days because of minor infractions and never catch up. The reality is that most of the students who get suspended are the ones who need school the most. At-risk, troubled students already are far behind in the classroom. Suspensions only put farther behind with little chance of ever catching up. We need to find more ways to keep students in school and on track to become productive high school graduates instead of destructive high school dropouts. Escambia County School District’s new suspension policy is on the right track to do just that. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Getting ahead in the lab

A nearly $1 million grant will boost research for University of West Florida faculty and help students pursue post-graduate degrees. The Maximizing Access to Research Career Programs through Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research grant, or MARC U-STAR, will go to support underrepresented undergraduate students seeking doctorate or medical/doctorate degrees in biomedical and behavioral sciences. The $930,000 grant will allow students to spent more time doing research and preparing them for high-caliber graduate programs. The grant program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula and teaching skills of faculty and biomedical research training at colleges and universities with a high enrollment of students from underrepresented groups. UWF professors Karen Molek, director of Chemistry Scholars, and Michael Huggins, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, applied and secured the grant, which will be distributed over the next five years. “Dr Huggins and I have the privilege of using this award to mentor students and help them achieve greater success than they ever dreamed,” Molek said in a press release. “Research scientists capable of solving health concerns of the 21st century will require collaborative research from a diverse workforce.” The grant will be used to pay tuition and a portion of housing expenses for UWF students participating in the MARC Scholars Programs. It also will pay summer stipends for students to conduct research on and off campus during the summer semester. A portion of the grant will fund small research stipends for 17 UWF professors from biology, chemistry and physics departments who will mentor MARC Scholars in the research lab. The grant will enhance the university’s efforts to expand the UWF Chemistry Scholars program into other STEM departments across campus and get more federal grants. “(This) grant will allow UWF to increase the opportunities for students majoring in biology, chemistry and physics by providing them with experiences and training that will help them be outstanding scientists, researchers and physicians,” Huggins said. “The mentoring and research training provided to students will play a critical role in their professional development, helping to ensure they have the best chances of being successful.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Helping the village raise readers

Peter Nowak’s investment in the restaurant business has paid off. He now owns and operates six McDonald’s in Pensacola. Nowak is hoping that his investment in early learning pays off as well. Nowak’s Learn & Earn project at Woodlands Heights Community Resource Center is designed to help preschool children learn while earning coupons for free meals at McDonald’s. “If we don’t start here, we don’t have a chance in high school,” said Nowak, CEO of Nowak Enterprises. “I want people to come to the center to get an early start and talk about early learning.” The Earn & Learn program will offer more than 100 video messages in areas such as phonics, geography, math and language arts. Designed in 2012 with the help of the Early Learning Coalition, the program follows the lessons of the state’s voluntary prekindergarten curriculum. Woodland Heights director Thomas Brame said training for programs starts this week. He hopes by the next week for children to begin their lessons. Woodland Heights already has seven computers used mostly by adults, teenagers and older children. There were no computers or programs available for preschool children. The Learn & Earn project will bring in additional tablets and computers for the children to use alongside their parents. “We’re really excited about it,” Brame said. “To have prek programs is really nice.” When the learning stations open, children will use nametags to log into the computers. They will receive credentials after their parents sign them up. From there, the system will remember and record the work they have completed in what’s called L3 (Look, Listen, Learn) Once a child has watched a certain number of messages, his/her parents will receive a text coupon for meals at Nowak’s McDonald’s on Bayou Boulevard to thank them for participating. Nowak’s idea to create the early learning program came to him at a conference in Cincinnati on generational poverty. He said he didn’t fully understand the issues relating to poverty, but had seen its effects on some employees at his restaurants. “For most people there is no way out other than education,” Nowak said. “And it has to start at an early age.” Nowak knows that his project is a small step toward a bigger goal of providing quality preschool for every child in Escambia. He hopes to get community and business leaders interested in and excited about early childhood education. “This is not just the responsibility of families,” he said. “We are connected together in the community we live in and we need to embrace it.” Nowak has gained support from Mayor Ashton Hayward, who he described as “a great advocate for early learning.” It was Hayward who suggested to Nowak to use Woodland Heights as the incubator for the early learning program. The center is near Pensacola Village, a low-income housing project. Many of its residents use the center for various activities, including computer access and summer programs. “It is critical to expose children to education and reading, which builds a foundation to learning,” Hayward said.  “We want to expose as many children as we can to early learning at Woodland Heights.” Research indicates that providing quality education for children before they turn 5-years-old yields significant long-term benefits. One study showed that young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, to become better citizens and even have longer marriages. Other studies show children engaged in preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education or get into future trouble with the law. Nowak and Hayward hope business owners, public officials and community leaders come aboard to enhance and expand early learning throughout Escambia County. “It’s critical to tie early education to the workforce,” Hayward said. “Early learning is paramount to the success of our children.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Bringing the global community home

Students who study a foreign language score higher on math and language arts as well as have higher verbal scores on standardized tests, studies show. “Why should we teach our children a foreign language?” said anthropologist Dr. Kathryn McGowan. “Learning a second language vastly improves overall school performance.” McGowan shared her findings on the importance of early language education as the keynote speaker at Global Corner’s annual Explorers’ Luncheon this week at the Pensacola Yacht Club. The lack of language skills also impacts how businesses operate. More than 30 percent of large companies in the U.S. believe they lost business because of the lack of foreign language skills, McGowan said. “We’re falling behind and suffering the consequences,” she said. “It is academically, financially and culturally necessary to broaden language skills.” Most children in elementary schools in the U.S. don’t study foreign languages, but nearly all children in European countries do, she said. Programs like Global Corner are taking steps to help bridge the language gap in elementary schools by exposing young students to foreign countries. In its seventh year, Global Corner has brought the world to schools throughout Northwest Florida. Each school year, Global Corner features a new country, engaging students in a global experience without leaving the classroom. Through hands-on activities with educational poster boards as backdrops, students learn about the language, culture, geography, food and art of people around the world. More than 43,000 virtual trips have taken students to countries including Japan, Spain, Egypt and Brazil. This year the students took a virtual trip to Europe with the Passport to Italy tour. Global Corner presented a glimpse of what students learn in a classroom during Tuesday’s luncheon and silent auction. Decorative poster boards covered with various faces and places in Italy stood on tables, surrounded by colorful and creative collections of artifacts, ceramic masks and artwork. Topics included Italy’s culture, music, art, festivals and the city of Rome. At the end of the school year, students competed in the “Why I Love the Global Corner” essay contest. Gulf Breeze Elementary School first-grader Ansley Ballenger’s essay was selected from the kindergarten through second-grade category. On vacation in South Carolina, Ansley shared her winning words on an iPad via the Internet. Natalia Mercado, 9, a fourth-grader at Oriole Beach Elementary School, penned the winning essay in the third- through fifth-grade category. She stood confidently in front of about 100 people at the luncheon to read her winning prose.  “It is fun to learn about Italy when you have the Global Corner to teach you,” Natalia said. “Because of this experience, I would one day like to visit Italy.” Natalia’s teacher, Valerie Ceravolo, said she was impressed that her students remembered so much information from Global Corner’s visit to Oriole Beach last month. “It’s superb how they incorporate different parts of the country in the lessons,” Ceravolo said. “They bring the country to them, which makes it enjoyable and educational.” Learning about other parts of the world goes a long way in helping understanding other people and how they live. Global Corner is a good place for children in Northwest Florida to begin their lesson. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story