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School Board Revisits EOS, Division Continues

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On Tuesday, September 5, the Hernando County School Board met to discuss and decide upon various agenda items. On their list yet again was a vote surrounding the divisive topic of Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), though not exactly a decision on the topic itself. The item designated 24-1665 was whether to approve out-of-state travel for John Morris, the Director of Secondary Curriculum of the Hernando County School District, to attend the EOS Annual Board Retreat in Montgomery, Alabama.

The goal of EOS is to guarantee that students from historically underrepresented groups and those from low-income backgrounds have access to the same high-quality educational experiences. The Advanced Placement (AP) program, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) are all examples of such challenging courses.

The motion was passed by a hotly contested 3-2 split vote. The board members voted along the same lines as they had during the last meeting regarding EOS in August. Gus Guadagnino, Linda Prescott, and Susan Duval voted “Yes” on the agenda item, while Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez voted against the motion.

The travel will be of no cost to the district, as the EOS Organization will be footing the bill for Morris and Superintendent John Stratton to make the overnight trip to Alabama. According to Morris, the company is bringing them out to “speak about the things we’ve been doing in Hernando County” due to the results of the district. He notes how there are a number of school districts “who come and ask us what we’re doing” as opposed to the inverse.

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Though the decision was only regarding Morris’ travel plans, the board members took the opportunity to reiterate their views on the controversial topic. Board Member Johnson opened with a definitive rebuke of the program, stating, “It is Affirmative Action. You can’t convince me otherwise. I will not support this program or anything related to it.” Shannon Rodriguez followed up in support of Johnson and noted how many states outside of California have one or fewer counties that use EOS. In California, there are 52 counties that use the program. In Florida, Indian River County recently voted to get rid of the program, bringing the total to four counties that use the program.

Rodriguez questions why they need a company from Washington to tell them which students should be taking the higher level courses, as the teacher should be able to make that determination since they are well educated and know their students on a personal level. She disagrees with EOS targeting students by skin color and income status and asks why a teacher wouldn’t give the same opportunities to all of their students regardless of skin color or income. “If they feel a student can achieve and go to a higher class, why wouldn’t they pick them out and put them there? Why do we have to spend $380,000 plus some… on some company from Washington to come in here and gather data on these children?”

Duval was the most outspoken of those in approval of the program, which she says “makes it easier for us as a school system to see where it is that we need to improve.” She spoke very passionately and rebuked the notion that EOS is affirmative action. “It is not affirmative action, people… It is bringing everybody up. And, yes, there is higher percentages perhaps in some of the minority numbers, but they were really low to begin with… It is opening the doors to everybody.”

Prescott cited a program at Hillsborough Community College called “Black, Brown, and College-Bound” that ran during her time there and insisted that EOS is about providing opportunities for students of various backgrounds “no matter what your color.”

Morris also stated that this program is “never taking away seats from kids,” and the size of the “section” simply increases if more children want to take advanced courses. He explained that the EOS program was instituted in Hernando Schools a little over four years ago when they noticed a huge decline in students taking advanced courses offered through AP, AICE, and IB. “It’s helped us identify and target more kids that can take courses.” He said it helps students become aware of what their opportunities are, irrespective of their GPA or test scores.

Other topics of discussion and action

The school board and citizens touched on other topics that schools are facing, ranging from the purchase of fireworks for Hernando High School’s homecoming activities to the sanitary standards of elementary school utensils.

Board Member Johnson opened the meeting by leading a moment of reflection and silent prayer for those who endured the hardships of Hurricane Idalia. After Central High’s NJROTC led the pledge of allegiance and the adoption of the agenda was approved, the first order of business was to recognize Barrie Smith, who represents NewLine Interactive, for his Outstanding Contributions to Hernando County Schools. One of Superintendent Stratton’s goals for the school year was to provide high schools with more technologies to help students learn, but the prohibitive cost was a major hindrance.

Donations of touchscreen panels by Smith helped establish a standard for NewLine panels across the county. “It’s an honor to be able to do something with the school district to give back, especially given how much Hernando County Schools has given to me, my children, and my family,” said Smith. Hernando High School’s Homecoming Growl is a tradition going back many years, and students have worked hard to raise money to cover the $6,700 in expenses associated with the fireworks show.

Teacher Stacey Holcomb recently finished her Master’s Degree, and the Board approved her out-of-state travel to attend the National Federation of Blind Teachers of Tomorrow program. There are 30 visually impaired students in the district and one student with a dual sensory impairment.

The Board approved the purchase of five acres on Wimbleton Ave., directly behind Weeki Wachee High School, for $95,000. Under the school’s master plan, the school district plans to use this property to provide drainage retention areas that would otherwise be constructed on current athletic fields with the campus building expansion.

Other larger agenda item purchases include:
• RFQ renewal for Continuing Architectural Services for an Estimated Annual Amount Not to Exceed $500,000.00, to Furr, Wegman & Banks Architects, P.A., Wannemacher Jensen Architects, Inc., Harvard Jolly, Inc., Zyscovich, Inc. and Long & Associates, Architects/Engineers, Inc.
• RFQ renewal for Roofing Inspection/Consulting Continuing Services for estimated annual amount of $500,000.00 to C. B. Goldsmith & Associates, Inc., REI Engineers, PBA Design Group, Inc., Raymond and A/R/C Associates, Inc.
• Bid Award to Protech Roofing Services, LLC for School Roof Coating, HVAC Replacement & Ladder Receivers at Powell Middle School, $379,900.00
• HVAC Equipment, Installation, Service & Related Products, awarded to Daiken Applied Americas, Inc. for HVAC goods and services and authorize the purchase for an estimated annual amount of $300,000.00.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, during the citizen’s input segment, Diane Limbrick came forward to discuss sanitation concerns at Brooksville Elementary. As Limbrick works in the cafeteria, she laments how the buffet-style lunch line possesses key areas where cleanliness is difficult to maintain: the tongs and the utensils. Limbrick points out that the children can easily pick up the tongs from the wrong end or forgo the tongs altogether, opting to use their fingers instead. “This, in no way, is sanitary,” she said. Utensils also used to come in plastic-wrapped bundles, but now they must be pulled individually from dispensers. As these began to jam, the solution was to put the forks, knives, and spoons in cups and let the children grab them from there. This workaround completely defeats the purpose of cleanliness.

If parents have any queries or concerns, Superintendent Stratton recommends parents “come in and ask us questions,” as the school board has “a whole assessment department” to clear up confusion regarding test scores and the like. Though citizens are free to provide their input during these meetings, Stratton suggests individuals take the former route to avoid “making accusations that we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing.” If parents would prefer to wait for another gathering, the school board will reconvene for an informal meeting, workshop, and regular meeting on September 19.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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