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Purple Heart Anniversary

Purple Heart Anniversary


Was honored to have accompany me to the the Aaron A. Weaver Chapter 776 Military Order of the Purple Heart breakfast, former POW and two Purple Heart recipient, Capt. Richard Tangeman, U.S.N (Retired) and his wife Lori. With us is Florida Senator Wilton Simpson.

August 7th is the Nation’s Anniversary of the Purple Heart.  This weekend as the Nation’s First Purple Heart School District, Citrus Schools was honored to be asked by the Aaron A. Weaver Chapter 776 Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) to celebrate at their annual MOPH Awards Breakfast.

During the event Patriot, Curt Ebitz read ‘The History of the Purple Heart’.

The History of the Purple Heart, first known as “Badge of Military Merit”

080713PurpleHeart_HistoryAt his headquarters in Newburgh, New York, on August 7, 1782, General George Washington devised two new badges of distinction for enlisted men and noncommissioned officers. To signify loyal military service, he ordered a chevron to be worn on the left sleeve of the uniform coat for the rank and file who had completed three years of duty “with bravery, fidelity, and good conduct”; two chevrons signified six years of service. The second badge, for “any singularly meritorious Action,” was the “Figure of a Heart in Purple Cloth or Silk edged with narrow Lace or Binding.” This device, the Badge of Military Merit, was affixed to the uniform coat above the left breast and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and to have his name and regiment inscribed in a Book of Merit. The Badge specifically honored the lower ranks, where decorations were unknown in contemporary European Armies. As Washington intended, the road to glory in a patriot army is thus open to all.”

Pre-WW2 Awards: The Purple Heart as we know it today was reestablished in 1932 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. The original criteria for award of the Purple Heart as published in the War Department Circular No. 6 of February 22, 1932 states that the medal be awarded to anyone serving in the Army who had received combat-related injuries or had received the AEF’s Meritorious Service Citation Certificate during WWI, the latter criteria harkening back to the intent of George Washington’s “Badge of Military Merit”.

WWII Awards: In April 1942 the War Department amended its policy regarding the issuance of the Purple Heart. The new regulations authorized the posthumous award of the Purple Heart retroactive to December 7, 1941, and eliminated the use of the medal as a merit award.


Citrus Rocket Girls win National Title

Citrus Rocket Girls win National Title

Lilianna Henry with her new rocket launch at Citrus Springs Elementary.

Lilianna Henry with her new rocket launch at Citrus Springs Elementary.

In our classrooms, we encourage and want our students to shoot for the stars.  Today two of those students were awarded a national title for doing just that.   Crystal River Middle School student, Victoria Miterko and Citrus Springs Middle School student Lilianna Henry (both formally of Citrus Springs Elementary) were notified that each of their mo

del rocket launch entries in the “Reach for the Stars” ~ National Rocket Competition were national winners.  Miterko and Henry are the sixth Citrus schools’ students in the last four years to be nationally recognized.  An outstanding accomplishment.  The competition is done annually in memory of Christa McAuliffe the world’s first Teacher-in-Space.

For seven years local educator Christina Hackey (Citrus Springs Elementary) has been teaching rocket science in her classrooms.  Hackey shares how vital it is for students today to have hands-on learning and that focusing on the “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) subjects.  Hackey, a mother of three daughters, explains how important it is that we encourage girls to participate, learn and go into these high-tech fields.  Miterko and Henry are one step closer to that happening.

Lilianna Henry with educator Christina Hackey following Henry's launch.

Lilianna Henry with educator Christina Hackey following Henry’s launch.

Miterko and Henry will receive a Space Shuttle Challenger commemorative medal and the opportunity to launch rockets from Homer Hickam Field at Space Camp under an “October Sky” on October 17th, 2017 at the US Space & Rocket Center, in Huntsville Alabama.  October Sky is a reference to the 1999 film about Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys. It is the true story of Hickam and his friend who learn about and launch model rockets.  Later Hickam himself goes on to college and becomes a NASA scientist helping launch the NASA Space Shuttles.

The local “Reach for the Stars” rocket competition is sponsored in part by the Citrus County Education Foundation.

Congratulations to Victoria Miterko and Lilianna Henry!

Veterans in the classroom and Veterans in our classrooms

Veterans in the classroom and Veterans in our classrooms

IMG_7832r2At Citrus County School District’s annual ‘Welcome Back Teachers’ Conference on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 Superintendent of Schools, Sandra “Sam” Himmel honored a special group of people in our community and schools, our military veterans.  Superintendent Himmel asked area military organizations’ Honor Guards to open the conference.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, Superintendent Himmel asked representatives of our Veterans in the Classroom program to join her on stage.  These amazing team of over 80 veterans each year make individual visits to our school classrooms to share about their service in the military and what it means to serve.

What Superintendent Himmel did next was to ask every teacher that is a military veteran to come and join the other veteran up front.

As these men and women came up front I watched as the brotherhood of their shared service immediately came through.  Some were meeting for the first time and honoring one another.  I couldn’t help but heard one veteran turn to CRHS teacher retired Air Force Master Sergeant Thomas O’ Brien and say, “how long did you serve?”  O’Brien gentle replied, “20 years, Air Force”.

These are veterans in our classrooms every day.  Citrus has a rich tradition of teachers who are military veterans, including former Prisoner of war heroes, C.I.A. Intelligent Officers and those that have served in every major war or conflict over the last hundred years.  These are just some of the military veterans that our teaching in our schools today: MSG Thomas O’ Brien, U.S.A.F (Ret.); Sr. Chief Ira Sparkman, U.S.N. (Ret.); Warrant Officer Elizabeth Rivera, U.S.N. (Ret.); LTC Dave Brown, U.S.A. (Ret.); former-MSG Dean Kelly U.S.A.; Col. Dennis Yamrose, U.S.A.F (Ret.); former-Lt Brady Hannett U.S.A.F (Ret.); MILITARY VETERAN Eric Brown: MILITARY VETERAN Robert LeCours; MILITARY VETERAN Bill Nelson, and many many more.  In addition to these great service men and women in our classrooms are the addition of non-instructional staff persons that work in our schools and departments.  At the top of our district leadership educators is our current Assistant Superintendent, former-Capt. Michael Mullen, U.S.A.

We are so grateful for the example they are to our young people.  They are living examples of what service to country is.  They are essential in administration and instruction of our successful programs like our Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. They are critical to leadership in our district and schools.  They are examples of the high quality of our staff.  They are the teachers that impact our young people’s lives.

To each and every one of them, we respectfully and gratefully say, “Thank you! And God bless you!”





New Best & Brightest promotes teachers to be hired based on youth SAT/ACT grades

New Best & Brightest promotes teachers to be hired based on youth SAT/ACT grades

Untitled-1The Best & Brightest Teacher Bonus program has been controversial from the moment it was rolled out.  Proponents claim the program is to help attract and retain highly qualified teachers in Florida.  To qualify for the bonus a teacher must have scored at the 80th percentile or higher on their personal SAT or ACT test scores.  These tests were taken largely by these teachers when they were in high school, often a requirement for college entrance (but not in all situations).  If a teacher scored in the 80th percentile and was evaluated as highly qualified, that teacher would receive over $6,000 plus for the year.  The Legislature premise is that smart people (those that scored well as teenagers) are better teachers.  Among the many flaws is that people that score well on a standardize test are not necessarily smarter or better teachers, just better test takers.  In addition, these tests were never designed to be used in the manner that now the way the state of Florida is using them, some ten, twenty or even thirty years later,

In 2017 the Florida Legislature in House Bill 7069 expanded the program from $40 million to over $200 million. They also added a new option, that Principals (but not assistant principals) can qualify to receive a Best & Brightest bonus of $5,000 plus.

How a Principal qualifies for Best & Brightest is as headshaking and concerning as the original Best & Brightest.  A mathematical determination will be made comparing all the Best & Brightest teachers in Florida.  If the ratio of Best & Brightest teachers to total amount of teachers in a school is at or above the 80th percentile in the state when compared to elementary, middle, or high schools, then the principal receives the Best & Brightest Principal Scholarship.  Language in the statue states, “…faculty at the principal’s school must have a ratio of best and brightest teachers to other classroom teachers that is at the 80th percentile or higher, statewide, for that school type (elementary, middle, high, or combination)”.  The more Best & Brightest teachers at the principal’s school the more likely the principal should be to qualify for the Best & Brightest bonus.  This would mean that the more teachers at a particular school with high SAT or ACT scores, the more likely a principal could qualify for Best & Brightest.

Is the legislature saying that principals should use SAT and ACT scores when a teacher was in high school as part of the determining factor when hiring a teacher?  Seems that this formula and the Best & Brightest program would suggest that.

While I have faith that administrators in Citrus County will continue hiring teachers based on who is best for our students and their schools.  It is concerning that the state would develop a bonus model that would focus on the hiring of teachers based on tests they took as high schoolers.

If the Florida Legislature is truly interested in helping attract and retain high qualified teachers in Florida it can start by removing the decade long targeting and attacks on public education.  It can reverse the multitude of overreaching classroom mandates.  Eliminate tying teachers’ salaries, bonus and steps to students’ scores.

To fund the $200 million for their Best & Brightest program have had to reduce funding in other areas.  The appropriation would better serve our students, schools and teachers to increase the funding in the Base Student Allocation where we know better locally how it can be more cost effectively used to positively impact our students and teachers.

VAM Alternative option presented to CCSB

VAM Alternative option presented to CCSB

Kennedy: it is a more common-sense solution to a senseless law

CCSB_07-25-2017On Tuesday, July 25, 2017 during our Special School Board Meeting, Director of Research and Accountability, Amy Crowell presented an alternative option to the State of Florida’s Value added Model (VAM) for the teachers’ evaluation process in Citrus County.  The School Board unanimously agreed at the June 27, 2017 School Board Special Meeting to remove VAM in Citrus County. (see Thomas Talks blog post, June 27, 2017) As Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel shared during that meeting that the Research and Accountability department had already began developing an option to the VAM.

Ms. Crowell shared the specific changes to statute regarding VAM because of the 2017 Florida Bill 7069. The statute only required teachers whose students take state assessments (e.g., FSA, EOC) to have 1/3 of their evaluation determined using the Florida VAM formula system.  In Citrus County 28% of all the teachers have been required to have the VAM formula used in determining their evaluation. The remaining teachers in Citrus were permitted by Florida statute to use a district determined (and Florida Department of Education approved) evaluation model which by Florida statute still must be tied to students’ grades, and also count for 1/3 of their evaluation by state statute.

The Florida ‘Value-Added Model’ formula that claims to calculate a teacher’s effectiveness.

The Florida ‘Value-Added Model’ formula that claims to calculate a teacher’s effectiveness.

Ms. Crowell shared that the VAM alternative that the Citrus School District staff is proposing, is based on the current model Citrus uses for non-VAM teachers.  It is straight forward to understand, uses existing data and would be a far better improvement than using the VAM.  In short, it is a more common-sense solution to a senseless law.

Ms. Crowell shared that the alternative option was shared with the district’s Teacher Evaluation Committee, which has representation by teachers, administrators and other stakeholders.  Only a small number of feedback has been given due to the summer break, but all were positive.  School Board Member Doug Dodd suggested and the board unanimously agreed to table the approval of the alternative evaluation option until August 8th, 2017 School Board Regular meeting in order to give teachers additional time to weigh in on the proposed alternative.

I believe the School Board has every intention to approve an alternative to VAM as soon as possible.  In addition, following this coming year’s implementation, we will continue to monitor this alternative evaluation model and make improvements as needed.

As I have continually stated, I have opposed VAM and I am opposed at the use of students’ grade being tied to teachers’ salaries, bonuses and steps.  I look forward to voting for an alternative to VAM.  I will continue to lobby the legislature to remove from statute any using of students’ grade being tied to teachers’ salaries, bonuses and steps.