OL 066: Our Experiences with Seminole County Public Schools
Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) has a great track record. In 2017, the district ranked 1st place out of all Central Florida Schools, and it's 3rd graders ranked 1st of the 17 largest districts in the state of Florida.
We wanted to share some of our experiences from a parental perspective, so you have an idea what to expect if you move to Seminole County and need to enroll your child in Seminole County Public Schools.
What We Like about Seminole County Public Schools
Overall, we're very pleased that our daughter attends Seminole County Public Schools. She started here in Middle school and is now in high school, which gives us a chance to see what is and isn't consistent between different schools in the district.
We found that she receives a high quality education, there are plenty of opportunities for extracurricular activities, interesting electives, and a diverse student body.
For the most part, we're happy with the teachers and administrators in the SCPS district. No organization is perfect, and we met some folks who were a bit more challenging than others. We also have some questions about policy decisions.
However, nothing has ever risen to the level that we wished our daughter was somewhere else. In comparison to some of the other school districts in the area, we believe she's in the best possible district to help her learn and grow in many ways.
School District Priorities
One thing seems rather clear. Seminole County Public Schools emphasize priority for the schools over individual student learning. I don't think that's a malicious intent. Instead, it's a difference of opinion about the best way to approach education for residential children.
Let me explain.
Based solely upon observation, it seems that the administration of Seminole County Public Schools place their entity first. In other words, they approach their priorities by asking the question:
How can we make our schools the best?
I understand that approach, even if I disagree with it. Students come and go, but the schools and the school district remain. Therefore, they place emphasis upon showing how great the schools are compared to others. It seems like a valid plan for ranking against other school districts, which becomes a source of pride for Seminole County. Once you achieve success, it's easier to get or keep your budget from one school year to another.
My opinion is that SCPS could actually do better if it used a slightly different approach:
How can we best serve our students?
I have several years of experience working in education, though not for SCPS. Public schools never seem to use the latter approach, though I've seen it yield greater results than placing the institution first.
Seminole County Public Schools place a lot of emphasis on standardized testing that helps grade the overall performance of the school. In my opinion, they would have better results if they placed more emphasis on helping the children learn, who would then perform better upon the tests.
But hey, I could be wrong.
We also see quite an emphasis upon extracurricular activities. Again, this is very common because these sports, artistic and other activities act as a way to highlight the school.
Basically, the priority of Seminole County Public Schools seems more self-serving than student serving. It's a familiar story with public schools.
Areas for Improvement in the School District
While we are quite happy to have our daughter in the SCPS district, we also have some points of frustration. Here are a few areas where we've encounter some less than positive moments at a couple of schools in the district.
Ease of Access When You Have Questions
As parents, we want to be informed and involved in our daughter's education. One of the great things we've encountered are the teachers who regularly send emails and contact us with progress reports, any items of concern and general updates.
We've found that a little more than half of the teachers do this regularly, and it's very welcome information. If we have questions, we can email the teacher and get an answer, or resolve a potential problem.
Unfortunately, some teachers just aren't engaged with these updates. We even had a teacher who told us not to email because she rarely checks her email, and we should instead call.
Then there are teachers who simply never check their voicemail, so calls go unanswered.
Quite simply, there is no consistent method of staying in touch with all of the teachers in your child's academic world. Some are great and others are out of touch.
Calling the school directly leads to similar frustration. The people who answer the phones don't seem to be knowledgeable and need to refer you to someone in another office. Perhaps it's a central call center for the district.
If we don't get a live response during our call, we rarely get a return call. It seems that people don't check their voicemail in a timely manner, if at all.
We also see a general lack of accountability to ensure that questions get answered, at least if you start at the front and work your way up the chain.
When I called the school Principal's office after a particularly frustration effort to contact someone, we had a great response from her secretary. I'm convinced there are wonderful, helpful people who work at the schools. It's just a challenging endeavor to reach them.
Classroom Delivery of Education
I have to admit that it's been a long time since I was in public schools in Orange County. Things are quite different now. There's an emphasis in using a Student Web portal for delivering homework assignments and some communication. If a student fails to check his or her portal, then you may end up missing a necessary assignment.
While I'm all for embracing new technology, we found that some faculty rely upon it too much. Students in high school, for example, have seven periods. Their attention gets divided among a number of subjects, plus any extracurricular activities.
We wish that all instructors would follow-up with a verbal or written communication to remind the students of upcoming and current assignments. A little discussion could go a long way.
Another issue that seems to be a trend is to put most of the work on the students in the form of homework rather than classroom learning. I completely get the idea of classroom lecture and then assigning some homework to see if the student understood the discussion. In more cases than I like, it seems that the students are told to read something and then answer questions or write an essay without truly discussing the information in class.
We know of one particular teach who has a penchant for discussing off-topic tangents and then leaving the class without any pertinent education about the subject matter. That's generally the exception than the rule, but it's not a rare exception.
Inconsistent Communication Policies
As I mentioned, the Student portal is a large part of the student experience, but different teachers will use it as they deem necessary. Some will ensure every assignment is on the portal. Others will occasionally use it, and then provide other information and assignments through a different delivery method.
As a parent (or a student), it's impossible to see a complete picture of current and upcoming assignments by using the portal because some faculty members just don't use it consistently.
Inconsistent Delivery of Academic Lessons
Even the education your child receives for a given subject varies from one teacher to the next. This surprised me, given the emphasis on test results to show the school district in a positive light. You would expect consistent delivery of information, since each student takes the same test.
In fact, we've heard varying replies from students after a test. Some felt well prepared for the test. Others were stunned because they never learned topics on the exam.
Students also learn which instructors give less homework than others, often wishing to be in a more lenient class. This means that the schools aren't delivering a consistent education for each student.
I'm partially OK with that, as people have different needs and styles of learning. I expect some adaptability, but that isn't what's really happening. A few of the teachers are doing what they want, mostly because their superiors aren't engaged enough to ensure a consistent delivery of education to all students.
Finally, the dress code isn't uniformly enforced. Mind you, some of the code is downright stupid. For example, you can have a sleeveless shirt as long as it has a collar, but not if it doesn't have a collar. A number of girl's tops are entirely appropriate without sleeves or collars, but it's against the rules.
Unless you're a cheerleader or dancer. The uniforms issues to these students have neither sleeves or collars.
There are also rules for the length of shorts in school, but some of the bun-hugging shorts on school uniforms would never pass the dress code test.
The Absentee Policy
Perhaps one of the biggest frustrations is the way Seminole County Public Schools handle attendance.
If your child is absent from class, you receive notification by email, automated phone call and text message. It's a bit overzealous. While I'm all for receiving notices, one will suffice.
Should your child miss 10 days of school, then the student cannot graduate. I'm actually OK with that in theory. In practice, it requires quite a lot of vigilance.
That's because the school requires teachers to mark a student as absent. They apparently don't have a choice, and you have to contact the Attendance office to correct the mark on your child's record.
Mind you, the schools do this repeatedly. They will schedule an exam that takes the student out of their normal courses, and then mark them absent for missing the class. It's as if no one takes notice that the student is actually doing what he or she was told, marked as present in the exam room, and updates the attendance office.
Over and over again, we have to contact the Attendance office to correct inaccurate reports of absence. As I mentioned above, contacting the school to get a live person is a pretty tough thing to do. It often requires multiple attempts before success.
You can't ignore these absences, lest they add up and prevent your student from graduating – despite being at school and doing as directed!
Despite some of these incredible frustrations, we still like Seminole County Public Schools. They deliver a high quality education, have outstanding extracurricular activities, and school is a great place for your children to make friends.
We believe that SCPS has opportunity to improve, as do all school districts. I hope SCPS addresses a few of these quirks before our daughter graduates.
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