Editor’s note: Jon Arguello, elected in 2020 to represent District 3 on the Osceola County School Board in central Florida, wrote this opinion piece exclusively for reimaginED. Arguello is CEO of a local manufacturing company and COO of a specialty contractor firm in the telecommunications sector. He sits on the advisory board for three corporations and served for five years in the U.S. Army, including two deployments to Afghanistan. He and his wife have five children, including two who recently graduated from Osceola County public schools.
Please click here to read a post from reimaginED contributor Ron Matus on the rise of charter schools in Osceola County.
Recently, I wrote a guest commentary for the Orlando Sentinel about the broken leadership structure of the School District of Osceola County. In that article, I expressed my concern that the lack of interest in establishing a transparent, credible school board, and leaders who refuse to hear any criticism or acknowledge any room for improvement, are factors that prevent us from delivering a quality education.
What I did not speak about in that article are the actual consequences of that struggling leadership.
Chief among them is the fact that thousands of families are quietly taking their kids out of district schools and enrolling them in charter or private schools. This is evidenced in Osceola County where more than 22% of all district students are enrolled in charter schools, which are privately managed public schools.
One factor, which can also be attributed to poor leadership, is the lack of planning for the population increase, which created the opportunity for charters to pick up the slack and satisfy a crucial need. Osceola simply did not have the seats, expertise, or foresight to handle the influx of students, and charter schools did.
Charter schools continue to take advantage of their opportunities in Osceola while the school district continues to fumble the ball. While I have pointed out the community’s mistrust of the school district due to its ethical and integrity problems, charter schools are building credible, diverse, and apolitical relationships with families. Families are embracing public charter schools while moving away from public district schools.
No matter how great our teachers and principals are — and they are — members of Osceola’s top leadership fail to build relationships with the masses, continue to wallow in conflicts of interest, fail to relate with minority communities, and, unlike charter and private schools, make little attempt to understand their customer.
These facts, ignored for so long in a community that is rapidly changing, has led to several problems:
- Involved Hispanics, who are culturally uncomfortable complaining about a noble profession, are quietly leaving for charter schools.
- Charter schools have become far more minority homogenous than expected.
- Because charter school leadership listen to Hispanic voices, more Hispanics continue to be attracted.
- District schools are increasingly losing Hispanics who are most involved with their children’s education.
- District schools potentially will suffer the consequences of socioeconomic and ethnic segregation at the most challenged schools.
This may seem melodramatic, and I have simplified for effect, but clearly the hypothesis is supported by the available data. Minority families, despite their cultural differences, care about education, even when they seem to not get involved.
Culturally, Hispanics avoid criticizing or questioning educational professionals any more than they question doctors and nurses. However, given the opportunity, they choose an environment that they feel gets them. What does that mean?
I believe we’ve not seen even the beginning of the Hispanic community’s choice of charters over district schools. Just as Hispanics prefer not to question their teacher or principal, they have not begun to question the educational apparatus that is the school district – at least not yet.
So, when a school board member argues about what the meaning of diversity is, or when the district-wide educational committees are no more than 30% minority in an approximately 60% minority community, or when the school board chairman shoots down minority-owned business enterprise proposals, and another member argues against it because he thinks they are unfair, they are not preserving the school district; they are destroying it from within.
The leadership of the School District of Osceola County is so focused on politics that its members have completely ignored education, and to a larger extent, they have forgotten who they serve. What does that mean for reimagining education?
It means that with every bloated, excuse-filled, self-interested, and poorly thought-out rule the school district comes up with, a faster, more agile, more attentive charter school recruits a bunch more students – because they are more customer focused.