KeciaJ’s Weblog

Snoop around to see what I’m learning about online and digital journalism…

The State of Alachua County Public Schools: Budget Cuts and Change

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The state of the public schools has become a familiar burden that is carried by the community.

When Florida Gov. Rick Scott released his sweeping budget cuts in February and passed definitive Senate bills in March, it appeared that public education would suffer some of the deepest wounds. So Floridians gathered to write, march, and shout in defense of their schools.

Alachua County Awake the State Rally March 8, 2011

But this is not a new controversy.

Back in 1998 more than 70 percent of voters in Florida emphasized the value of education when they amended the Florida Constitution to make funding a high quality system of public schools the state’s “paramount duty.”

Historically, problems in Florida’s public schools have overshadowed the progress they have made in academic standards and school accountability, which recently earned the state a fifth place ranking nationally, according to the annual “Quality Counts” report by Education Week. For years Florida’s public schools have had been ranked among the worst in the country in per-pupil funding and graduation rates.

When compared to other school districts Alachua County public schools have fared well, but the steady decrease in state funding and recent state legislation has created several new challenges for the upcoming school years.

See a timeline of state funding and budget cuts in Alachua County Public Schools.Timeline: Funding in Alachua County Public Schools
The author compiled data for timeline from the following sources:The Florida Department of Education’s Financial Profiles of Florida School Districts 2009-2010 Financial Data Statistical Report (released February 2011)
Citizen’s for Strong Schools
AP Tallahassee Bureau
The Gainesville Sun

Gov. Scott originally proposed to make up for a nearly $4 billion shortfall by reducing funds for school districts by $1.75 billion, cutting per-student school funding by 10 percent ($703), which would have translated into a loss of almost $19 million for Alachua County Public Schools in the upcoming school year. The original budget also suggested that these cuts to education could be offset by forcing teachers to pay 5 percent of their salary toward the cost of their pensions.

However, from the latest update from the annual legislative session it seems as if the cuts to education won’t be as devastating as once suggested.

Although the agreement is not final, teachers will only be required to pay 3 percent a year toward the cost of their pensions, and the House and Senate reached a deal on public school spending that will probably finalize in a 6.5 percent cut in per-student funding.

This year’s session has been a sensitive topic for many people who care about the quality of education in Alachua County for several reasons.

Firstly, since the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year funding has dropped almost $400 per pupil, according to Jackie Johnson, public information officer for the School Board of Alachua County. In the past three years state funding in Alachua County schools has decreased by 27 percent, which translated in $1300 less per pupil.

As a product of the Alachua County public school system, Mark McGriff, a local businessman, now has three sons who attend public schools in the district. In the face of steady budget cuts, Mark McGriff’s confidence in the public school system in Alachua County spurred him to form Citizens for Strong Schools in 2008, a political action committee that was formed to support a one mill increase in property taxes for the public school system.

For the past three years Citizens for Strong Schools has been pumping life-sustaining dollars into Alachua County public schools through the One Mil Initiative, which saved school nurses and restored elementary art and music when they were loss along with magnet and elective programs in middle and high schools. However, this lifeline will end in June 2013 unless voters choose to rescue the schools for a second time around.

Secondly, Gov. Scott’s proposal calls for several changes in standardized testing and teacher pay. The School Board of Alachua County has been required to develop new tests for every subject, which would cover a wide variety of electives. If Senate bill 736, the Teacher Quality bill, is passed, by 2014 an end-of-the-course exam will be developed in every course taught and the scores will tie 50 percent of teacher evaluation directly to a single test score.

Karen McCann, president of the Alachua County Education Association, takes the issues teachers face to heart because of an incident she had 11 years ago that reawakened her faith in the importance of unions. While teaching at Gainesville High School, she was given incorrect information that she later passed onto a student. When the student’s parents got involved, she had union backing.
McCann organized the local “Awake the State” and her eyes light up when she talks about people fighting for their rights and freedom as professionals.

“You (the state) are not going to tell me how to do my job. I’m a teacher, and I’m good at my job. I know what I’m doing. Don’t come from the outside and start dictating to how I’m going to do my job and how I’m going to get paid…because I’m the professional, not you,” McCann said.

According to Jackie Johnson, public information officer for Alachua County public schools, these annual tests will have to be high-stakes exams.

“Unless the students have some skin in the game, for example, why would they bother to try to do well on these tests, if their only incentive is whether or not their teacher gets a raise? So the impact of more, and more, and more high stakes testing on our students is something I’m not sure the legislature is contemplating,” Johnson said.

Finally, the Alachua County school district is concerned because no money has been set aside for creating and implementing the tests and teacher merit pay, and no research has been done to show that merit pay is effective in education.

“You’re talking about a plan that is not fully formed. The state acknowledges that it hasn’t developed these tests, it doesn’t know where they’re going to come from, it doesn’t have the money to pay for this program. So there are so many unknowns, so many strings attached for something that may not work,” Johnson said.

Written by keciaj

April 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Shooting 2 Assignment: University Gospel Choir

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This video is from the second shooting and editing assigment of our class.  We had three main goals 1) conduct a video interview with an expert or interesting person, 2) learn how to shoot with a tripod, and 3) learn how to shoot B-roll.  When my original story idea fell through, I heard the University Gospel Choir was starting practice for its annual Spring Gospel Tour.  I considered Pastor David Richardson to be an expert on the choir and gospel music since he’s invested many years into singing and directing.  I decided to try to capture the atmosphere of the choir’s practice and the relationships which has made the choir a solid student organization on campus. 

Since it was my first time working with an external mic and tripod, I was really concerned about setting up the equipment correctly.  Now, I wish that I had gotten a closer shot of the subject’s face during the interview. This would have also cut out a lot of the distracting background. Mindy also pointed out that I had too many medium shots in a row.  I should have varied my angles more and included some close-ups to add visual interest.   I also played around with narration and editing audio for the first time.

 

What I liked most about the video was the sound.  I think full sound, high energy and constant movement of the choir added visual interest. 

But I would like to know what you think. Please view the video and give your feedback.

Written by keciaj

May 2, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Blogging 3: What I Know For Sure

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I’m going to miss having a Toolkit course in my schedule next Fall, and I think taking the two courses has been one of the best educational decisions/investments I’ve made at the University of Florida.  This semester has went by so fast, but I want to make sure that I remember the most important things I want take away from the class.  Before Toolkit 2, I had no real experience with shooting or editing video so I have learned a lot to say the least.  But here are the 3 main things I will take away from this course:

1. Basics of Shooting

Out of al the things I learned, I think I am most confident about telling a story and making sure I have a variety of interesting shots and audio.  I wasn’t as creative with shot angles and ideas in the first video I shot for class, but now I’ve become more comfortable with thinking about how the angles, sequences and pacing of shots can add visual interest.  Now, I also know how to use the tripod appropriately for interviewing and also for controlled movements like panning, tilting and dollying. 

 

2. Importance of Scripting/ Visualizing the Story

 The first time I captured video I remember sitting there and thinking “Ok, what now?”  Although Mindy required a script for the first video, I realized how the editing process really unfolds easily after you’ve created a script.  Scripting allows you to match the audio with the most appropriate visuals to tell the story effectively.  For our final project we wrote proposals where we had to visualize the beginning, middle (arc) and ending of our video before we even shot at a location.  This was very helpful, and it’s something I always want to keep in mind for future projects.

 

3. Editing in Windows Movie Maker/ Final Cut Pro

We mostly used Movie Maker for all the video projects this semester.  Although it’s not the most advanced or flexible editing program, we saw how with careful and creative editing journalists can create quality video in Windows Movie Maker.  Although we only had a day or so to play around in the lab with Final Cut Pro, I think I could edit in the program succesfully if I spend a little more time building on the basics we learned from class. 

Other notes about the course:

Although I know the basics about building a Flash project, I’m not as experienced in this area.  But after the tutorials Mindy guided us through in class, I think with one or two more days of playing around with the program I could  become more confident.  I also wish we would have had more time to include another short video project into the syllabus.  But realistically, I’m not sure how much more we could have included.  With all the  interesting information we discuss and learn about multimedia reporting, I think most students would say a semester is never enough time to explore something they enjoy.  I can’t wait to use what skills and resources I’ve gained from this course in my future educational and career endeavors!

Written by keciaj

May 1, 2008 at 9:03 am

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Final Project: The Place to be in Archer

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For our final video project this semester, we partnered up with someone in class to tell a personal story that reflected a theme or issue related to the 2008 Presidential Election.  My group’s first story idea about health care for Veterans at the VA Hospital did not work out because we had limited access and freedom to report about the hospital issues. So we had to find a different issue.

 My partner, Eisa Al Nashmi, and I then chose to tell a story that shows how state budget cuts affected the Alachua County Public Libraries.  We soon discovered the budget cuts had not affected the county’s libraries as much as other places in Florida.  So instead, we tell a very personal story about how the Archer Branch library is the “hot spot” in the small, rural town which faces economic challenges.  Archer needs federal government  funds for a sewage system that would allow more businesses and resources to thrive there.  Since most homes don’t have computers with high speed connections, the public library and the Archer Community Access Center are the only places residents can go for Internet Access. 

Please view our story about the economic and growth issues that make the library such a significant resource in the small community.  Let us know what you think.

Written by keciaj

May 1, 2008 at 7:34 am

Blogging 2: Flash Journalism

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For this week’s class we learned about Flash journalism, and we explored packages from different news organizations to understand our likes and dislikes from the viewer/user perspective.   I decided to spend some time examining Broken Trust (HeraldTribune.com), which is the result of a two-year investigation of  why hundreds of Florida school teachers who have sexually harassed or molested their students are still allowed to teach. 

Teachers Punished 1997-2005

Since I know the basics about how to create Flash packages, I was most impressed by the animation in this package.  The topic was really data heavy since it presented statistics, stories and maps so at first glance I thought it maybe boring.  However, the animation, for example, the three-demensional movement of the main pages of the package grabbed my attention.  I also thought the animation in the case flow charts,  which shows how complaints are processed, was eye catching and made me want to understand the process.  The package was well organized and allowed the viewer be aware of how the story or page being viewed fit into the entire presentation.

One thing I didn’t really like about the package was the dot plots, which seemed kind of boring compared to the main pie charts which presented the information.  The information was easy to interpret from pie charts because you could see both percentages and numbers in the chart. They were also colorful and eye-catching. But, I thought some of the information didn’t lend itself to the dot plots because you couldn’t really see any trends because the scales, which usually went up to 100%, had to be set at such large increments.   

Overall, the presentation kept me interested firstly because I grew up attending public schools in Florida, and secondly there was always more than one element of the story to explore on each page.  For example, if you were reading one story, you could see what other stories were in the same section in a sidebar on that page or while looking at pie charts, you can select a place on the map to see if there were any child abuse cases in that area.  It was also interactive because viewers could report an abuse case if it wasn’t already included in the package, search for a particular case and e-mail their reactions. 

 

Written by keciaj

April 10, 2008 at 12:12 am

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Editing is a Process…

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Although editing can be different from project to project, I learned that editing is a process in Week 4 of class.  In this class we started our Editing 1 assignment, which was to edit the video we collected for our first shooting assignment.   Our Shooting 1 assignment was to shoot a simple sequence of one person doing a repetitive action.  Althought the action was repetitive, Mindy wanted the action to have complexity and variation so that we would have interesting video.  We were also instructed to avoid long shots, but to press the record button after capturing about 10 seconds of a specific action.  Mindy said this would make the editing process easier.

Once we started editing in lab, I understood why we were instructed to shoot for 10 seconds without moving the camera.   Mindy showed us how to capture our video and edit in Windows Movie Maker. I decided to video a hairstylist shampooing and styling a customer’s hair.  In some of the shots I would capture the stylist at a good angle, and then she would make an abrupt movement and reach for a comb or a product.  But by me holding the camera still for 10 seconds, I could at  least keep the 5 seconds of the shot when she was at a nice angle and edit out the other 5 seconds when she moved out of the camera’s lens.  This shooting technique made editing easy also because I could line up all the shot sequences and put them in the order I wanted because each shot had the stylist doing something different at a different angle.  For example, I started out with a close ups of her hands rapidly shampooing the hair, and then I chose another 10 second segment with a close up of her face. So we edited the most interesting clips to include in our videos.

Mindy warned us to watch out for error incontinuity or jump cuts, which happens when similar shots or angles of a subject appear next to each other in sequence, but abrupt differences in the position of the subject makes the move seem unnatural.  Mindy used the example of someone shooting a lady sitting wither her dog near her.  If the next shot all of sudden doesn’t have the dog in it, and the lady is still sitting in the same place (being shot at the same angle) then it seems as if the dog has disappeared in thin air.  Or if someone is being shot waist-up from the front and the next shot is of the same person (waist-up ) with their back completely turned from the camera, this will seem weird.  Mindy said a transition shot should be added (for example of the dog leaving the womans side or of the person turning around) to connect these two extremely different shots. We don’t want the audience to think we are trying to play tricks on their eyes.

For this class we also read Chapter 13  about editing in Documentary Storytelling (Bernard).  Here are some of the main points I want to remember from this chapter:

1. Basic Editing: the process is mostly the same for all projects, make long assembly of footage you’ve shot and archival material and then you work toward a rough cut, fine cut, picture lock and finally a script lock

2. Rough cut: a draft of film that’s longer than final film will be, has general story and structure in place

3. Fine cut: film is almost to time, major problems worked out, time to polish narration, fact checking stage

4. Picture lock: all images are in place and to time

5. Script lock:narration and voice over are smoothed out

6. Screening footage:look for moments that AFFECT you in some way (emotionally/intellectually), clear/strong interview bites, themes/issues, discussion points for audience, tension/opposition,

7. Rough/Scratch narration: can be written to link elements and make transitions clear

8. Paper editing: doesn’t always work on film

9. Transcripts: should be done accurately and thoroughly for interviews b/c it will save you time if you need to refer to quotes multiple times throughout the editing process, may also transcribe scenes w/ lots of dialogue, make notes on transcripts of places where subject is particularly animated/energetic b/c some will not be interesting and only used for voice-over

10. Editing scenes: enter late, exit early, where you enter exit scene depends on what scene is about, focus scenes so that their meaning and emphasis in the narrative is clear

11. Anticipate Confusion: weave information in where and when it’s needed so audience doesn’t become too lost, don’t clutter story w/ too much detail,

12. Be your first audience: look at your story w/ fresh eyes each time you make a change, assess weaknesses, don’t ignore problems, continually ask yourself, “Is this interesting?” or “Am I confused?” and “Would I keep watching?”

Written by keciaj

March 10, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Editing

Blogging 1: Comparing Videos

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For this assignment I decided to compare two videos from The Spokesman-Review.  

The first video I watched was Helping Others posted by Brian Immel. It is about 17-year-old Sean Hoffman, who decided to help shovel snow for others when his school was cancelled for one week because of the weather.  The video was only 1minute 50 seconds long, but the story had an obvious arc.  The story starts with Sean telling what he’s doing and why he decided to help.  Then when the older man Sean is helping was discussing his appreciation, he gets emotional when he  starts to talk about living alone.  I think this was the heart of the story.  The people who contacted Sean for help were probably older people who couldn’t shovel snow for themselves.  After the emotional tension, the story is light-hearted again when Sean talks about hepling as many people as he can before returning to school. 

When this video started, I thought it was going to be boring because there were only two people involved, and both men showed little emotion.  Although the shooting techniques were simple, different camera shots and angles added visual interest.  I liked how the camera didn’t move to follow Sean as he worked, but just captured him moving toward or away from the camera.  I thought the close-up shots of Sean’s snow-covered Nikes climbing up and down the ladder were interesting and showed how hard he was working for these strangers he wanted to help.  Also the shots of snow blasting in the air as Sean cleaned the roof and the car port were interesting because we couldn’t even see him but we knew he was there blowing the snow.

The next story I watched, Last Call for Haircuts, told the story of identical twin babers who were finally closing their shop after serving their community for 48 years.  I loved this video because it told a sentimental story.  It was inherently more interesting than the other story just because it was about the twin brothers’ connections, relationships and service over a span of years.  In this video there were also more people interviewed who talk about their memories at the barber shop and their emotions now that the shop was closing.  Although the video was almost 2 minutes and 50 seconds long, I didn’t get bored because I wanted to hear the stories they would tell or see what would happen next.

The start of this video, unlike the other video (where we just see Sean getting out of his car), was very interesting.  The moving stripes of the barber pole and the sound of hair clippers grabbed my attention.   There was a lot of movement and close up shots of the barbers’ equipment, faces and working hands.  I especially liked the close-up shot of the old-fashioned cash register, which showed how although many years passed some things at the barber shop never changed.  I think this told a story because in the beginning we see the twins talking about when they first opened the shop and why they are deciding to close it.  Then the sadness, laughter and nostalgia of the customers and the barbers are the tension that takes us to the story’s arc.  I think the hand shake at the end of the video was the resolution showing that the barbers and customers were accepting the end.  I noticed some shots in this video were a little longer, and I think it was to capture the emotions of the men as they talked with customers.  In both videos the emotional shots were a little longer than the others.  I also saw more camera movement in this video than in the first one.  I think the zooming in some places was appropriate when it was used to emphasize the emotion.

Written by keciaj

February 14, 2008 at 9:42 am