McGraw presents her vision for dealing with behavior problems in schools

School Board Chair Tina Certain and Member Diyonne McGraw discuss discipline policies at the Feb. 8 Workshop


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County School Board held a workshop on February 8 that lasted nearly five hours and gave each member a chance to make a presentation on their top priority for board action; this article will focus on the presentation from Member Diyonne McGraw.

District 2 Member McGraw gave a PowerPoint presentation titled “Enough is Enough,” where she highlighted the severity of behavioral problems in the district and warned the other board members of the consequences of inaction, saying, “Right now, we’re in a crisis.”

McGraw told the board that she “loves dealing with behavior,” and in order to be a good policymaker, she needed to “go out and see exactly what is going on in the classrooms.”

 “As a board member, I’m really concerned about the behavior issues that we’re having in our district. The purpose of ‘Enough is Enough’ is that Alachua County must save our at-risk students through meaningful, firm, and transformational initiatives that would involve the parents and families to make our students assets to our community, and not liabilities.” McGraw pointed out that many of the troubled children in the district are experiencing trauma, and that chronic trauma can cause serious difficulties with learning and behavior – “affecting the ability of students to learn, and teachers to deliver instructions.”  She used the following slide to highlight her interpretation of what’s happening in the classrooms:

McGraw revealed that there has been an increase in transfers from state Juvenile Justice Programs and foster care children who have been expelled from schools in other counties and transferred to Alachua County. This has led to an increase in violent offenses committed by juveniles, including home invasions, armed robbery, and crimes committed with guns.

She then presented data pulled from the Florida Department of Health, which shows a breakdown of youth demographics, ages 12-17, and the number of arrests in Alachua County broken down by race, as shown below:

She followed up with a breakdown of the number of violent offenses on campuses as reported to the Florida Department of Education so far in 2022-2023:

Referencing the Violent Offenses slide, McGraw said, “We’ve gotten to the point where administrators and teachers and other children are being attacked.” 

She presented the following data regarding suspensions in elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the county:

McGraw’s solution to these issues involves multiple levels of intervention and more community support: “Due to the significant increase for the need of more stable home environments, [we need] community options that provide wrap-around services of support 24/7.”  She said part of the problem is that children are showing up to school for a meal or as a form of safety but are refusing to attend class because of their academic deficiencies.

McGraw suggested creating a Transitional School of Success in addition to A. Quinn Jones (the district’s only alternative school for troubled youth) to provide a diversion program for students with felony charges, severe substance abuse issues, and more severe violent offenses; she envisions a school with extended hours and eventually residential services. Her goal is to introduce students to Career and Technical Education options and to decrease academic deficiencies. 

“Currently, we have A. Quinn, which is an alternative school that focuses on middle and high school students who are emotionally and academically challenged, with a significant number of referrals for fighting or any type of violent offenses that don’t result in arrests.” 

However, she warned of the dangers of placing all troubled students at A. Quinn Jones: “A. Quinn has had a significant increase in admission of students with felonies/gun charges and other weapons that are gang-related, with more weaponry usage, selling of drugs, etc. … so all these behaviors are being placed in the same alternative location, which is a disaster waiting to happen.”  

McGraw also stressed the importance of family engagement as one of the best dropout prevention strategies: “Moving forward, it’s going to be important that we have [a] parent academy, where we can work with families to help them rebuild and [to] give that support that they need – because we have a lot of young parents who need support as well.”

In addressing the cost aspect of her vision, McGraw first asks: “What will it cost us if we don’t do it?” She presented a slide with several funding options, shown below, and later deferred to the Alachua County Public Schools Chief of Finance, Alex Rella, who said that there is a lot to be worked out in terms of staffing but conceded that “there are general revenues available to provide a significant bump in funding.”

Board discussion

Vice Chair Leanetta McNealy said the behavior in the district is certainly a top priority for her as well and that she too receives phone calls and emails from “citizens and families” regarding behavior in schools: “It’s evident we have some situations, I don’t want to say problems, but we have situations in the district that must be corrected.” She said that the district has been dealing with discipline “forever” but that it’s clear now that it has become an extreme situation “not only in our schools but in the community as well.”

McNealy then voiced her concerns about funding: “I think the proposal is good, except funding is always the issue.” She later asked, “If we can’t support [the alternative school] for more than one year, why go down this path?” 

McNealy acknowledged, however, that something must be done: “We’ve got to do something different. We must. We must save our children.” 

District 5 Board Member Kay Abbitt also mentioned funding but echoed McGraw’s sentiment: “Funding is always a problem or an issue, but I think that with this, we can’t afford not to put money into improving the behavior in our schools… It has to be done, and it has to be done very quickly.” 

Abbitt pointed out that bad behavior affects more than just academic success: “It’s teacher retention, bus driver retention, it has this domino effect.”

Chair Tina Certain agreed with the board’s consensus, but her focus was on the lack of funding and concern for stepping outside the board’s jurisdiction into “day-to-day operations”; she said at one point, “The board cannot run the district.”

“Behavior is truly an issue for our school district, but I think we’ve got to pull back as to what we can do as the board and make sure we stay in our spot, in our lane,” Certain said. She recommended using existing resources and repurposing what’s already available. 

Certain also felt that the district needs to work together rather than working in “silos.” 

“We have departments, we have staffing, we have programs, that all seem to be working in silos, and there needs to be coming out of those silos and working together to solve this problem,” she said.

In response to the board’s concern for funding, McGraw insisted that the district does have the money to deal with the behavior issue and suggested looking at staffing positions that “may not be of benefit, that we may not need to continue.” She says that if a solution isn’t presented by the end of the school year, the district will lose a lot of staff.

“We have so many different community groups that are at odds with one another.” – Superintendent Shane Andrew

Superintendent Shane Andrew spoke about his concern with placing every student who qualifies for alternative placement into A. Quinn, recognizing that although there are 187 spots available, only 91 are filled: “If we have all of our students in the same spot, we’re going to have some issues with the kids getting along because we have so many different community groups that are at odds with one another.”  He acknowledged that some of these students need to be separated but there aren’t enough places to put the students to separate them. 

“Historically we had A. Quinn Jones… the majority were ESE students, and Horizon dealt with more behavioral support, yet A. Quinn Jones was also utilized to place behavioral students that we couldn’t necessarily mix on the Horizon campus.” 

Andrew admitted that cost needs to be factored in and indicated that he would be looking into it “right away.”

Public comment

Representatives of a number of local organizations were in the room to support McGraw’s presentation. John Alexander, who works with the City of Gainesville’s Juvenile Justice and Community Support Program under former Police Chief Tony Jones, addressed the board, explaining that his specific job is to handle some of the issues now facing the community. He said that he’s able to see how students operate in a school setting and then continues to follow them through the rest of their day, and that includes the opportunity to observe them in their homes and communities. 

“I’m more than certain that the school district is not equipped to deal with what we’re about to face with this up-and-coming generation,” Alexander said. “The exposure, the ease of access to get a firearm, to get the drugs, some of the parents now just allowing and accepting and giving in and allowing their kids to participate – some of the parents are oblivious to what’s really going on with their children.” He warned that some teachers will not be able to teach in a peaceful setting with “some of the children that’s getting ready to enter into their classrooms.” 

Alexander advised the board not to wait until it’s too late to take action: “I’m saying this loud and clear to the school district… you’re going to need the community, more than ever, with this generation we’re getting ready to face.”

Certain wrapped up the discussion by conceding that enough meetings had been held on the topic of behavior in schools and that it’s time for action. Speaking to Superintendent Andrew and ACPS Chief of Equity Anntwanique Edwards, Certain said, “I think we’ve got to land the plane – the plane is flying… there’s got to be some direction given as to how we’ll move forward because I’ve been in a couple of meetings and the same things are being said.”

She stressed the importance of identifying and targeting specific problems immediately to gain small victories and then developing a more comprehensive plan for the future.

McGraw’s PowerPoint presentation slides can be found here.

The workshop can be viewed in its entirety here.

  • I have to admit she made a couple good points however the one thing she did not say is to bring back paddles there is nothing wrong with and old fashion ass spanking that is what it was made for I came up in the 60s and 70s you didn’t have the problems you have now days since they done away with it then the dam government wanted to stick its nose in to how children are raised

    • I agree… one thing certainly is not a lack of investment in early learning. It’s ROI that is the problem. Government schools are doing what they are designed to do…

  • How about addressing the people raising the kids with bad behavior? That is the root of the problem.

  • Have we forgotten about the Horizon center and New Pathways? I’m a product of that nightmare. My father died when I was 11, transitioning from elementary to middle school and I had a difficult time handling it. Kids used it as bullying tool but I was made the bad kid and expelled from school for fighting. After many years I realized that all I needed was for someone to listen to me. A little counseling would have went a long way. Instead they put all the “bad kids” in one place and pretty forgot about us until we dropped out. It was really like the hunger games but a school version. This is not the answer. If she wants to see what’s driving these numbers look at these kids home life and she will get more clarity. Creating bad kid island is not the answer. I’m sure they want to create job openings not help children.

  • They should never have closed the schools down for Covid…they should never have forced the masks…that was a very stressful time to be a kid…
    The school board, the unions, & the teachers were such tyrants. That was child abuse and some kids will never catch up…they got paid for not working…they need to focus on reading, writing, & arithmetic…not gender identity….

  • Nice analysis, presentation, Board Member McGraw…..Solutions presented? All I hear is raise money. The simple truth is that paddling works pretty well. Get whupped? You won’t do that again.

  • I hope McGraw is genuine in her desire to correct the problem that she seems to have finally recognized/acknowledged.

    The presentation just reinforces what many have been saying for years – the issue lies more with a certain demographic than it does with the school district. Although the black children make up 1/4 of the population of 12 – 17 aged kids, they have been involved in almost 2/3 of the crimes committed within that group. What should be noted is if the parents, schools & community are waiting until those children, any child, is 12 to fight the battle – the war’s already been lost. Those issues should have been identified and corrected back in their primary school years. That’s where and when the family should be involved. A father & mother – a nuclear family. They have the most to gain, they also have the most to lose.

    The board questions the funding? They didn’t seem to mind throwing money at the last superintendent and the staff she placed at the district level. Kirby is top heavy, as in the district leadership is in itself a budgetary strain on the financial resources. It’s not the district personnel who are leaving, many don’t have direct contact with the children, it’s as McGraw said, the bus drivers, the teachers – they’re the ones who have to deal with the behavioral issues on a daily basis. They are the employees the district is having a difficult time in recruitment and retention.

    I commend McGraw for finally pulling the curtain back to the rest of the board members who for years have closed their eyes and refused to acknowledge the problem where it lies. One would have thought McNealy would have been more willing to admit it seeing as how she has as many years in the district as some people in Congress but she instead only wanted to blame others. Certain should certainly know where the budget has been “reappropriated” in the past because she was instrumental in doing so. We don’t need an increase in the school taxes, we need better use of the taxes we’re already paying.

    The curtain’s been pulled back, let’s hope McGraw isn’t just planning on hiding her newfound revelation behind another door.

  • Victor Davis Hanson gave an insightful interview – when merit doesn’t matter any more, everything starts to fall apart. We’re seeing it at the federal level (like train derailments and incompetent responses to those), at state levels (he lives in CA), and at the local level. Affects infrastructure, families, schools, businesses…the root of all this bad fruit is a societal shift that stopped rewarding merit. People flourish when merit is rewarded. Emphasis on DEI and CRT has undermined the pursuit of excellence. I don’t know how to fix this quickly – the seeds of this destruction have been sown by progressives for a long time. Our whole country is in trouble, and the schools reflect the chaos we are experiencing throughout society. We have people in positions of authority making decisions who are not equipped to solve the problems, because they were not hired/elected/promoted for their excellence, but rather because they fit some notion of social justice. I don’t care what intersectional boxes a person can check – I just want the most capable, freedom-promoting people in charge. I hope Gov. DeSantis and his team can help fix this mess in Florida, but the whole country is just broken.

    • BINGO! People have thrown religion and logic out the window and think their lives will be fulfilled by drugs and big government.

  • The amount of money spent for student goes up and up. The quality of education goes down and down. How about abolishing the Department of Education Jimmy Carter started, remove political adgendas , restore real discipline, and just teach the basics ? Is it too late for that? I fear it is.

  • Why not just kick the trouble makers out of school if they don’t want to be there? They’re going to wind up in jail any how.

    • Because schools serve a custodial function that rarely gets talked about and because money is tied to graduation rates.

  • My granddaughter attends HBMS and there are fights daily. She states there is so much disrespect towards the teachers that it’s unbelievable. She says that it’s very difficult to learn when there are so many disruptions .

    • BINGO, JB! Thankfully the mass exodus of students and staff from SBAC schools might be finally waking up even the board and downtown to the huge cost of classrooms where even the most motivated students can’t learn due to the repetitive problems with a very small number of kids. The regular schools are not set up to handle kids with significant problems so we need to get these kids to a different environment where they can be helped as soon as they can be identified.

  • This is not a problem that government can fix, other than to try and motivate churches to get involved in reaching out to the troubled students and parents.

    The problems start in the homes and the problems can only end there also, but that would take some real heart and lifestyle transformation for the parents, and then their children. This will only come through genuine repentance, i.e. a change of heart and mind, with faith in Jesus Christ.

  • The short story is.. The Teacher dont teach, She dont like parents, THe “Kids” attack the teacher and other students. Nobody wants to get sued for Correcting the Kids behavior. Its easier to ” Fail them up” to the next grade.and let somebody else deal with the ” Problem” Ghetto Parents dont care about school. They care about Newports , 40’s and Tick tock ..

  • As so many have already said, this problem begins and ends with the family. These board members can create these fancy presentations and throw as much money as they like at these problems. However, nothing will be fixed until there is parental buy-in. Teachers can’t do this alone, no matter how hard they work at it.

  • Lets see.
    Black students 25.5% = 5845 students
    Black male students 12.75% = 2922 students
    Black male juvenile arrests 60.2%
    As a woke fan of diversity and incluuuuusion, I just cannot see where the problem is. Nope, can’t see it.

  • A sad and dangerous situation for all students regardless of color!

    Teachers as security guards and jailers is not the answer to the problem! No wonder they are leaving Alachua County Public Schools!

    Remove the criminals and put them in the Florida Department of Corrections control! FDC has programs for these criminals. Students going to school to learn should not be exposed to the criminals and felons! That’s a low hanging fruit to show immediate progress! That needs to be the priority!

    No one on the Board actually said the Black Students (25%) who are arrested for nearly 84% of the crimes is the problem! But they are! Talk, talk, talk! Study, study, study! And the prognosis is: Racism and violence! Teach more CRT and add to the existing hatred being taught in homes by the parents of the criminals! “hey Bro, it’s ok to attack and steal from someone else if you need it! That’s how we roll!” Put these parents in jail along with their offspring! Sad, some of these kids don’t belong there but jail is where they are headed!

    McNealy doesn’t even want to call it a crisis, rather some incidences! She is guided by the Democratic Party, and BLM into denying a problem exists, pitiful! She is in her full 2nd term on the council and has not made any improvements for students of any color! Simply a parrot passing on the party line of promises with no accomplishments!

    Need to fund the shipping of criminals to FDOC? Cut some of the bloated Equity and CRT focused positions!

  • Are they (the SBAC) going to wait until a 6 year old brings a gun to school and shoots a teacher? Is that going to be called an “incident” by the SBAC self serving 3 some? Probably!

    They need to be recalled so the majority of students, and teachers, and bus drivers, can feel someone cares about their well being and health!

  • My grandpa taught me to never ask for advice about fixing my car from someone whose car wasn’t running.

    Public education.

    It’s broken and the worse people to entrust in fixing it are educators. They act in their own interests which don’t include system analytics.

    Perhaps the whole model of public education has a terminal flaw; ‘compulsory.’

    Forcing round pegs into square holes – as it pertains to students disruptive to the education of all – may be something to untie from the compulsory education model, or, just throw out the compulsory element making education ‘elective’ thus placing the correct burden upon parents, not the state.

    What ‘alternative’ could there be for those not electing to adhere to public education academic and behavioral standards? Is behavior modification an education issue?

    The latter question is the elephant in the room as public education continues to normalize the abnormal behavior then complain about that which cannot be normalized. Education, in the meantime, is an afterthought.

    Teachers have seen their future obsolescence in the COVID lockdown mirror while more students cannot read, write, or do math at grade levels. Teachers’ unions prefer failure over system reformation because failure can be politically monetized.

    So, yeah, a C+ for effort appealing for more money and PowerPoint proficiency.

  • The board members who are letting this happen due to denial ARE the problem.

    1. Pick your most rowdy, fight-inclined school. Put some county staff and board members on campus for a month. Create some discipline measures to “pilot” .

    2. Encourage the administration to implement discipline procedures. Back him/her up when the parents raise cane. (Don’t be afraid of losing that parents vote. He/she probably doesn’t vote)

    3. Seek help from Shane Andrew who KNOWS how to do it and DID IT RIGHT. How do I know? I had grands in his school.
    I’m sure his hands are tied as he tries to play by the DEMOCRAT BOARD RULES

    4. Finally seek to enlist “fathers” if any are in the kids’ contact cards. Some may be available during the day to form a FATHERS team on campus to help in hallways, encourage kids, talk to them and be of assistance to the proncipals who are no longer encouraged or allowed to discipline because the BOARD MEMBERS don’t allow it.

    There are many school in the nation utilizing such techniques and these fathers have helped turn the kids around….just their presence.

    5. Talk to Jim Surrency in Gilchrist Co and ask why they have no problems. Could they still use a paddle?

    6. This is not ROCKET SCIENCE to create and EXPECT discipline in schools, though after listening to 2-3 of these board members (chairman and McNealy), I’m sure it is nearly rocket science. 😳😳😳

    I give the board full blame for everything from CRT, division by race and stripping the principals of discipline powers for fear of psrents.


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