What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues?
Back to School
I think that most students, parents and teachers want to go back to a school building in August. My top priority for the coming school year would be figuring out how to re-establish in-person school for students who have not been in a classroom since March 6. How do you integrate national, state and local guidelines for safe social distancing? How do you address learning losses? How do you treat non-attendance from the previous year’s online school? How do you hire and pay for additional teachers if required to decrease class sizes? How do you increase the number of classrooms in a building if the school was already at capacity? What does bus transportation look like? Can you safely offer sports and extracurricular activities for middle and high school students? How do you increase “extended day” staff without increasing the parent fees? How do you provide social and emotional support for students who have negative consequences from being away from school or from returning to school? Do you run parallel online and in-person schools to accommodate families who need to remain in quarantine? How do you make up material from the previous year and stay on schedule for testing next spring?
I believe that there is community support for the half-penny sales tax for infrastructure and security projects. Pending its approval by voters in November, the next Board will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the plan. (See more in Question 4)
Duval County, like many other places in the US, has a perpetual shortage of teachers. Starting the year without a full-time teacher or losing a teacher mid-year is a huge classroom disruption. (See more in Question 6)
I support school choice. Duval County has long been a national model for school choice with its exceptional number of strong private, charter and traditional public schools. We also have one of the largest populations of home-schooled students in the country. While Duval County has a number of excellent neighborhood, magnet and charter schools, many residents are unhappy with their neighborhood school options. I would like to see Duval County become a place where all students are proud of their schools and all parents feel good about their choices. I would start with a hard look at middle schools.
Cindy Pearson is running for School Board District 3.
School board members are elected to represent not only the interests of the schools located in their district, but also the school system as a whole. In the past, this has at times led to conflict among board members. What is your philosophy on this issue? What would you do to keep cohesiveness and communication among school board members?
Duval County is a school system and not a collection of independent districts. While I would focus my attention on the schools in District 3, addressing needs and celebrating successes, I would work with fellow Board members toward the success of the whole DCPS system. To do this, it will be important—especially as a new Board member--to assume a listening and learning posture as well to demonstrate practical support whenever possible.
What would you do to improve communication and strengthen your relationships between the schools, parents and community members, especially when a new program or policy is introduced?
As a parent of three DCPS students and as a DCPS 2020 School Volunteer of the Year, my experience is that DCPS uses multiple methods to communicate with parents and community members. These methods include email, digital flyers, social media, robocalls, community meetings, online surveys and televised meetings. I think many parents are generally informed but can’t prioritize attending meetings over work and family life. Recording and posting important meetings like DCPS did when presenting the Master Facilities Plan would be helpful for parents and community members who want to be informed but can’t attend meetings.
Within school communities, DCPS could more effectively use the network of parent support organizations like PTSA, SAC and “Friends of” groups (where they exist).
Throughout the broader community, DCPS could look at boosting Facebook posts, submitting press releases to community papers and purchasing targeted marketing online. Messaging that school issues are community issues and not just parent issues would also be helpful to boost community engagement.
In addition to voting for school board members, members of our community will also vote on a half-penny sales tax referendum to fund an extensive capital facilities plan in November. Do you support the referendum and capital plan, and how do you plan to engage with it as a school board candidate and member?
Yes, I have been openly supportive of the half-penny sales tax for infrastructure and security projects since August 2019. I have given public comments before City Council as recently as March 2020. I have prioritized the sales tax as my first talking point on my website and in my campaign literature.
The Board’s primary role will be overseeing the development, timing and implementation of the plan. As suggested by members of the City Council, I agree that community members should be included in the oversight process.
The Board members will need to work with their City Council counterparts to communicate clearly with school and community stakeholders a timeline for projects and alerts if schools or traffic patterns will be disrupted by construction.
Over the last few years, the Legislature has had a big impact on local public education. What are your top issues at the state level, and how would you work with legislators in Tallahassee to represent the needs of our students?
My concern is that, in an effort to help fix failing schools, legislators in Tallahassee are passing bills each session without adequate funding or time to see if the programs are working. It seems that many legislators are good at identifying problems but do not collaborate well with practitioners on the best ways to solve them. They fail to recognize that the budget cuts designed to “starve” failing schools also penalize successful and improving schools. Additionally, their approach errs on the side of punitive and not supportive. Some of their policies have contributed to effective teachers leaving the profession, thus leaving school districts with teacher shortages.
I look forward to working with the members of our Duval Delegation and others in Tallahassee who support public education. I hope to contribute first-hand experience as a parent of three students and as an advocate for DCPS students and teachers.
Duval County, like districts across the country, has a teacher recruitment and retention problem. How do you think our district can address this shortage?
Locally, the Board would be wise to review what DCPS is doing to recruit prospective teachers and retain effective teachers; review policies for when teachers want to transfer to open spots within DCPS; and look at adjusting the pay scale for long-term substitute teachers when they are filling a vacancy.
On a state level, Board members can lobby state legislators to pass a budget that includes meaningful pay raises for experienced teachers. They can also encourage state legislators to review “effectiveness” measures on standardized tests for teachers who serve Title I, ELL and special populations of students.
As Duval County has made great progress in education, there are still students who are falling behind. How would you keep a focus on addressing inequities in student performance and supporting schools in low-income neighborhoods?
Some of our “school” problems are actually community and family issues that follow students to school. I have called for greater collaboration among DCPS, City Council, The Kids Hope Alliance, faith-based groups and not-for-profit organizations like JPEF to address community issues in the community so that students arrive at school ready to learn and teachers can focus on instruction.
DCPS is trying to address facilities inequities along with security concerns through the sales tax referendum. Even with improved facilities, students will still deal with food insecurity, inadequate housing, street crime, insufficient support and lack of role models. Communities need economic development to create jobs, responsive public works to improve living conditions, effective policing strategies to control gang violence and engaged mentors to invest in young lives.
As a school system, we can facilitate outreach to business partners and volunteers on behalf of schools that lack functioning parent support organizations. We can look at additional ways to incorporate technology and innovation in the classroom. We can prioritize literacy in the early elementary grades.
As a city, we all benefit when our public schools succeed. For the most part, decisions on curriculum, pacing, testing and budgeting come from Tallahassee. On a local level, we can make sure that our students have safe and supportive environments in which to live and learn. That will help our teachers be more effective and our students more successful.