What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues?
There are four main priorities I plan to champion. They include a Focus on Reading, Preparing Students for the Workforce, Increasing Community and School Partnerships, and Ensuring Taxpayer Dollar Transparency. Each one of these were selected through knowledge gained during my 27 years as an educator in Duval County Public Schools and as a result of conversations with constituents throughout our school district.
- Focus on Reading: Strong reading skills remain one of the greatest predictors of a child’s educational success. Without the ability to read at grade level, a child is unable to fully understand science, social studies, and math. As a board member, I will make certain that the school district provides a comprehensive reading program and the necessary professional development for teachers to ensure every child is a successful reader at every grade level.
- Prepare Students for the Workforce: Working with local business leaders, I will advocate for programs aligned with local workforce needs. This will ensure that every child who decides to go straight into the workforce upon graduation will be prepared for success.
- Increase Community and School Partnerships: After school programs, extracurricular opportunities, mental health services, and mentoring groups often play a critical role in the lives of children. I will work with business leaders, as well as faith-based organizations and non-profit organizations to encourage community partnerships and programs supporting children both in and outside of the classroom.
- Ensure Taxpayer Dollar Transparency: As a 1.7+ billion dollar organization, it is imperative that the school district exercise financial responsibility and accountability. As a board member, I will ensure school funding that best supports students, teachers and school leaders in a cost-effective manner.
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?
Having served as a Principal, Region Superintendent, and Assistant Superintendent within our school district I understand first-hand the conflict between individual interests and the need to view the district in its’ entirety. As a board member, I would encourage the usage of models which prioritize needs across the district to allow all board members to develop an understanding of the broad needs of the district. From that point, I would then work collaboratively with fellow board members to look at how to best utilize district resources in a manner that takes care of the most urgent issues first. For example, any safety-to-life issues, regardless of district, should be handled first. From that point, I would work to ensure that resources were allocated equitably among districts.
During my time as an Assistant Superintendent, I had had the opportunity to work collectively with leaders in other Cabinet members when developing the district’s 1.8 billion dollar budget. There is a reality that there were times that my division had to make cuts in our budget to ensure that other divisions had the resources needed to get the job done. Some years other divisions made challenging cuts to ensure my division had what it needed to accomplish our goals. There is no question that when dollars are limited this becomes a delicate balance, but if you work collaboratively with others in leadership there is a way to ensure that critical district-wide needs are met, while also allowing for individual districts to receive resources in an equitable manner.
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?
When a new program or policy is introduced, I would work with the Superintendent and Communications Division to ensure a complimentary Communication Plan is crafted. This plan would include multiple communication strategies to ensure all constituents are reached regarding the change. In many cases the plan would start with Community Meetings allowing constituents to ask questions and give feedback in shaping the new program or policy. The Communication Plan would also include usage of local media, emails, autodials, social media and other possible forms of communication to ensure all impacted by the new program or policy are made aware of the change. Alongside of each of these strategies there would be an appropriate timeline to allow community members to learn about the new policy and program and to make any personal adjustments to their child’s educational program, should it be deemed necessary.
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?
I do support the half-penny sales tax. Having been a school leader within our school district, I have walked the halls of almost every school in our city. During these experiences, I have seen first-hand the condition of our facilities and the many needs which must occur to bring our schools up-to-date. There is no question that this funding is needed to ensure the children in our city go to school in buildings that are safe and provide for an optimal learning environment.
As a Board Member, I believe that it would be critical to communicate progress on the facilities plan. This would include public meetings that allow constituents to be updated on progress both in District 1, as well as other areas throughout our city. Given the level of funding which could be generated by the sales tax, it remains vital that the public remain informed at all times about the advancement of the plan, funds expended, as well as any modifications made to the plan. Finally, as a Board Member, I would insist that there be an independent auditor installed to continually review monies spent. I would also produce reports that would be made available to the public on a routine basis.
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?
In looking at legislative priorities at the state level, I would engage legislators in the following areas:
Recruit and Retain Highly Qualified and Talented Educators
- Provide school districts with the additional funding needed to bring teacher averages to the top third in the country.
- Allocate additional funds for teacher supplements in hard to staff content/Career and Technical Education (CTE) areas and schools.
- Create a viable pathway and funding incentives for paraprofessionals to become certificated personnel.
- Provide additional funding for Early College Programs with a focus in teacher education.
- Provide service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for educators, particularly in hard to staff areas.
- Initiate funding for programs which provide mentoring and support of new teachers.
- Eliminate challenges in re-employing high quality personnel after retirement.
Keeping our Schools Safe
- Provide increases in funding that are flexible in origin and allow for adequate school security measures for every campus.
- Expand access to mental health services through wrap-around services to children and families at the school level.
- Increase mental health professional development training and awareness for certificated and non-certificated school personnel.
Create Workforce Development Pathways
- Provide grant and/or funding opportunities which create workforce partnerships between secondary schools, postsecondary programs and local workforce organizations.
- Provide grant or funding opportunities which allow for the creation of new workforce development programs that are aligned with identified local workforce needs. This funding should allow for expenditures on personnel, training, curriculum, materials, and capital needs.
- Allow expanded opportunities for industry certifications to be used to satisfy graduation, credit, state testing, and promotional requirements.
Duval County, like districts across the country, has a teacher recruitment and retention problem. How do you think our district can address this shortage?
Teacher recruitment and retention issues have to be addressed through multiple venues. There are lobbying efforts, professional training, and new programs which must occur to continue to make progress in this area. This is particularly imperative in high-poverty schools where teacher attrition is so problematic that it impacts student achievement. Teacher recruitment and retention is a complex issue, but there is much research available to guide the creation of strategies to help with understanding and developing solutions to the issue.
To start, appropriate lobbying in Tallahassee must occur to ensure fully funded teacher salary increases are a part of the state budget. Additional lobbying is needed for funding of alternative certification and training programs in the following areas:
- providing a pathway for paraprofessionals to become certificated teachers;
- creation and support for Early College Programs with a focus in teacher education;
- service and loan forgiveness programs for those who enter the profession and remain in it for a predetermined period of time; and
- mentoring programs for those teachers in years one through three of service.
While pay is the most frequently cited reason to leave the profession, lack of leadership support and inability to connect with other professionals is another reason teachers exit the profession. As a result, it is critical that school level leaders be provided the training, support, and expertise needed to create a culture that allows new teachers to feel connected and valued in their school community.
Finally, the state must fund and the district must create a high quality induction program based on interactions, observations, and planning time between first year and mentor teachers. Induction programs centered around compliance only result in teachers leaving the profession. Programs that are wholistic and supportive in nature must be available to ensure the school district retains teachers across all contents and school levels.
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?
One of the strengths I would bring to the table in keeping a strong focus on addressing inequities in student performance is a strong background in data and analytics. I would use this background to continually review district data points to ensure progress is being made not only in District 1, but throughout all the schools in our city. Through data points, I would work with fellow Board members to continually review the curriculum and programs offered at individual school sites to determine effectiveness. Finally, I would use conclusions made from the data to ensure that all plans designed by the Superintendent and district leadership address any inequities found in our school district to ensure all children receive the best education possible.