What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues?
There are a couple of areas that I see as a priority. Our district has worked hard to improve student literacy but there is still a lot of work to be done. Ensuring that all students have the support and services they need to enable student success is key. Today’s education market is competitive and it is time for us to recognize the programs and opportunities that are in demand and replicate them throughout the district. This requires the Superintendent and the School Board to evaluate which schools and programs have waiting lists and are in high demand. Then step back and consider how we can best meet this demand. For example, accelerated learning is a popular program and there are some career technical education programs that are in higher demand than others. If we take a look at where the demand is, we will be better able identify what parents and students are looking for in a 21st century education. We are all still trying to understand the impact that Covid-19 will have on the 2020-2021 school year. So ensuring that our schools have the supplies and resources needed to keep everyone healthy & making the right decisions for all is going to be important in the upcoming year. Finally, I would like for the Board to discuss expanding our procurement department due to the pursuit of the referendum.
Last summer, when I served as Board Chair, I held a meeting with former School Board Chairs. I believe we had Board Chairs from as far back as the 1980’s. There was a lot of energy and wisdom in the room. Everyone shared what the board accomplished under their leadership. Literacy was a re-occurring theme. I believe that we have made great strides but we have got to close the gap when it comes to reading because it is foundational for all learning. Re-evaluating programs and career technical education just makes sense as we begin to consolidate schools and work to improve our infrastructure. There are so many options for parents today when it comes to educating their child and school choice allows students and parents to select the school that is right for them. When we have some schools that are bursting at the seams with students or programs that are in high demand that is the signal that something is working, and we need to capitalize on our successes. We need to adapt and recognize that when it comes to education parents have a myriad of options. I don’t think anyone saw this pandemic coming. I sure did not and I did not believe the impact would be so great. I’ve had the opportunity to meet virtually with board members around the country and everyone in now factoring in Covid-19 to the upcoming school year.
Lori Hershey is running for School Board District 7.
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?
School choice means that families living in one district can easily attend a school in another district. Hence, Board Members cannot be solely concerned with issues facing their respective district. Of course, Board Members should advocate for the needs of their district, but we should want the best for the entire district. I have visited schools in every district. I believe it is important for Board Members to tour schools outside of their district.
Our Board uses Roberts Rules for our meetings, and this helps to keep the business of the board more professional. Our Board has consistently participated in professional development. Communication is always the key and conversation allows the time to hammer out misunderstandings if both parties are willing.
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?
My district is fortunate to have the Mandarin Newsline which is a free monthly community newspaper that allows me to share information specific to District 7 and our district as a whole. I hold four or more community meetings a year. Every year I provide one or two opportunities to engage in a town hall meeting with our superintendent. I have held community meetings specifically to address issues at specific schools and I maintain a Face Book page to share information. I maintain a website and I respond to emails and phone calls.
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 was Board Chair when we initiated the resolution to pursue the half penny sales tax. We have the oldest schools in the state of Florida, and we have never made a collective decision as a community concerning whether or not to invest in our schools. This needs to be a decision that is made as a community. The original goal was to have the decision to place it on the ballot made by the outgoing City Council which ended in June of 2019. The effort did not pass in the Rules Committee nor at the last City Council Meeting in June. The public literally begged City Council members to let them vote. While it did not get resolved last year it did begin a community conversation about our schools like none other before. Suddenly our schools were the topic of conversation and left many wondering why approval of a date to vote was so divisive? Citizens need to exercise their right to vote on this issue. The School Board has already set up a citizen’s advisory committee to help ensure transparency and the public trust. The great aspect of the Master Plan is that every school is impacted in a positive way. Some specific highlights for District 7 include, but are not limited to: Major renovation at Crown Point and Greenland Pines. Mandarin High will also have portables removed and a new wing will be built, the historic school room at Loretto Elementary will remain but the sprawling buildings behind the quaint old school house will be rebuilt which will reduce the footprint of the campus and create a more cohesive school. A new K-8 will be built between Nocotee and Atlantic Coast. None of these improvements can occur without an additional revenue source.
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?
Thankfully, I have a good relationship with our Duval Delegation. While I do make trips to Tallahassee, I am also able to call representatives and discuss issues that may be pending a vote. I also meet locally with my State Representative and Senator. Funding will continue to be an issue and none of us know the full impact of the pandemic on our state and local economy yet. School Safety and Security will continue to be a topic of discussion and the struggle for school districts is that the safety and security measures do not often come with the funds to fully implement them which causes strain on all district budgets in the state. I am hopeful that this legislative session may have dialogue about teacher performance and school grades that will be more constructive. Expansion of choice will continue to get attention and I believe we need to begin to look at flexibility that some choice operators have and see if they can be translated to traditional public schools if those measures are working.
Duval County, like districts across the country, has a teacher recruitment and retention problem. How do you think our district can address this shortage?
The District launched Ready Set Teach a couple of years ago and this allows people to explore and prepare to teach in our schools. This is perfect for those starting a second career. It has had great success and a wonderful response. As the district continues to move forward with school consolidations. I believe we will see a reduction in the number of vacancies. We offer great benefits, but we do need to improve teacher pay. If the Gov. DeSantis signs the bill for first year teachers, we will see an increase in first year teacher pay this upcoming school year. We continue to partner with schools of education across the country and have improved our outreach to teachers in other states. The district has also improved our mentoring program. I believe we are building a strong pipeline and we have to continue to think outside of the box to recruit the best and the brightest. Finally, we need to ensure that teachers have room for growth within the district.
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?
This is really a two-part question. Inequities in student performance are not isolated to Title 1 schools or schools in low-income neighborhoods. When student populations struggle throughout the district that is an issue that needs to be addressed at the district level for all schools and it is a conversation, I have been having this year. We need to direct both district services and our community partners to fill in the gap with laser focus on improving student achievement across all sub-groups that are struggling.
Schools in low-income neighborhoods are the heartbeat of their community just like any other neighborhood school. Principal leadership is key in school improvement. We saw this best with St. Clair Evans last year which had a bullet pierce the window of a classroom days before state testing and that school moved from a D to a B in 2019! We’ve proven we can move schools. We must replicate this and as a city, we must become outraged when violence pierces the window of any school campus in our city.