What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues?
First, the school board finances need to be audited to assure our own house is in order and funds are being leveraged to maximize return. For example, the current millage rate of one and half annually, dedicated for repairs and refurnishing of school facilities, equals one hundred million dollars. We must analyze, honestly and critically, the impact of the one hundred million currently being spent. If we take a deeper dive into the 2019-2020 line item budget, based on a $25 million transfer of funds to other budget categories, how does this reflect an urgent need for additional funding?
Secondly, The Covid-19 pandemic has forever changed the future of teaching. We must be prepared, as a district and a greater community, to answer several compelling, critical calls to action. Will we really need more traditional, brick and mortar schools? Should we instead be focused on an extensive overhaul of our computers and technology services for students? Better access to high speed Internet and cloud-based resources for tutoring, enrichment, and college career readiness?
As with any successful business, the School administration and board must be open to audits, review, evaluation, assessment, and subsequent change. They should be looking to the future on how teaching is going to be delivered in the next five to ten years. Past practices might not be beneficial for the changes. If we want different results, we must be open to and pursue innovations that will elevate our current academic performance measures, gains and access to a much more accessible, inclusive, and ambitious level of excellence.
If the sales tax passes, the School Board has given five recommendations on how to spend and allocate the 1.7 billion dollars over a span of fifteen years. However, the Florida legislature just passed a law allowing Charter Schools to get a proportional share of the sales tax. Let us not forget, because of the pandemic, less taxes will be coming in. Every dollar available will be that much more precious and should be maximized for the highest return.
The school board must be transparent on how they will adjust to the new reality on how to fairly and equitably allocate less taxes collected.
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?
Vigorous debate is healthy in any organization. However, civil exchange, focused on the issues, must be maintained and personal attacks are unacceptable. Respect and listening skills are very important and allowing individuals to express their opinions, even varying ones, is paramount to better solutions. In addition, The School Board, as well as the administration, needs better data to make better-informed decisions about the future of education.
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?
Quite frankly, everybody is overwhelmed with all the news we receive from nearly every delivery method and particularly as it relates to the current state of affairs. Education has taken on an even greater level of importance, as our dramatic pivot to all online learning, all the time, was implemented hastily and to some extent, in a less than favorable manner. DCPS is to be applauded for quickly responding and providing laptops and internet to all students. But far too many teachers, parents and DCPS professionals don’t have the digital literacy or even online teaching acumen to deliver the level of excellence necessary in the virtual environment. Progressive planning and continuous professional development in the highly relevant areas of multi-modal communication, not only in varying formats, including phone calls, parent home visits (virtual or adhering to social and physical distancing protocols), email, texting, social media, mail, and news releases, but also in how to optimize the online virtual classroom for all of the necessary stakeholders.
Parents, caregivers, and families must be approached as authentic partners, with DCPS proving them with online, free trainings and resources to continuously and seamlessly affirm learning in the home, regardless of the circumstances.
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?
As I shared earlier, we are facing a budget situation where less taxes are going to be collected and charter schools will get a proportional share. The school board needs to critically revisit their priorities and document precisely why they need the money, as well as where it will provide the highest return. Questions should be addresses as to why consolidation of schools remains a priority and why has this not already been done, particularly if two new schools are necessary.
Data analysis and predictive analytics have already proven what is likely to occur as a result of the pandemic and conversion to online and home schooling. Parents are now demanding more diverse and varied Charter school growth in the next five to ten years will be taking students from public schools. Over the last ten years Duval county is growing but the population of students going to public schools has basically been stagnant. These frustrated parents are seeking alternative methods of learning and teaching, relocating to neighboring school districts; considering private schools, despite their high tuition; and exploring charter school opportunities to fully support their child’s academic and career readiness.
As the bond was proposed, the school board stated five areas of need, based on prior projections that are no longer accurate. The grim reality is, there will not be one billion dollars for maintenance because less taxes are going to be collected and as a result of the Florida legislature charter schools’ law.
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?
I’m a great advocate for home rule. Specifically, the Duval County the school board was asked to include charter schools in the sales tax, but the board gave the charters a token amount of money. Thus, the Florida legislature, with the help of the Duval County delegation, passed a bill to be more equitable in the allocation of the sales tax. This is what happens when you don’t engage the public, acknowledge your community’s evolving and changing needs, and in turn, show that you are listening to them through subsequent action. Poor decisions locally opened the door for the Florida legislature to rectify the problem.
Duval County, like districts across the country, has a teacher recruitment and retention problem. How do you think our district can address this shortage?
Clearly this is not a problem unique to Duval County public school. However, during my experience at a parochial high school for 24 years, where I served as chair and finance chair for much of that time, I found that retention was never a problem. Many teachers taught for 20 plus years and we only lost them when their spouses moved. In fact, every year we were inundated with applications from teachers seeking to abandon the public school system. Why? My opinion was safety and support from the administration.
Private school teachers were respected by the students, parents and everyone knew the rules. Discipline was fair and immediate. Administration hearings with parents were thoughtful and comprehensive so everyone was on board.
So why is there an issue in public schools? I don’t know fully but when the average public school teacher stays in the profession for 4 years, there is a huge problem. We must address the necessity of not only competitive salaries, but also the cultivation of a safe, supportive and nurturing academic environment where not only the students and families are invested in, but also the faculty and staff, as well.
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?
For thirty years in my business, I have met thousands of people moving to this area. I have seen a vast majority of the people move to St. Johns County, rather than Duval, based on the perception that our neighbors have a superior school system, a situation which still continues to this day. I always ask them why and the answer is always schools. I have told previous school board members and their response is, “We have great schools in Mandarin.”
New residents to the Jacksonville area do not make that distinction when evaluating their homes. Further, if Mandarin serves as our benchmark of excellence, why does this area have the most charter schools in our district? Mandarin parents intuitively recognize that maybe even the Mandarin schools are not up to par and support educational diversity and choice.
Despite the fact that Mandarin is and continues to be a standout in our district, we must offer more quality educational options throughout our entire district in order to fully support the economic development of Jacksonville.