What led you to pursue being a public school superintendent?
I really enjoyed my experience in public school. My teachers and my coaches were my role models back then and some are still around coaching, leading and teaching even today. I know for sure that the opportunities I have had are the direct result of the investment in me made by my teachers and coaches. It’s truly an honor to be able to support our students, teachers, coaches and other employees today.
What do you feel is the most pressing public education issue in your district?
The most pressing public education issue in our district is our continued recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Michael which has been further hampered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our students, and their families, are still struggling to just get back on an even keel and that has far-reaching impacts on our district. Hungry students cannot learn and those who are worried about where they may be sleeping at night cannot focus on the lesson at hand. Between those very real concerns and the challenges our employees are overcoming themselves, it’s been difficult to remain focused on teaching and learning.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
As a whole, I think public education has become politicized and I know that’s had a detrimental effect. We need a collective realization that benchmark testing serves a valuable role in informing instructional practices but it should never be used punitively. You can see from this article that some very famous people failed the bar exam, for example, but they persevered and went on to have stellar careers. Our students, and our educators, deserve a seismic shift in the utilization of test scores and they need our support sooner rather than later.
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
There are two initiatives that I am most proud of when I reflect upon my tenure. First, we’ve achieved an exponential growth in the area of technology in instruction. Our teachers have access to the very best technology possible and we’re constantly planning, and pursuing grants, to ensure their equipment remains state-of-the-art.
I’m also very proud of the improvements we’ve made in the areas of school safety and the wellness of our students and employees. While Hurricane Michael forced our hand in the wellness department, I think the improvements we’ve made are sustainable and needed given all that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into our world. Ensuring students and staff have access to on-campus licensed mental health professionals is a huge accomplishment for our district. Likewise, ensuring the physical safety of those same groups via the presence of well-trained, professional law enforcement officers on every campus is also notable. The safety of our students is, and always will be, our number one priority.
What do you feel is/has been the most challenging aspect of continuing to provide quality education services to students in a COVID-19 environment?
Covid-19 has reminded us that our focus on mental health support and the wellness of all stakeholders will continue to be a priority long after the hurricane damage has been repaired. We cannot overstate the impact Covid has had in our community with job loss, income reduction and increased instability but we know that we must be prepared to address all of those in our schools if our teaching and learning is to be successful. I did not ever think I would have to be prepared to meet the challenges of a global pandemic but I could not be more proud of our response. No doubt, our ability to meet the increased mental health demands of a global pandemic was assisted by the layers of support we’ve had since Hurricane Michael. Regardless, we are grateful to be able to meet these challenges every day.
What are the most challenging barriers at this time in meeting the educational needs of students?
The most challenging barrier right now is the shortage of employees from certified educators to trained administrators to willing paraprofessionals and other support employees. Nationally, education institutions are seeing a continued decline in the number of students in their teacher prep programs and we see that locally as well. Ultimately, these are funding issues. Unless and until Florida’s educational system is fully funded on par with those in other states, we will continue to lose quality educators, administrators and support staff to other places with higher salaries. Without qualified staff, we cannot hope to move our system forward.
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
I would depoliticize the entire process and ensure that every decision made is focused on doing the very best we can for our students. I think there needs to be an acknowledgement that public schools, the non-charters which accept ALL students regardless of where they are on their educational journeys, open doors for our children and that public schools are critical to the success of our state and our country. I believe completely in school choice but I also see, every day, the impact that charter schools have had on our public schools. Unwittingly, in many cases, we are creating a divide for some students and that hurts my heart.
What do you see as the biggest threat to traditional public education and why?
Essentially, there seems to be a perception that everyone who has attended school is an expert and that all of the complexities of public education can be boiled down to a few bullets and some talking points. Those who have really “walked the walk,” however, know that public school today is NOT the public school of 30 years ago and our missions and visions have had to change as a result of societal changes (some good, some not so good).
What is your proudest accomplishment as a superintendent?
I have the privilege of leading a system that is truly committed to the “whole” child and one that believes, to its core, that our collective well-being is important to our district and critical to our community.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
I won a disco contest in 1979! That’s something sure to bring a smile to the faces of those who know me, BUT it’s not something to share with my Southern Baptist preacher!
Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
God has blessed me in a plethora of ways. I truly should not be alive today and so I consider each day as a gift and I believe that I’m here to help others which is something I strive to do every day.