CEO Message

The 2024 Legislative Session is in full swing and FADSS staff are closely monitoring numerous bills that could potentially impact school districts, particularly the deregulation bill. While FADSS staff regularly testify at various House and Senate Committees and Subcommittees, FADSS also calls upon superintendents to participate in this crucial process.

Thank you to all those superintendents who have previously made the trip to Tallahassee to testify in committee meetings, as the input and participation of Florida superintendents is invaluable. Please know we will continue to reach out to superintendents across the state, and I hope your answer will be “yes” when we call on you! If you would like to volunteer, please call me. I know how incredibly busy you are but if you can spare this time, I would love to hear from you. Remember, that all of you, regardless of the length of your tenure, are proven leaders and your opinions are valued by the members of the Florida Legislature.

On the school safety front, FADSS and the Florida Association of School Safety Specialists (FS3) have been working closely with Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) Commissioner Manny Diaz and his staff to form a standing statewide safety committee. The School Safety Advisory Committee is comprised of school safety officers, superintendents, FS3 staff, and FLDOE personnel. The group works collectively to review proposed safety-related legislation, make recommendations regarding safe schools compliance visit protocols, and address other school safety issues that arise. A list of the School Safety Advisory Committee members is below.

Lastly, I hope 2024 is off to a great start and please know that FADSS is always here to superintendents as needed, so please do not hesitate to reach out!

Yours in Education,

Bill Montford

School Safety Advisory Committee

Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS)

  • Bill Montford, Chief Executive Officer
  • Sherrie Raulerson, Baker County Schools Superintendent and FADSS President
  • Jose Dotres, Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent
  • Fred Heid, Polk County Schools Superintendent
  • Tim Forson, St. Johns County Schools Superintendent
  • Ted Roush, Suwanee County Schools Superintendent
  • Russell Hughes, Walton County Schools Superintendent

Florida Association of School Safety Specialists (FS3)

  • John Hunkiar, Executive Director
  • Mike Baumaister, Pasco County Schools and FS3 Secretary-Treasurer
  • Dennis McFatten, Marion County Schools and Region 3 Director
  • Marc MacDonald, Collier County Schools and Region 4 Director

Florida Department of Education

  • Adam Miller, Senior Chancellor
  • Darren Norris, Vice Chancellor, Office of Safe Schools
  • Tim Hay, Executive Director, Office of Safe Schools
  • Jonathan Stephens, Deputy Director, Office of Safe Schools
  • Jenilyn Wilson, Program Specialist, Office of Safe Schools

Superintendent Spotlight: 

Dr. Maria Vazquez

You boast an impressive 34 year career in public education with an extensive background in both instructional and operational leadership, serving in numerous positions including: teacher, resource teacher, assistant principal, principal, executive area director, Area Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, and Deputy Superintendent, before being appointed Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) Superintendent in September 2022. Of all the positions you have held in public education which has been the most rewarding and why?

Each position has its own unique rewards, but my first principalship stands apart as the start of my leadership journey. I was assigned to Windy Ridge K-8 School in September 1998, replacing a beloved principal at the beginning of the school year. My approach was to listen deeply. I held 17 community meetings, introducing myself and asking what was working and not working in their school. This was how my people-first leadership philosophy came together.


How does your personal philosophy, “I believe we have to be people first,” impact your role and impact as a superintendent?

We are a people organization. The focus needs to be to celebrate, elevate and support our students, employees and parents. If we have done that, nothing is insurmountable. Since becoming superintendent, I have held more than 50 Town Hall meetings with employees, parents and community members to make sure they have the opportunity to be heard.

My key values are what drive me in this work. It is essential to build relationships, communicate clearly and be able to work collaboratively.


As the daughter of immigrants, and having started Kindergarten speaking only Spanish, what does it mean to you to be the first Hispanic Superintendent in Orange County?

Like many children among our nearly 208,000 students, I was an English-language learner. My parents came to Florida from Cuba. School educators and my parents encouraged me and saw my promise. The dedication I saw in classrooms is what drew me to teaching. About 92,000 of the students in my district have Hispanic heritage. I want to make sure all students have an opportunity to see themselves in district leadership, and I want every one of them to know there is a path for them to succeed, just like I did.


What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure with OCPS?

I am very proud of our Curriculum Resource Materials, which help promote learning for teachers from novice through experienced. I began to work on these as Chief Academic Officer and have seen their impact. The CRMs effectively promote active student participation in learning and call for students to use their knowledge, rather than just recalling what they’ve been taught. Our detailed CRMs are based on the Educative Curriculum Materials framework, and they guide teachers on best practices for incorporating standards into lessons and classroom practice.


As OCPS Superintendent you have said your vision for OCPS’ future is “to provide the opportunities necessary to enable all children to fulfill their full potential as empowered individuals who understand and engage with the world around them.” What steps are you taking to achieve this goal?

The OCPS team has been working on reimagining schools these past few years. What that means is focusing on differentiating opportunities for students so that each child has pathways to lifelong success. We really are starting early with our students. That includes exploratory opportunities in areas such as nursing and finance in elementary schools, expanding magnet programs and dual enrollment options, investments in STEAM and STEM such as Project Lead the Way, arts programs and more. We’re piloting a variety of approaches and I’m excited about our direction. For example, nearly 3,000 middle schoolers were exposed to career paths through a recent JA Inspire expo, and we’re working with a local hotel to show over-age students the variety of career opportunities available in the hospitality industry. We’re also committing hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild our system of technical colleges. These campuses are essential links with our broader community and are being revamped to ensure our technical education is cutting-edge.


What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?

Student disengagement. Like my peer superintendents here in Florida and nationwide, we are seeing students who do not feel like they have a place in their school. We have surveyed our students, and we have found that sports and clubs aren’t the pathway to connection for most of them. Our work is in the early stages, but we are already sharing best practices from within the district. We’ve also found that students are doing more talking and engaging under our cell phone policy, which requires phones to be put away during the school day. And as we work on re-imagining schools, we are seeing that when students can delve more into their interests, that becomes a key point of engagement.


What do you think is the most important skill for a superintendent to develop?

I definitely believe the most important skill for a superintendent is relationship-building. That skill forms the basis from which trust and transparency flow. At the same time, know what you stand for, and stand firm on those things. Build up your peers, find mentors and mentor others. If you do that, you’ll always put people first.


Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share?

Family is the most important thing to me. I’m a grandmother to four beautiful grandsons with my husband, Ulysses. I do like to balance work with personal time so I can get my cup full with family, including our two daughters and son. I also love to travel with them. My favorite place to go is Asturias in Northern Spain. It’s green and beautiful with fascinating history and culture. I also have family ties there.


Who inspires you?

Teachers inspire me every day. They are invaluable pillars in society, shaping future generations by imparting knowledge, instilling critical thinking and fostering growth. Teachers inspire, guide and support students not just academically but emotionally, nurturing their potential. They serve as mentors imparting wisdom beyond textbooks, instilling values and shaping character. Their dedication extends far beyond the classroom, influencing and molding the leaders, innovators and contributors of tomorrow. Their commitment and passion for education lay the foundation for a brighter, more knowledgeable and compassionate society. 


Book you are currently or recently finished reading:

I’ve just started “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen,” by David Brooks. As a leader of a team of more than 24,000, I can’t think of anything more essential.

Legislative Update

By Brian Moore, FADSS General Counsel

With all the attention paid to deregulation efforts over the last six months, it can be easy to forget that there are 200 or so other bills in the Legislature this year that could affect school districts, including some that might add new regulatory burdens. There are plenty of metaphors involving giving with one hand while taking away with another, so it is worth spending a little time looking at other bills that may have a significant impact on district operations. This week, we will look at the conversion charter schools bill.

HB 109 (Andrade)Conversion Charter Schools

HB 109 would make it much easier to convert an existing district school into a conversion charter school. First, it would allow a municipality to become the sponsor of a conversion school, and second, it would eliminate the need for 50% of the current teachers to agree to the conversion in addition to 50% of the parents. There are not too many conversion charter schools in the state (23), so it is difficult to say exactly what may happen should this bill passes. 

HB 109 received its first committee hearing yesterday, January 18, 2024, in the House’s Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. Just a few hours before this meeting, an amendment was filed that could force districts to surrender vacant land or unused school facilities to charter schools if they have experienced declining enrollment. If no charter school wants the property, the district would be required to dedicate the land to affordable housing. This amendment was approved along party lines. However, because it changed the nature of the bill and required an amendment to the title of the bill, the subcommittee could not vote on the bill as amended at the same meeting. Most likely, it will be heard again on January 25, 2024, when the Choice & Innovation Subcommittee is next scheduled to meet. The Senate companion, SB 246 (Harrell), has not yet received a committee hearing and currently does not include the language that could deprive districts of their property.

With respect to the conversion charter school provisions, the steps a district would have to take in response to a conversion are not inconsequential. While, presumably, most of the students who were zoned to the school would still attend after the conversion, the district would still need to account for all of the students in the attendance zone and make sure they had another school to attend if they chose not to go to the converted charter school. On the other hand, if many of the families live outside the municipality’s legal boundaries, the parents may not wish to send their children to a school over which they have no oversight as a voter. Are there enough open seats within nearby schools for two hundred or more students? If not, what will the district do? This obviously becomes an even greater issue in smaller districts with few schools. What if it is the only middle school in the district or one of only two elementary schools that are separated by 30 miles?

In addition to possibly having to find a new school for multiple students, the district would also remain the owner of this conversion charter, even though it would no longer have any meaningful say as to how it operated. Does it already have 200 vacant seats that could have been used to relieve overcrowding at another school, or was it being considered for a transition to a K-8 school to meet changing demographic demands? The loss of this school may affect 20 years of facilities planning in ways for which there are no readily available answers. For example, what if the roof is 18 years old and slated for replacement in two years, but other facility needs arise and the school is being operated currently at 50% capacity? Can the district defer maintenance on the roof to meet more pressing needs that will serve more students?

Finally, how would this bill, if passed, affect future facility planning? Will districts avoid planning new schools within municipal boundaries due to the possible loss of a new school to conversion after it was built? Districts have always looked to build schools where the students are and would almost always favor placing a school where a sizable number of students can walk to school rather than require transportation. However, if that school can easily be taken away by a city and a mere majority of current parents, would it be more cost-effective to build the new school outside of the city limits, even if that means having to transport more students by bus at a much higher cost? With respect to the amendment that could force districts to surrender vacant land or unused facilities, will this encourage districts to avoid planning for the future by buying land when it is available and affordable? Will it force districts to sell unused facilities immediately even if those facilities could be repurposed at some future date?

None of this is to say that conversion schools cannot serve students in a community well and may even be a logical decision in certain localities. However, there are a lot of questions that districts must be prepared to answer, and it could lead to some local divisiveness and suboptimal financial decisions with respect to increasingly limited capital outlay funds. 

New Training for Superintendents Offered at Eckerd College

By Katrina Figgett, FADSS Director of Training

Last week, a group of superintendents met at Eckerd to take part in a newly designed training called Enhanced Leadership. Designed in collaboration with FADSS, this training was offered to those who had completed their CEO Leadership Development Program and was designed to take a deeper drive into harnessing personal attributes for more effective leadership. The participants received Emotional Intelligence and Influence Style feedback, and had training in conducting better conversations and the art of persuasion using story telling. Much of the time was spent working in small groups to hone their skills. Here are a few comments from attending superintendents:


The Enhanced Leadership Program is an experience that leads to personal growth, purposeful reflection, and embedded within the training is a challenge to move outside of your comfort zone in order to become an even better leader. The last training I took part in led by Eckerd College was top-notch and the Enhanced Leadership Program did not disappoint. I left the training feeling motivated, rejuvenated, and blessed to be the Superintendent of Okaloosa Schools!

~ Marcus Chambers, Superintendent, Okaloosa County

The "Enhanced Leadership" program that was sponsored by FADSS and the Center for Creative Leadership at Eckerd College was most valuable in identifying my strengths and weaknesses in dealing with both difficult issues and people in my position as superintendent. I sense that I am now better equipped with new and unique strategies to diffuse volatile situations during the course of the day-to-day operations of the school district.

~ Bob Shayman, Superintendent, Hardee County

I enjoyed the small group discussions with my colleagues, it helped strengthen friendships among Superintendents. Leading with thankfulness and gratitude can make a huge difference and have a positive influence in your school district.

~ Mike Thomas, Superintendent, Dixie County

Sharpening our skills as academic leaders is a must! The staff at Eckerd College was spot on with the presentations and engagement activities for our cohort. I appreciate the efforts FADDS demonstrates that keeps moving our leaders forward. 

~ Mike Swindle, Superintendent, Hendry County

Like others in the business of education, all of us at FADSS believe that we never stop learning. We look forward to bringing new training offerings to our members, regardless of where they are on their leadership journey. 


Reading Comprehension Challenges and Opportunities, in Charts


This week (January 15, 2024) saw a release from the EducationWeek Research Center using late 2023 survey data related to practices in grades 3-8 governing student’s reading comprehension. Shown as a variety of bar graphs and pie charts, this quick (6 minute) read provides interesting insights into reading materials, stamina, and testing. Links to other reports that provide deeper coverage of these important topics are also included.

Thank you to FADSS

2023 - 2024 Annual Business Partners

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