You were appointed Superintendent for the School District of Osceola County (SDOC) in March 2016, bringing an extensive background in both instructional and operational leadership having served as Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Division for Brevard County Schools from 2011- 2016 and prior to this serving 25 years with the SDOC including Deputy Superintendent for Secondary, High School Principal, Assistant Principal, and teacher.
Of all the positions you have held in public education which has been the most rewarding and why?
I have loved all of my roles in education - teacher, school administrator, district leader - but I truly believe the role of high school principal is one of the most rewarding. Working with teachers, counselors, parents, and staff to support young people in their journey to find themselves and plan for their futures is both challenging and fun, and I never tire of graduation ceremonies. Now seeing the students I served at Poinciana and Harmony High Schools serving as successful adults in our community always touches my heart. This year, the Osceola Teacher of the Year and School Related Employee of the Year are both former graduates of Osceola County high schools, where I was the principal.
What led you to pursue being a public school superintendent?
My dear friend and mentor, Dr Mike Grego, played a major role in my professional career path. I was very satisfied as a high school principal, when Dr. Grego tapped me on the shoulder to become one of his deputy superintendents, supervising the work of middle and high school principals and supporting district operations in Facilities, Student Services, Information Technology, and Secondary Curriculum. He did a lot of side-by-side coaching, and he helped me see that I could and should do even more to create more opportunities for students and our community.
Diversity is embraced and celebrated at SDOC, where students represent 140 different countries, speak over 98 languages, and more than 17,000 students (about 25% of total student population ) participate in the districts English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Despite the challenges in overcoming language barriers, SDOC’s high school graduation rate has risen to an all-time high of 91%.
What key initiatives has the district implemented that contribute to the continued increase in graduation rates for SDOC?
High school graduation is such an important milestone in a young person’s life - in many ways, it is the Golden Ticket, opening the door to so many other possibilities for a better life for the individual and his or her family. So we take an “all hands on deck” approach to ensuring our students earn a standard high school diploma before they leave us. From counselors and AP’s ensuring scheduling meets the needs of every student and social-emotional services are provided, to Principals monitoring and reporting the data in quarterly chats with the Assistant Superintendent, to teachers monitoring class performance, to our Multicultural Department engaging with parents in understanding graduation requirements and identifying how they can help their students achieve success, to implementation of a built-in intervention period at least 4 days a week at every high school, incorporating test-preparation strategies and practices in ELA and Intensive Reading classes, in-school administration of SAT and ACT for juniors and seniors, we have built a comprehensive approach with a clear focus on the prize: graduation for every student, and every student having a post-secondary plan to Enroll, Enlist, Employ, or Explore (the 4E’s).
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
We use a Delivery-Ed approach to developing, implementing, and monitoring our district strategic plan and school improvement plans, including monthly Stocktakes and bi-annual All Goals reports to the School Board and the community. This process ensures our strategic plan and school improvement plans are truly guiding the work and that we align district resources (money, people, and time) with the goals and priorities of the School Board and the needs of each school. This accountability process has been more important than ever during the pandemic. With so many distractions and so many unforeseen challenges, it would have been so easy to lose focus on our core mission. Stocktakes keep us true to our commitments to do the right work.
What do you feel is the most challenging barrier at this time in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?
The most significant challenge facing all school districts, in my mind, is the staffing shortage, across every position. The shortage of candidates entering the field of education is most concerning, as we know it is the highly qualified, caring teacher in the classroom who has the most impact on student learning. We are committing more resources to our teacher mentoring program to provide more support for new teachers, the majority of whom are coming from career fields other than education, to improve retention and stabilize our instructional workforce.
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
Increase the level of respect and appreciation for the profession of education and the amazingly dedicated individuals who show up every day for kids, even when it’s really hard. In the spring of 2020, there was such a high level of understanding and support from parents for the work of teachers and other school professionals, when schools were shut down and parents were carrying the load. I am saddened by recent events and conversations indicating we lost that positivity about public education.
Individual you admire most for their positive impact on public education:
Dr. Mike Grego, Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools
Mike has devoted over 40 years of his life to public education in Florida, and he has had an incredible impact at the national, state, and local levels. He has developed future leaders, and he has an unwavering commitment to doing the right work for ALL students. He is passionate, relentless, caring, and committed, and I admire the significant impact he’s made in previously under-served areas of Pinellas County, as well as his impact on state-level leadership decisions related to education.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
I’m learning to sail with my husband! I grew up on a ranch and have never been around boats, other than airboats, but I love being out on the water, and I love the quiet and peacefulness of sailing when it’s going well. It’s harder than it looks though!
If you had to choose an animal that your feel is most representative of you, what animal would that be and why?
A dolphin — I love the water, I love sunshine, I am nurturing, and I am fiercely protective of those I love.
Book you are currently or recently finished reading: Because of a Teacher: Stories of the Past to Inspire the Future of Education, written and curated by George Couros (2021)