As the newly installed president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), what are your priorities for the organization?
As the newly installed president, I am honored to continue our organization's mission with leadership, advocacy, and service at the forefront. I will strive to ensure that our organization works cohesively as advocates of public education who provide collegial support to one another. Together, our organization will strengthen our statewide influence on vital issues, such as mental health and funding, directly impacting the quality of education in Florida's public school districts.
What do you want your legacy to be ?
I have always strived to make significant and lasting connections with students, families, staff, colleagues, and community members. I aspire to leave a legacy that motivates others to value and foster meaningful relationships that continue to build a culture where learning grows generation after generation. I want my legacy to include what is derived from strong relationships, such as the foundation for engagement, belonging, learning, and, ultimately, multi-generational success.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
The pandemic has profoundly disrupted our education system, changing what learning looks like in our classrooms. District leaders are navigating through uncharted waters regarding the health of students, teachers, staff, and the community. More than ever, we must work together to instill high-quality instruction and provide services that embrace each child's academic, emotional, and social needs.
This requires that we attract, prepare, and retain high-quality teachers. We must provide them with the support and professional learning opportunities necessary to support their students' significant academic needs and mental health concerns and support their well-being during these troubling times. The loss of experienced teachers has negatively impacted the high level of instruction our students deserve. These teachers who are resigning or retiring are the ones who understand how to motivate students, identify strengths and needs, and recognize instructional practices that work. They are trusted in our communities and mentor and support new teachers. Experienced teachers have developed this knowledge over the years, and the value they bring to our school community cannot easily be replaced. Public education has always been a successful pathway for all students entering college or careers. However, that pathway is blocked when schools cannot provide the education they deserve, with the most effective teachers leading the way.
You started your professional career in public education as a middle school teacher in 1977, later serving as a Citrus County School Board member for two terms before running for Superintendent in 2004. You were reelected to a 5th term in 2020, making you one of the longest serving elected Florida superintendents.
Recognizing that the role of a district school superintendent is a very difficult, challenging, and stressful job -- what is the motivating factor (s) that inspires you to continue to serve as the educational leader in your district?
I am honored to be one of the longest-serving elected Florida superintendents. This experience has allowed me to positively impact thousands and thousands of lives. I have witnessed lasting change among generations and students' continued success as I watch our students become productive members of our community and raise children and grandchildren of their own who enter and graduate from our school system. Seeing how my efforts positively impact multiple generations motivates me beyond measure and inspires me to continue serving as Citrus County's Superintendent.
I often ask myself, "Why do we do what we do each day? Why do we strive to reach our mission, which is to educate all students through relevant curriculum and experiences for life in an ever-changing world?" The answer illustrates what inspires me every day and mirrors our district's vision: We are a community that improves the quality of life through educational opportunities.
With the increased isolation and stress on students since the onset of in-person school closing in March 2020 due to the COVID -19 pandemic, districts across the state have seen a rise in Baker Acts. You have been a vocal advocate for the need to address mental health in school districts through increased funding for social workers, school psychologists and counselors, and related services.
Knowing that funding is tied to the legislative process, how do school districts collectively come together to further elevate this conversation and ensure that it is a priority legislative issue in every school district in Florida?
Prioritizing mental health must be at the forefront of conversations with stakeholders and with state legislators. Dialogue needs to focus on our quest to view mental health as a treatable condition and not return to the stigma mental health once had. Our schools play a critical role in supporting students and staff by providing a safe and supportive environment. Our community members, educators, school leaders, and legislators must come together to recognize social and emotional learning as the foundation for education and students' well-being. Together, we must instill a system that ensures every child, family, and staff member gets the support they need and deserve.
Fortunately, public schools are beginning to receive resources required to address mental health needs and support. We must now focus on ensuring staff is adequately trained, resources are correctly used, and funds required to maintain services and resources are not eliminated or reduced. We must remember that staff may also require support during this time to battle burnout and alleviate excessive stress. Providing this support to our teachers will directly affect our students, families, and communities.
Recognizing that the demands upon public schools have increased to also address the societal issues that ultimately land at the doorstep of our public schools.
In your 17 years as a superintendent, what are 2-3 key pieces of advice that you would share with your colleagues that have enabled you to stay focused on the primary goal of educating students while still addressing the societal issues that impact the whole child.
#1 Build Relationships: Like most educators, I agree that implementing the 3 R's (Relevance-Rigor-Relationships) vastly improves education and the quality of life. However, I believe we must implement the 3 R's in reverse to best serve students and our community. Relationships serve as the foundation for all the other R's. Once connections are built, relevance and rigor are more likely to occur naturally. Prioritizing relationships takes time and requires trust. No amount of strategy, planning, professional learning, or curriculum development can improve student learning if meaningful relationships are absent. My focus on relationships does not mean I compromise standards, policies, or expectations to please everyone. Instead, I focus on building others up while holding them accountable. The stress of making tough decisions lessens from knowing I go the extra mile to assure others that they are important and matter. Student success and educators' strong willingness to act are direct results of meaningful relationships with students, staff, families, community, and board members.
The positive relationship between superintendents and school boards can ultimately drive the success of a district. These connections do not just magically happen. We must consciously work on them and remain focused on a common goal. Leadership places us in an essential but sometimes uncomfortable role. As we lead change, others trust us more if they believe we genuinely care about them, not if they always agree. That trust is only built through relationships.
#2 Listen and Be Present: We must listen and be present to fully engage and create meaningful relationships with staff members, parents, students, local community members, fellow superintendents, and board members. This requires discipline and skill, and the outcome is deeply gratifying. These behaviors are strategies that help improve achievement, engagement, and academic growth, while also supporting emotional and social well-being.
#3 Make Courageous Decisions: As educational leaders, we will inspire some while disappointing others. Accept the reality that it is okay to upset some while inspiring others. We cannot justly protect students or sustain higher standards if we constantly fear upsetting people who require accountability. My driving force has always been that if my decisions are based on what is best for students, then I cannot lose.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a superintendent?
One of my proudest accomplishments as Citrus County School District's Superintendent was when I was reelected for my 5th term. The outpouring of support from my community was humbling and inspiring. It demonstrated how the strong relationships built over the past 16 years fostered an unwavering trust not altered by the highs and lows in education we all have faced. It was evident that it did not matter if families agreed or disagreed with some of my decisions at times. The only thing that mattered was that they trusted me and knew that the best interest of students would continue to drive my decisions. I am so proud that my community unconditionally entrusts me with their most prized possession… their children.
Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
I am looking forward to serving in this new role and working with Florida's Superintendents to ensure every student has access to a high-quality public education.