What led you to pursue being a public school superintendent and to what do you attribute your continued success in the district?
I began my teaching career at Westside Elementary as a kindergarten teacher in 1986. My third year of teaching I was selected by my peers as Westside Teacher of the Year and then went on to be selected as the District Teacher of the Year and received the Ruth I. Shuler Teaching Excellence Award in 1990. That same year, I also received the Christian Educator of the Year award. I was asked to serve as a Primary Education Specialist at Westside and served in that capacity for 3 years before asking to go back to the classroom because I missed teaching so much. There I stayed for another 12 years. During this time, I received my Master’s in Educational Leadership and continued to teach until I was selected as Assistant Principal at Macclenny Elementary. After one year there, I was selected by Superintendent Paula T. Barton to serve as the Principal of the new PreK/Kindergarten Center that was built in 2004. After serving there for 3 years, Superintendent Paula Barton retired and after much prayer, I decided to run for this open seat. I was elected by the voters of Baker County in 2008 and have served unopposed the last three election cycles. I am in my fourth term. I look forward to leading the school district as they build a new elementary school and reconfigure our elementary schools to K thru 5.
I attribute any success I have had to prayer and lots of prayer warriors praying for me each and every day. I also believe that I am here by God’s design and that he called me to do this work. Every decision I make, I pray about it and I also keep the focus of what is best for our children. I also believe the relationships that I have built over the years have been one of trust with families. They know without a shadow of a doubt that I love their children like they are my own. I know most of our students and families personally and I strive daily to show them how much I care for them. My ultimate goal is to make sure they get a quality education and that they are valued by our teachers and staff.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
Public Education has such a special place in my heart. My school experience here in the county that I now serve impacted my life in such a powerful way. So many of my childhood memories and positive experiences are associated with my public school journey. I think the most pressing issue we continue to face is the shortage of highly-qualified and well-trained teachers. We need more young people to enter the field of education so they can make an impact in the lives of our children. As I reflect on my past experiences as a child and now as superintendent, I think about the pressing issues that we face and each year different issues arise and I think each issue helps us grow and those challenges that we conquer encourage me and I learn more from each of these challenges and become more grateful each day for our schools and what they mean to our children and our entire community.
Overcoming the challenges of COVID and the after effects of lost instruction and the impact on families is a pressing issue that I think we will continue to address. However, I see great strides being made and once again I see the resilience of our public schools and how we have been a lighthouse for our community during this crisis.
While 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, you faced an additional personal challenge with the diagnosis of, and subsequent treatment for breast cancer, and now thankfully in remission. From the outside looking in, you confronted this challenge with the same positive energy and confidence that you exhibit in your role as superintendent. What is your secret to perpetual positivity and confidence?
Everyone that knows me will tell you that it is no secret who guides me and has carried me every step of this journey. My faith in God has been my strength during this journey with breast cancer and my entire career as an educator. There is a verse that I have held onto a little more tightly over the last year and it is found in Ephesians 3:20 – God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. He has taught me to trust more and to lean on him more and more each day. I met so many precious people during my treatments and I have made new friends and have new prayer partners. After experiencing cancer, I have a renewed heart to serve our children and my community. I feel like that God has given me more time to make a difference in the lives of our precious children.
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
I believe our school district team has done many great things during my tenure. We have had academic growth and success as well as students who have excelled in extracurricular activities. However, as I have been reflecting this summer about the past successes and the future, I truly feel like OUR BEST DAYS ARE AHEAD. We are working on a Special Facilities construction project to build a new K-5 Elementary School. This new project will transform the educational experience for our entire school district. We will be re-configuring all of the elementary schools to return back to a K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 experience for students.
What do you feel are the most challenging barriers at this time in meeting the educational needs of students?
Some of the most challenging barriers I see are the social/emotional needs of some of our students and families. There are many families in crisis and they need so much support. We live in a very low socioeconomic area with families that have not only financial needs but there are many other areas that they need assistance and support. These barriers impact the students and their ability to perform at their highest potential because of the struggles the children experience.
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
My perspective comes from my experience of being elected in 2008 and walking directly into the financial crisis of the “Great Recession”. The majority of my time in leadership has been with great financial concerns and never enough resources to fund all of our needs. The majority of our school facilities are aging and we have many maintenance issues that we continue to struggle with. Special Facilities Funding is a blessing for us, but; we are going to need multiple new schools. And in addition to the aging facilities, our community is growing at a very rapid rate and to be able to keep up with the growth and provide a quality school facility for every student is going to be extremely challenging.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you?
I just went rock climbing for the first time last week. I love challenges and I was determined to get to the top of that rock wall and repel down. I think part of me will always have the heart of a child. I love to try new things and my goal is to be able to twirl and do a cartwheel when I am 90 years old.
Final thoughts you would like to share.
My greatest blessings as a teacher and superintendent are the relationships that I have with my students and families. I consider them to be my family. I am so blessed to have such sweet friendships. I will treasure each of these as long as I live. During my cancer treatment, I have felt so loved by my students and our entire community. As a result, I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to give back to others and try to make others feel as loved as I have felt over the years.