Before being appointed as Brevard County Schools Superintendent in July 2018, you had a distinguished career in public education serving in multiple roles since your first teaching job in 1994 as a mathematics teacher at Cocoa Beach Jr/Sr High School. Of all the positions you have held in public education – teacher, assistant principal, principal, area superintendent, and superintendent – which has been the most rewarding and why?
In reflecting on my journey as an educator, there isn’t a day I don’t miss being a teacher. The daily interaction with students with whom you directly support and inspire to pursue their dreams, hopes and goals, is a gift. Today, I have the privilege to continue my career in the same community I started teaching. It is a real blessing to meet former students who are now teachers, parents and community leaders. I am humbled to know I may have had even a small part in helping them achieve where they are today.
What led you to pursue being a public school superintendent?
I am passionate about seeing and realizing the potential in people and even at a larger scale, in an organization – whether a school, department or district. As I experienced the satisfaction and success with improvement, ultimately to the benefit of students, I was inspired to continue expanding my influence, now as Superintendent to truly achieve “excellence” for EVERY student we serve.
During your time as Deputy Superintendent/COO, you lead the revitalized strategic plan and initiated the district’s first efficiency review process to improve organization processes. How did that process help prepare you for the role of superintendent?
Serving as Chief Operating Officer, I had the opportunity to learn and then impact the significant “other” side of public education – Operations. I quickly discovered the impact operations has on the learning environment we provide our students. This includes those elements that have considerable impact yet can be overlooked.
For example, transportation supports nearly 40% of our students. Our bus drivers and routers have the very first (and last) influence on our students every day and throughout the entire school year. Our maintenance teams are the front-line contributors to ensuring a quality learning environment from dependable HVAC to classroom furniture. Our Technology Division safeguards a reliable source we are dependent on for communication, instructional enhancements, and access to information systems. We know that a teacher has the greatest direct impact on students’ achievement; however, all the operational aspects significantly contribute to the overall learning environment and experience. My work in operations prioritized connecting our operational teams’ work to the daily, direct impact on student learning.
What do you feel is the most challenging barrier at this time in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?
Bottom line…two things – social emotional supports and the ongoing instructional expertise development of our teachers.
Our students today are facing demands for their time and attention that compete with academic focus. Compromised social and emotional health and well-being are the consequence of the many competing elements confronting our kids. To successfully combat these challenges and the potential worst of outcomes, we are challenged to provide the school counselors and social workers at a student to staff ratio that provides for proactive engagement, involvement, and support for our students. Second, the demands on our teachers to obtain and sustain the instructional and classroom management skills needed to optimally meet the current student culture are significant. Adequate staffing to support students and adequate time to provide training supports for our teachers are two of the most significant challenges to meet the educational needs of our kids.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
Especially at this time, meeting the increasing diverse needs of our students will be challenging in the coming months and next few years. Prior to the pandemic, we have been hyper-focused on closing the achievement gap. We are proud of the academic supports we have provided our students the last 18 months. Nevertheless, I would not suggest it has been our best opportunity to make positive strides in academic improvements. In fact, we fully expect to see gaps having increased and even new achievement deficiencies to be identified. The last year and a half have realized considerable disruptions to learning – from teachers managing two learning platforms simultaneously to extensive absences due to quarantines. Not to mention the added stress on students and families just due to the uncertainties of a global pandemic that will manifest in many, unanticipated ways. However, we are optimistic with the availability of supplemental funding through federal funds to provide creative and diverse supports for our students and staff to effectively respond and overcome these challenges.
You completed a dissertation on the impact of mobility on student’s achievement and the role of social capital to mitigate potential negative effects. Can you share two to three of your key takeaways from your research that you feel helped prepare you for your role as superintendent?
Social capital can be simplified and/or applied in our school environments as building relationships and belonging for our students (and staff). My research validates that the potentially negative impacts caused by mobility, such as disengagement and reduced motivation, can be mitigated by school leaders as they build a strong culture of belonging for students, ALL students.
Clearly this outcome is not revolutionary, but rather affirming of our need as leaders to intentionally prioritize a positive, inclusive culture for students and staff. This priority has likely never been more urgent than now as we face the re-engagement and unifying our school communities on our road to returning to a pre-pandemic “normal.”
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
We are on the “eve” of launching an initiative that has been developing for almost two years, primarily due to the disruption of COVID-19. Our healthcare community is partnering with Brevard Public Schools to champion “Thrive By Five.” Thrive By Five is an early literacy effort to engage with our communities’ youngest learners, starting at the first day of birth. Our early literacy experts have compiled an array of resources for new parents that are assessable in diverse arrays – print, digital, apps, website, etc. Included are information and resources to promote and foster ongoing literacy engagement with children from day one! Our goal is to infuse, across our entire community, a unified commitment and culture of literacy for all our kids. We know that if every child comes to kindergarten reading-ready, a positive trajectory of academic progress is strong. My ultimate vision is that every facet of our community from retail stores to medical facilities to faith-based establishments support parents as a child’s first teacher of literacy. One day (soon) you won’t be able to go anywhere in our community that you don’t see “Thrive By Five” being promoted and more importantly be modeled.
Brevard Public Schools (BPS) boasts one of the country’s best Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs in the country, including the only aerospace/aircraft assembly certification program in the nation at Eau Gallie High School. As a longtime advocate for CTE programs, what is next on the horizon for BPS?
We currently have three priorities for the further development and expansion of our CTE programs. First, expand CTE programs further into our middle schools that include high credit earning options. Next year we will offer Informational Technology as a CTE program in all our middle schools, which is a high school credit course. Second, expand CTE programs into our elementary schools. Next year we will launch coding into 14 of our 56 elementary schools. Our commitment is to expand to every elementary school in the next three years. Finally, we are expanding our work-place experience opportunities for our CTE students.
Our goal is to provide every CTE Academy student a related work-place experience. We have expanded our internship opportunities for students in our community this year already, including students working in Brevard Public Schools across diverse placement in our departments, from Public Relations to Transportation to Finance to Facilities. We are employing over 25 students this summer in BPS alone.
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
I find that the greatest challenge for long-term goal planning and setting is the annual uncertainty of public education funding. It would be game-changing for public education if we were to receive a rolling three-year budget or at least a guarantee of no reduced funding from one year to the next.
As most districts’ budget are predominantly salary-based (typically nearly 80% of the operating budget), it can be devastating to the core mission of serving students with excellence when state funding cuts occur from one year to the next with virtually little notice, while also not funding for the inflation realities of increased costs. Over the last six years we have virtually cut every discretionary dollar possible without eliminating programs to students, leaving any further necessary budget cuts to eliminating positions. Stable and sustainable funds annually would position districts to set, pursue and achieve longer term goals with increased attainability.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
I love mountain-biking. Getting outside and riding off-road trails helps distract my mind (momentarily at least) from the demands of our work. Quite frankly, when I don’t pay attention to the trail a few yards ahead of me I inadvertently end up on the ground…and not very gracefully! Believe it or not, Florida has some fantastic MTB trails – Santos, Alafaya, Tallahassee and even right here in Palm Bay! If anyone else rides, lets connect!