FADSS Enewsletter
Message from FADSS CEO Bill Montford
The Job of a District School Superintendent is 24/7

The Thanksgiving holiday is almost upon us, and I cannot think of a better time to express my sincere gratitude to each of you for your service as the education leader in your community.
 
Not many people realize the tremendous scope and responsibility that comes with being a district school superintendent. In most districts, the school system is one of, if not the largest employer in a county. School districts are bound by the same challenges and constraints of any business, with the added responsibility of the education and general well-being of society’s most vulnerable population.  
 
Another thing that many people do not realize is that the job of a district school superintendent does not stop at the end of the school day – it is a 24/7, 365 day-a-year job. Whether it is attending school and district functions, participating in community events, dealing with lock-downs, or myriad of other events or situations; the job does not end at 5:00 p.m. nor does Friday signal the end of the work week for a superintendent. A recent example is the article in this newsletter about Franklin County Schools Superintendent Steve Lanier who spent a Saturday handing out books to kids during a local community parade. And I know each of you participates in similar activities on a regular basis in support of your community.
 
As a former superintendent, I know firsthand the importance of continually engaging with your community. I also know it can be a lonely job. However, I think you would agree with me that the personal rewards of serving your community through educating students and employing teachers, staff and administrators – far outweighs the long hours.
 
Public schools are the cornerstone of every community and your job as the educational leader is so critically important. Again – I thank you for your service and dedication.
 
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a relaxing time with your family.
 
Yours in Education,
 
Bill Montford
Superintendent Spotlight:
Up Close with Santa Rosa County Schools
Superintendent Dr. Karen Barber
Prior to being elected to the superintendency in 2020, you had more than 30 years of education experience with Santa Rosa County Public Schools including director of federal programs, principal, assistant principal and ESE teacher.
Of all the positions you have held in public education – which has been the most rewarding and why?
I truly believe every position I have held over the last 35 years has been rewarding and an important part of my preparation to be superintendent. My experience as the Director of Federal Programs for the past 12 years has truly enabled me to develop some of the skills necessary to be an effective superintendent, including knowledge of finance, program development and evaluation, and outreach to the community. This role also gave me the opportunity to develop our STEAM transformation, reading intervention program, and homeless education services. To have the opportunity to use federal funding to help our students be successful and to support our teachers has truly been rewarding.

Santa Rosa County Schools has been designated an academically high performing school district for the 2020-21 school year, one of only 16 county school districts out of 67 in the state. To what do you attribute this significant accomplishment?
Without hesitation, our teachers, staff, and administrators! They have truly been heroes through this pandemic. Knowing that the magic happens in the classroom with effective educators, we provide explicit professional development. Seven years ago, the district embarked on a K-12 transformation of every classroom at every school implementing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics - STEAM. We incorporated the 4 Cs: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity into our instruction, always focused on mastery of the Florida Standards. STEAM has enabled our teachers to engage our students in rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that connect to their lives, future careers, and the community. Our veteran teachers have observed that STEAM has reinvigorated their instruction and their careers. There is an increase in student engagement, especially for our students with special needs and our at-risk students. Our families and communities have connected with our classrooms and schools in ways that have never happened before. As we experienced the challenge of distance learning, due to quarantine or the remote learning option, the implementation of our STEAM teaching and learning approach enabled our students and teachers to be flexible, courageous, and resilient. 

What led you to pursue becoming a public school superintendent?
First, lots of prayer. My faith and being a servant leader are truly at the core of who I am as an educator. My favorite scripture is Philippians 2:3-4 -- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather humbly value others above yourself, not tending to your own interests, but each of you to the interest of the others. The day I took office on November 17, 2020, a plaque with this scripture went on my shelf. I want to remember every day that no matter the role I take, I am here to serve others. From classroom teacher to school principal, to director, to superintendent, the pond has continued to enlarge and the opportunity to serve others has continued to grow. I do not take this for granted. I want to strive each day to do my best, to learn from others, and to always focus on what is best for our students.

What do you feel is the most challenging barrier at this time in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?
The pandemic has had a cumulative effect emotionally and financially on school districts. Our teachers and students are so happy to be back in a stable learning environment and extremely grateful to not have the stress and fear of unnecessary quarantining; however, this 3-year ordeal has left many with anxiety over the unknown and it has taken its toll on the size of our workforce. Every employee category from teacher to paraprofessional, to bus driver, to custodians have had workforce shortages. Our employees have done their best to focus on creating stability for our students, but we are all working at full capacity. My job as superintendent is to remove non-essential requirements from employees and to provide obvious and real-time support to schools when workforce shortages occur. When substitute fill rates are low, we have developed a system to utilize district level administrators and teachers on special assignment to ensure continuity of instruction at the school level. We have ramped up our recruitment of subs and bus drivers through bonuses and incentive pay and we have leveraged our ESSER funding to provide financial relief to employees. ESSER I, II, and III are providing the district with resources to stabilize and support our workforce while funding long-term educational benefits for our students. 

What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
Sadly, the current political climate in our nation has made educating our children a challenge. Hostile board meetings and the lack of faith some have for public education has many educators feeling attacked and unappreciated. I fear this negative climate may discourage good people from joining our profession and drive others into early retirement.

As superintendent, I feel it is my role to educate and share the good news about public education. This year, we hired our very first public information officer (PIO). Our PIO has great relationships with the media that have allowed us to tell the good news of the school district. Additionally, we started a monthly digital multi-media newsletter that employees, parents, and the community can receive. To “grow our own” we have teacher academies at our middle and high schools.

What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
For the past year, I have really focused on developing our principals and assistant principals as strong instructional leaders. Our monthly meetings are spent on professional learning and ensuring everything we do supports our mission of loving, educating and preparing students for a successful future. We started last December by studying the Wallace Foundation Study, How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research. I want our administrators to know we are investing in them. Their ability to lead their schools and support their teachers will be the deciding factor as to whether their students are successful or not. Their leadership is IMPORTANT and must be effective. This is a non-negotiable. 

In the spring, every school level and district level administrator participated in Leadership Blueprint, a two-day training that includes a 360 analysis of leadership attributes. Each participant participated in their own leadership attribute analysis and they selected 5 colleagues or employees to provide them with this leadership analysis. Each participant received a report that identified their strengths and constraints to effective leadership and then developed their traction plan. Throughout the year, we are consciously working on our plan as it relates to our role as instructional leaders. I truly love hearing the conversations our administrators have with each other about the progress they are making on their constraints and how it is impacting them as instructional leaders.  

Finally, this summer we began a district-wide administrator book study using Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. It has been a game changer! Together, our administrators have made a commitment to being in classrooms more and growing in their role as instructional coaches. Starting with data driven instruction and coaching and feedback, administrators are all using the same language and finding creative ways of maximizing their time in classrooms to develop their teachers and themselves. We have just concluded our MTSS/Continuous Improvement meetings with each of our 35 schools and the level of discussion related to student data and needs is detailed and focused on improved student learning with action steps. Student growth from Test A to Test B using our progress monitoring tool has been significant and there is an optimism and excitement about the progress of our students. It feels so good to focus on teaching and learning and not on the pandemic! 

During your tenure as a superintendent, is there an individual(s) that has served as a mentor to you and/or you admire for their positive impact on you?
Dr. Kam Patton has been my mentor and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate her! She has been so generous with her time and support. Over the past year, she and I have talked for hours on the phone and she has shared so many of the strategies that have been instrumental in making Collier County a great school district. I appreciate and admire her so much! 

Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not  know about you that you would like to share.
I have a theater background and almost went to Broadway, but I wanted a family. My theater days have really enabled me to be an effective teacher and educator. My favorite role was Princess Winifred from “Once Upon a Mattress”. 

Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
I feel so blessed to be superintendent in Santa Rosa County. Each day is a challenge, but there is so much joy in the positive impact on children. FADSS has been such a great resource. I am grateful for the friendships and the advocacy that FADSS has given all superintendents in Florida.
Getting to Know Dr. Barber

Favorite quote:
Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” ~ Archimedes

What song would you say best sums you up?
Right Now by Van Halen – This song inspires action and urgency!

If you had to choose an animal that your feel is most representative of you, what animal would that be and why?
When I was a beginning teacher, my first principal lovingly called me a Banty Rooster and I embraced it! During my first year of teaching, I complained about a fire drill interrupting my lesson. I hope I have calmed down since then. What I aspire to be now is an eagle who personifies bravery, courage, honor, determination, and grace.

What was your first job?
 In high school I volunteered in my sister’s special education class. During the summer after my Senior year, I was hired to be a teacher assistant for summer school in a special education classroom. That experience set the course for the rest of my professional life.

Book you are currently reading
I am currently in a Bible Study by Priscilla Shirer called The Armor of God, based on the Book of Ephesians. It is excellent and has been inspiring on a personal and professional level.
Visiting with East Bay K-8’s newest Eagles and Santa Rosa’s Teacher of the Year.
Elementary Principal Data Chat meeting.
Dr. Barber and a student from East Milton Elementary and doing a “book tasting”.
On the Move with a District School Superintendent
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Steve Lanier hands out books to children during the Florida Seafood Festival parade in Apalachicola on November 6, 2021.
The job of a district school superintendent goes well beyond the typical 8-5, as shown here during the Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola on November 6. Franklin County Schools Superintendent Steve Lanier participated in the festival parade alongside Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith, handling out books to the children along the parade route.
 
“It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Franklin County and I was very grateful for the opportunity to hand out books to the children who were watching the parade,” states Lanier. “Anytime we can help enhance a child's life by providing them with a book is a good day.”
 
Public schools are the cornerstone of every community, and as the educational leader of the school district superintendents must always lead by example. It is through support of community activities like these, that further strengthens the bond between a district school superintendent and their community.
Special Session Quietly Comes and Goes
by Brian Moore, FADSS General Counsel
This past week, the Legislature convened for a Special Session to address COVID-19 related matters in response to the ongoing dispute between state leaders and the federal government. The focus was on vaccination mandates and mitigation strategies like masks and quarantine procedures. Four identical bills were filed in each chamber, and each of the four passed along party lines without a single, substantive amendment. The Governor signed them into law on Thursday, November 18, 2021, and they all took effect immediately. Thus, if your district has any sort of face covering requirement, even if it includes a parental opt-out, then you are currently not in compliance with the law. 

This article has the narrow focus on how the new laws will affect school districts. The bigger picture for private employers, future occupational health and safety standards, and the ongoing conflict between state and federal responses to the pandemic are topics for another day.

Here is a brief synopsis of what the new laws mean for school districts:

HB1 – COVID-19 Mandates – This bill prohibits employers, private and public, from requiring that their employees get vaccinated for COVID-19 without providing several opt-out options, which effectively render any attempted mandate pretty much meaningless. With respect to school districts, the bill prohibits COVID-19 vaccination mandates for students, prohibits any face covering mandates for students (masks, face shields, or anything else), and puts into law the same quarantine restrictions currently in place under the Department of Health rule while also applying them to district employees. Significant fines can be imposed for certain violations, and parents who successfully sue districts over future COVID-19 mandates or restrictions can recover their attorney’s fees and costs. The biggest difference between the recent status and what this law now requires is that mask mandates that require parental opt-out forms are no longer allowed, and the asymptomatic quarantine provisions now apply to employees as well as students.

CS/HB3 – Public Records/COVID-19 Vaccination Policies and Practices – This bill shields employee complaints about COVID-19 mandates from public records disclosure, but it only refers to complaints filed against private employers. However, districts should remain mindful of what information may be included in any complaint that may be filed against the district, such as underlying health conditions or other medical information.

HB5 – Florida Occupational Safety and Health State Plan – This bill directs the Governor’s Office to develop a plan for replacing the federal OSHA standards with a set of Florida standards instead.

HB7 – Vaccinations During Public Health Emergencies – This bill takes away the authority of the Surgeon General to order vaccinations during a public health emergency.

While these new laws are especially significant for those districts who were still requiring parents to sign a form to opt-out of a mask mandate or who were still quarantining students who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, there are two important takeaways from this Special Session for all school districts. First, there is little room left to interpret vague language or argue about an agency’s legal authority to adopt rules. These provisions are now established in law, leave little to no wiggle room, and come with significant fees and costs for violations. Second, the Legislature seems to have acknowledged that our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a state and nation has become so politicized that nothing we do in response to it should become permanent or bind us in future emergencies. 

All four bills focused specifically on COVID-19 and COVID-19 alone, not any and all infectious diseases, immunizations, or potential future pandemics. Also, all four bills automatically expire after June 30, 2023. Thus, there was no concerted effort to target all the other vaccination requirements in law for public school students, nor was there any effort to expand upon the Parent Bill of Rights. However, those are both topics that could still emerge during the 2022 Regular Session, which begins in January.
Save the Date:
FADSS 2022 Spring Leadership Conference
April 13 - 15, 2022
Renaissance SeaWorld, Orlando, FL
FADSS FREE Ethics Training Now Available
FADSS makes this no-cost training available to Florida superintendents and school districts, which provides background and information regarding Florida's ethics laws sufficient to satisfy the requirements pursuant to Section 112.3142, Florida Statutes.

Access it via FADSS website HERE
District Tweets You May Have Missed
FADSS 2021 - 2022 Annual Business Partners
Be sure to follow FADSS on Twitter [@PublicSchoolSup] and tag FADSS in your district tweets so we can share the great stories and happenings in Florida public schools across our state!
Florida Association of District School Superintendents
208 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
850.577.5784