FADSS Enewsletter
Message from FADSS CEO Bill Montford
Together We are Better & Stronger
The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the North Florida air, which can only mean one thing – Florida’s legislative season is in full swing. Interim legislative committee meetings began in September with presentations on topics of interest to specific legislators and continued this week in Tallahassee with the first education bills being heard in the Senate Education Committee. One of the first bills presented was SB 270, which requires school districts to transport any student who lives one mile or more from the school. FADSS General Counsel Brian Moore, as well as other lobbyists representing school districts, were on site to inform committee members of the cost factors as well as the logistical issues considering the statewide bus driver shortage. This type of unified message is critical for ensuring proper consideration of the educational issues facing Florida’s students and the fiscal issues confronting Florida’s school districts.
Governor DeSantis has called for a Special Session of the Legislature for the week of November 15th. Included in the Governor’s Special Session call are the following education issues:

  • Clarifying that the Parents’ Bill of Rights vests the decision on masking with parents and that schools must comply with Department of Health rules that govern student health; 
  • Providing adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure that Florida law is followed and the rights of parents are honored; and
  • Limiting mandates by school districts on students or employees regarding COVID-19 and related mitigation measures.
Proposed legislation for the Special Session has yet to be filed. FADSS will work with superintendents and the cadre of other lobbyists representing public education interests to ensure legislators understand the impact of proposed legislation as it becomes available.
The 2022 Legislative Session begins January 11, 2022. FADSS staff are already heavily engaged with legislators and legislative staff regarding potential issues and legislation. FADSS will likely call on superintendents for pertinent information, such as the recently requested surveys on vacancies and federal expenditures, and engagement with elected officials. FADSS will keep superintendents updated and informed as we progress through the legislative process, and we welcome ongoing communication from superintendents on issues school districts are facing. Together we are better and stronger in representing Florida’s public education system.

Yours in Education,
Bill Montford
"A positive thinker does not refuse to recognize the negative,
he refuses to dwell on it.
Positive thinking is a form of thought which habitually looks for the best results from the worst conditions."
Norman Vincent Peale | 1898 - 1993 | American writer and minister
Superintendent Spotlight:
Up Close with Putnam County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rick Surrency
When you were first elected to the superintendency in 2016, Putnam County’s graduation rate had stalled at around 55%. Under your leadership, Putnam County Schools' graduation rate had soared to 90% in 2020, representing one of the highest growth rates in the state.
To what do you attribute this significant accomplishment?

When I was elected, the district was beginning to implement a five-year graduation initiative. This initiative outlined goals and strategies for tackling systemic challenges in the district. The lessons we learned and our successes throughout implementation of our graduation initiative can be grouped into four themes:
1.   High Expectations for ALL
2.   Principal and School Ownership of Success
3.   Access to Pathways of Choice
4.   Systems of Support
As Superintendent, I also invited business and community organizations to partner with us on improving our graduation rates because I recognize that strong public schools are important to the vitality and economic growth of our community.

Additionally, 11 of the 18 schools had received Ds and Fs in state grading in 2016, saddling all of those schools with “turnaround” designations. Today, the number of schools receiving Ds and Fs has been reduced significantly during your tenure. What strategies did you/your district implement to close the achievement gap and ultimately improve school grades?

Schools with turnaround designations require a combination of strong leadership, strategic support, and improved school-wide systems. Each turnaround situation is unique and often requires multiple strategies. The following strategies have proven successful in improving school grades in our district:
  • Focus on core instruction
  • Build organizational capacity
  • Hold leaders and teachers accountable with data
  • Emphasize high expectations for student growth or Challenge mindsets?
  • Develop systems of support
  • Utilize outside expertise
What led you to pursue becoming a public school superintendent?

I chose to become a public school superintendent when I felt a higher calling to support the students in Putnam County. I had retired in the Spring of 2016 after 38 years of public education experience with 22 years as a school level leader. I felt confident as a leader that I could lead our district to a future that would benefit all students, including my own grandchildren.
What do you feel is the most challenging barrier at this time in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?

The most challenging barrier to meeting the educational needs of students in my district is recruiting and retaining a highly effective workforce. The changing landscape in our labor force and economy has created a higher demand for both instructional and non-instructional employees in our district as well as surrounding districts.

What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?

The most pressing issue facing public education as a whole is to provide a highly skilled workforce to meet the future needs of our communities. Our district has implemented a K-12 Systemic STEM Initiative to prepare graduates for careers that may not exist until years from now.

If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?

If I had the ability to change one thing in the realm of education it would be to instill more trust between the K-12 school districts and our local and state communities. Rather than saddling districts with overwhelming mandates in the name of accountability, implement a model similar to the system in Finland. The Finnish Education system trusts educators similar to the way we in America trust doctors. I will be traveling to Finland in January of 2022 to learn more about education in their nation.

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?

During my tenure as superintendent, I have two individuals whom have mentored me and had a positive impact on my leadership:

  • My brother, Dr. Jim Surrency, has been a role model for me during my entire professional career. As a life-long educator and a newly elected Superintendent in Gilchrist County, Jim taught me the importance of being a man of integrity. His love of family, strong sense of character and high level of trust has been an inspiration to me as I serve the citizens of Putnam County.

  • My other mentor has been Dr. Patrick Wnek, Executive Director of the North East Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC). Patrick has been a valuable colleague in advising me on instructional, operational, and financial challenges that our district has faced. I have served as chairman of the NEFEC Board of Directors for the past 5 years, and I work closely with Patrick on issues facing all member districts.

Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
One thing that I would want my colleagues to know about me outside of being a superintendent is that my wife and I have 10 wonderful grandchildren. They range in ages from 14 to 3 years old.

Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
I am an avid reader and believe it is extremely important for leaders to learn as much about their craft as possible through reading the literature. I also challenge my staff to read as well. We have completed several book studies during my time in office. I feel that if we all study and improve together, we can develop a common language of improvement and success. As the saying goes, “high tides lift all boats.”
Getting to Know Dr. Rick Surrency

Favorite quote:

My favorite quote is from John Maxwell and is actually on a large sign above the desk in my office:
“My goal is not to live forever, but to create something that does.”

What song best sums you up?

That would be “Amazing Grace.” God has been so good to me and has helped me to learn from my mistakes to become a better servant for him and the people of my district.

Book you are currently or recently finished reading:

Drive, by Daniel Pink and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari.

If you had to choose an animal that your feel is most representative of you, what animal would that be and why?
An animal that would be the best representation of me would be a buffalo. A buffalo is an animal that addresses challenges by charging head on toward the problem. He also is part of a herd that collectively takes on a challenge in a group rather than individually. Collaboration is an important skill as a superintendent because we are stronger together than we are apart.

Dr. Surrency with the Superintendent's 2021-22 Student Advisory Council, a
source of valuable feedback regarding current issues in the school district. 

Dr. Surrency presides over graduation
at Q. I. Roberts Jr. Sr. High School,
an academic magnet program for Putnam County School District.
To learn more about The 4 Disciplines of Execution® and the success at Highlands and schools around the globe, click here to register for a complimentary copy of The 4 Disciplines of Execution for Educators (while supplies last).

For more information about Leader in Me, visit LeaderInMe.org
Dr. Scott Fritz Joins College Board’s Superintendents’ Advisory Council
Volusia County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz was recently selected to serve a three-year term on the College Board's Superintendents’ Advisory Council. The College Board is a not-for-profit organization and creator of the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT and several AP tests which are used for college admission.

The Superintendents’ Advisory Council is made up of approximately 30 superintendents from across the country and is designed to ensure that the College Board receives valuable input from district superintendents. Council members serve for a three-year term and share ideas and best practices about educational improvement. Council members also provide input to the College Board leadership on how they can add value to the superintendents’ work.
FADSS Survey Reveals Widespread Critical Staffing Shortages
By Brian Moore, FADSS General Counsel

FADSS recently surveyed school districts about teacher, bus driver, and other vacancies within the districts. The results would be alarming if they were from the week before school started. The fact that the numbers are so high after one-fourth of the school year has been completed shows that there is a staffing crisis in the schools, which will only further complicate districts’ efforts to help students recover from the effects of the pandemic.

FADSS asked districts about instructional, bus driver, food service, other non-instructional, and administrative vacancies. It also asked about struggles finding substitute teachers. Of Florida's 67 districts, 56 responded. Those districts collectively budget for a little less than 150,000 instructional positions, and nearly 3% (4,169) of those positions remain open as we enter November 2021. 

If all of those openings were in the K-3 range with 18 students per class, that would mean no less than 75,000 Florida children would not have a regular classroom teacher three months into the school year. Alternatively, 3% of Florida’s roughly 2.8 million K-12 students is 84,000 students. Equally troubling is the fact that over 1,000 of these vacancies are for teachers with exceptional education (ESE) credentials.
"Of Florida's 67 districts, 56 responded. Those districts collectively budget for a little less than 150,000 instructional positions, and nearly 3% (4,169) of those positions remain open as we enter November 2021. If all of those openings were in the K-3 range with 18 students per class, that would mean no less than 75,000 Florida children would not have a regular classroom teacher three months into the school year."
With so many instructional vacancies combined with all of the absences caused by COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines, the need for substitute teachers may be at an all-time high. However, school districts were only able to fill about two-thirds of their substitute needs during the week of October 11, 2021. This has put even more of a strain on schools to supervise students, let alone teach them.

The numbers are even more staggering when we look at bus driver vacancies, as many districts have more than 20% of their bus driver positions unfilled this far into the school year. Overall, the average vacancy rate among the 56 responding school districts was 17.5%. That is nearly 1,900 open bus driver positions across the state. Many drivers make three different trips every day and can carry 60-70 students per route. Even if each route transported only 40 students each, 1,900 bus driver openings would result in 228,000 Florida children without an assigned bus driver on any given day.

The numbers were almost as bad for food service and other non-instructional positions, like paraprofessionals. Districts reported more than 11.5% of their food service positions and 7.5% of their other non-instructional positions were open.
Business Partner Webinars
The Engagement Solution: Tools to help Middle/High students finish strong

Join FADSS Platinum Partner Naviance by PowerSchool as they share proven solutions and strategies to re-engage middle and high school students during a free 1-hour webinar tailored specifically to Florida school districts. 

Naviance is a comprehensive college, career, and life readiness (CCLR) platform that helps students discover their strengths and interests, create actionable goals and find their best-fit path after high school. This webinar will focus on the results of a survey Naviance by PowerSchool conducted of Florida district leaders to identify their top priorities around CCLR including:

  • how to best gauge student interests
  • course plans
  • implementation of work-based learning
  • innovative CTE programs
  • effective communication with parents and other stakeholders

Naviance by PowerSchool will provide proven solutions and strategies to address these topics, in addition to a funding discussion where experts will share innovative ways to cross the fiscal finish line!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021 | 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM EST

Register for this free, Florida-specific 1-hour webinar HERE

Contact: Sonya Lerma | Sonya.lerma@powerschool.com | 281.733.8174

A National Discussion on Tackling Childhood Hunger

All across the country, students are in the classroom facing potential challenges related to learning loss, financial stress at home, new protocols at school and reintegrating socially with their friends. Communities are working around the clock to help students regain a sense of normalcy – but when it comes to feeding children and addressing hunger, schools are facing challenges ranging from staff shortages to supply chain issues.

FADSS Platinum Partner NO KID HUNGRY is working with organizations across America to help ensure that children have access to healthy meals at school and at home. You are invited to join them for an important conversation about the Return to the Classroom.

Monday, November 8, 2021 | 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM EST

Learn more and register via this link.

Contact: Sky Beard | sbeard@strength.org | 321.223.7695
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!
FADSS 2021 - 2022 Annual Business Partners
Florida Association of District School Superintendents
208 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301