FADSS Enewsletter
Message from FADSS CEO Bill Montford
Professional Development is Key Component of FADSS Fall Conference

FADSS 2021 Fall Leadership Conference is just a few weeks away and I am looking forward to our first in-person, full membership FADSS meeting since January 2020 in Tallahassee. The connection, information sharing, and simple camaraderie that we experience when we are all together cannot be rivaled by any other meeting or conference. A FADSS meeting is a very unique and vital part of the ongoing high-quality professional development that FADSS provides to Florida superintendents.

The 2021 Fall Conference, titled “Leading Academic Acceleration in the Future,” will focus on leading districts through COVID recovery to academic acceleration. Sessions will include strategies to remediate learning loss and how to effectively use federal funds to support these efforts.
 
I am also extremely excited that for the first time in FADSS history, we have expanded participation in FADSS Fall Leadership Conference to allow each superintendent to bring a member of their leadership team. I am confident that the inclusion of these district leaders will further enrich the learning experience for everyone. 
 
I also want to thank FADSS President Sam Himmel and the superintendents on the superintendent design team that worked with FADSS staff to plan and develop a robust conference that will provide high-quality professional development, sharing of best practices, and substantive networking opportunities.

I am confident that your participation in FADSS Fall Conference will prove to be a valuable and professionally rewarding experience for you, and I look forward to seeing you on September 22nd!

Yours in Education,

Bill Montford
Superintendent Spotlight:
Up Close with
Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders
You were appointed Manatee County Schools Superintendent in June 2018 with more than 30 years of experience in the education realm. Prior to that you served as Deputy Superintendent and initially began your career with Manatee County Schools in 2013 as Executive Director of Secondary Schools.

When you joined the district, it had 18 “D” or “F” schools, and by the end of your first year as superintendent (June 2019), the district had eliminated all “F” schools and reduced the number of “D” schools to two. To what do you attribute this significant accomplishment?

The biggest factor in raising the grades of our schools has been a consistency in the academic plans we have in place. It’s hard to live up to expectations if they are constantly changing. In 2015, Dr. Diana Greene, a former colleague of mine in Marion County became Superintendent, and I became Deputy Superintendent of Instructional Services. We made the conscious choice to maintain the same academic course we had been on since we both arrived in 2013 and that has been in place ever since. It’s a combination of strong leadership at the school level and a high level of accountability overseen by Executive Directors of Elementary and Secondary Schools. They collaborate constantly to make sure we are checking all of the data and making the corrections necessary to get the best out of our teachers and ultimately our students.

What was the impetus that led you to pursue being a public school superintendent?

I grew up in Sumter County, Florida. Thankfully, I had teachers and educators who inspired and encouraged me and that led me to become the first person in our family to go to college. Once I received my degree, education has been my passion and career ever since. When the opportunity arose in Manatee for me to fill the role of superintendent; myself, the School Board, and my team felt it was critical to continue the positive and impactful work that began in 2013. At that time I knew that if our district did not remain on our planned course of action, the academic success we were achieving would not have continued. 
 
What do you feel is the most challenging barrier at this time in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?
Obviously, in the present circumstances, COVID-19 is the most challenging barrier at this time. In my 30 years, we have never seen anything like this pandemic. The most troubling aspect is that we had done a really strong job of keeping our schools open and operating during the end of the 2019-2020 school year and all the way through the 2020-2021 school year. And then, just as we started the new school year, circumstances were more serious than ever. We have a strong team of dedicated professionals throughout our district, but the cumulative stress this is causing over the long-term could create problems we haven’t even considered at this point.
 
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?

The shortage of young people going into education. Passionate and motivated teachers are the blood supply that keeps our public schools breathing and moving. If we can’t replace the teachers that are retiring a teacher transfusion if you will it weakens the whole system and places it in peril.
 
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?

The fact that we have been very aggressive about introducing new and innovative academic programs into our schools. In 2019, Palm View K-8 became the very first WOZ-ED Career Pathways School in Florida, and one of the very first in the nation. Named for Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, WOZ-Ed offers elementary school students lessons in areas such as coding, robotics, cyber-security and drones. It’s a head start on the jobs of the future. That same year we also introduced Southwest Florida’s first Community Partnership School and our county’s first Dual Language program.

You were named the “2020 STAR Superintendent of the Year” by the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, in recognition of your leadership and for championing community and business involvement in education through their local education foundations. Why do you believe school/community/business partnerships are so crucial to the success of public education?
 
The Manatee Education Foundation (MEF) makes a major difference in our schools. In September, the MEF will distribute $100,000 in Teacher Impact Grants that will help teachers across our district implement innovative and creative lessons and programs in their classrooms. In addition, we are very fortunate to have the backing and support of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and more than 150 individual businesses and non-profit agencies who actively support our students and schools. That is critically important this year as we go to county voters for renewal of a one-mill tax devoted to keeping our teacher pay competitive; adding 30 minutes of instruction time to each school day; enhancing STEM, Career and Technical and Arts programs; and to support local charter schools.
 
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.

I am the proud grandparent of two wonderful boys, Mark age 6 and Luke age 4.
Getting to Know Superintendent Saunders
Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders
Individual you admire most for their positive impact on public education:

Bobby James is my mentor. He was my past Principal and School Board Member in Marion County. I credit him with my career path and the love I have of education.

Book you are currently or recently finished reading:
 Where the Crawdads Sing.” It was a lovely book of fiction to read while camping in Yellowstone this past July.

Any final comments you would like to share:
I feel truly blessed to be part of an amazing team that has impacted the lives of so many.
Superintendent Saunders at her swearing-in ceremony in June 2018, flanked by her predecessor Duval County Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene and her mentor and former Marion County School Board Member Bobby James.
Palm View K-8 in Manatee County was the first WOZ-ED Career Pathways School in Florida, and one of the very first in the nation.
WOZ-ED founder and Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak was on hand for the unveiling.
COVID Litigation Update
by FADSS General Counsel Brian Moore
With the Delta variant of COVID-19 overwhelming Florida school districts to start the new school year and a Department of Health (DOH) emergency rule adopted on the eve of the start of school to limit districts in their use of mitigation strategies, it is no surprise that the courts have been active with education-related cases recently. Several districts have decided to impose similar mitigation strategies to last year, including mask mandates with exceptions limited to medical or psychological necessity, despite the new rule. The mask issue has generated heated and lengthy board meetings, State Board of Education (SBE) action, and multiple lawsuits across the state with more expected. Also, the fact that an expansive reading of the new Parent Bill of Rights is at the center of this suggests that the mask issue may be just the beginning.
 
Most eyes have been on a lawsuit filed by multiple parents against the Governor and Department of Education (DOE) in Leon County, which will be discussed below because it is the furthest along in the process and has immediate implications for multiple districts. However, there are also two completed, nine ongoing, and three more expected SBE investigations. Each of these investigations could prompt litigation in response to actions the SBE decides to take against districts; parent challenges to districts in both Miami-Dade and Duval; parent challenges against the State in Leon, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and federal court; a district challenge to the DOH emergency rule in the Third District Court of Appeal; other district rule challenges to the DOH rule ready to be filed in the Division of Administrative Hearings and perhaps other District Courts of Appeal; and possibly much more.
 
Leon County Court Case
For this article, we will focus on the case heard in the Leon Circuit Court last week. It is not a perfect case, because it did not include any school districts or the DOH, but it gets to the heart of the issues driving these cases across the state. At the conclusion of the trial last week, the judge provided a lengthy, oral ruling, but he said that nothing would take effect until he entered a final written order. This occurred late in the afternoon on September 2, 2021. The State immediately appealed, which then set off a new chain of events.
 
The Leon court found that the Governor exceeded his authority in issuing the executive order directing state agencies to adopt and enforce rules prohibiting face mask mandates. In essence, the judge found that the Governor was improperly exercising legislative powers, not executive. Because the Governor allowed the state of emergency proclamation to expire over the summer, he does not have any special or emergency powers to override state laws. The Parent Bill of Rights is an act of the Legislature. It says governments, including school districts, can only infringe on parental rights if “such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by a less restrictive means.” It is not up to the Governor to predetermine whether a school district policy meets that standard and then direct enforcement actions against districts without due process. 
 
Because the DOH and SBE emergency rules were adopted at the direction of the Governor’s order, the court enjoined DOE from enforcing those rules. Districts are entitled to due process as to whether their policies are a violation of the Parent Bill of Rights. 
 
Notice of Appeal
Immediately after the court entered its written order, the State filed its Notice of Appeal. With the filing of the Notice, the Leon court’s order was immediately stayed. In other words, the State is free to continue operating as though the court had not found against them until the case is decided on appeal. The parent/plaintiffs have also filed a motion to have that stay lifted. If the Leon court grants that motion, it is expected that the State will seek to overturn that decision too. In short, it is quite likely that local school boards will continue to make local decisions, the SBE will continue to act under the Executive Order and emergency rules, the courts will deliberately go about processing each of the cases before them, and a final answer may not come until long after the Delta variant is a fading memory.
News You Can Use...
Lessons Learned
Source: The Hechinger Report | August 25, 2021
 
Lessons Learned is a series of stories exploring the evidence behind ideas to help children catch up and move ahead after the coronavirus pandemic from The Hechinger Report.

Daily tutoring for those who are most behind rises to the top in research evaluations

New research findings on depression and anxiety signal that the pandemic’s toll is steep, and hold lessons for parents and teachers navigating the return to school

Tutoring, flexible instruction and targeted support are among the efforts schools are trying to build students’ strengths
 
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!
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