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.