What is your strategy for getting more funding into classroom and out of non-classroom expenditures?
There are several avenues that we can take for more funding for our classrooms and other expenditures. Grants are an avenue that I have taken advantage of in the past, both small and very large. I was part of the team in St. Lucie that wrote and received a $12.5 million grant to improve three schools. I actually moved to one of these schools beginning this school year to help coach teachers and teach students for this initiative. Another avenue is to review the overall budget to determine where money can be put to better use. The budget should be scrutinized to make sure that expenditures are aligned with the goals, especially when it comes to the ultimate goal of student achievement increases. The district needs to work with legislators to keep education on their minds when developing the state education budget. Our board needs to be in constant communication with our state representatives to make sure that our needs are voiced, especially when we are given unfunded mandates, such as the recent safety bill.
What non-classroom services can be outsourced to reduce overhead expenditures?
That’s a tough one as I do not like eliminating jobs, but as people retire and positions become obsolete, we need to make those tough decisions to outsource. I have not been able to determine all of the places that expenditures can be outsourced yet as I am not privy to all of the information that involves making a good decision, however, landscaping has been outsourced, I realize with some push back, but with change, there will always be people upset. Once the dust settles on that, it will most likely be a good decision. There have been discussions in other districts on bussing being outsourced, but I have great concerns about that due to safety concerns for our children. Safety comes before money, especially when it concerns the safety of children being transported. Maintenance may also be an area that can be reviewed, but again, there are contracts to honor and people’s livelihoods to consider. We do need to take a hard look at the way we are handling waste management as the trucks are expensive. We are a small community and the largest employer. None of this would be necessary if we spend our money efficiently and stop wasting it such as on lawsuits and outside companies.
What will you do about health care and pensions?
The health care fiasco is looming over our heads. Beginning teachers and many staff members cannot afford to carry the health care. I have already been investigating options about joining other districts to negotiate our benefits with and have come upon a few road blocks. Our pension system is firmly in place with the Florida Retirement System.
Would you promote replacing defined benefit programs with 401K (403B) programs?
Although defined benefit programs are a great benefit, if not managed and funded properly they can become financial time bombs. Many companies in the private sector are moving from defined benefit to employee participation programs such as 401Ks, so it should be looked at closely. But I would not be in favor of changing the program of current employees.
What will you do to demonstrate to teachers that you will back them in disciplinary issues and will take a strong stand to fight frivolous law suits that may arise from teacher – student confrontations?
As a former principal, I thoroughly believe in standing behind our teachers. I do believe though that professional development on behavior, engagement, bullying and bias needs to be ongoing so that students and teachers develop strong bonds and appreciation and respect for one another. The lawsuits that I have read about over the last few years have gotten out of control due to a lack of communication. Communication between parents and administrators, administrators and teachers and teachers and students. People are too quick to place blame and I believe that with proper training, administrators can learn to diffuse situations better and listen to their staff members so that situations don’t explode into lawsuits. If teachers and administrators are trained properly and follow procedures correctly, they should not be punished. When there are those few exceptions when procedures are incorrectly followed, then teachers and administrators need to be held accountable. Proper and continuous training usually avoids issues and thus, law suits.
At the high school level, there is approximately one non-classroom employee for every two teachers. What do you think is a reasonable ratio and how do we get there?
When Individual Education Plans call for students to have more support, then the amount of staff will be higher, such as at the Wabasso School. What we need to determine is the reason why a staff member’s position is required. Principals should be questioned about each and every staff position by their supervisors and they should have to justify the need for each position. Position control should be monitored closely by supervisors so that funds are being spent in the best way possible so that the ultimate goal of high student achievement is attained. Establishing a finite ratio is difficult because there are so many variables to consider and different budgets that are used for those staff members. Other things to consider include analyzing the ratio of custodial and teaching support that are only school-based, those that are provided through Title One funds and district support personal that are paid directly through district funds, but are based in schools. A one to two ratio seems too high in any of those scenarios.
Similarly for middle and elementary grades the ratio is about one to three. What do you think is a reasonable ratio and how do we get there?
Each schools’ ESE needs should be reviewed annually, if not, by semester to determine that the correct number of staff is in place to support the students’ needs. Next, an analysis needs to be completed to review each position by the principal and their supervisor to determine the need. I always thought as a principal, “what’s important and what’s most important” when deciding on personnel needs, especially in lean times when my budget needed to be cut. I actually went without a secretary for several months, splitting the job between a clerk, a resource specialist and myself. I did whatever I could to not have the cuts affect classroom instruction. It is hard to determine a reasonable ratio as each school has different needs and many staff are hired due to allocations and ESE requirements however, one to three seems high.
How do you propose to get more local control of curricula?
There are certain state requirements that the district must follow. New curriculum adoptions must be from the state adoption list. I served on the science adoption committee for the state representing the School District of Indian River and the process takes a year. All of the submissions must be reviewed by a large committee that checks on many areas and each submission must meet all of the standards. When the committee concludes, there are usually several choices that each district may select from the state list. The local control part comes into play when the district reviews each of the approved selections and then determines the best one for their needs. The approved selection is recommended by the local committee with parents and community input before board approval. There are also monies that can be used for support materials which allow for more local control. This used to be school approved only, which meant that schools could buy lots of resources and sometimes those resources were flashy, not substantive. Teachers and administrators would go to a conference, or go on Teachers Pay Teachers and find what appeared to be good, but in actuality, they would not be either appropriate or align with the standards that students need to be taught. This would lead to money being wasted on unfocused curriculum. This is being controlled more by having a review committee. This committee doesn’t have to review every little thing for every school, instead, if a principal finds a new supplemental curriculum, they present it to the committee to show that it has validity and will support the standards that students need to learn. This allows for students to continually be exposed to appropriate materials and it lessens the waste of curricular dollars. It also ensures that the state statues are being following properly. Principals also need to check lesson plans and monitor teachers using materials that may be unsupportive of the school goals and standards. Teachers though, need to be listened to in this process as they seek the best resources for teaching the necessary standards for their students.
How will you address the need to have more vocational education options for students not inclined to pursue a college education?
We can and should learn from other successful vocational programs in our state and across the nation. We need to also conduct interest surveys with students and find out the local needs for jobs in our area so that students graduate with skills and training ready to enter the workforce. Local businesses can partner with our vocational programs so that those students get training both in the classroom and on the job. This also can lead to mentorships and employers more likely to hire someone that they know and trained themselves. It is a win-win for both the student, and the employer. There are also technology certification programs such as Microsoft and Java Script that can award certifications that students can use in order to be hired upon graduation. The new Treasure Coast Technical College is off to a great start in providing more options for our students.
What will you do to reverse trend of “teaching to the test”?
When the FCAT first came about, principals were diligently purchasing prep books and teachers were using those books to “drill and kill”. Students were so tired of taking practice tests, that the prep books actually did not help bring up scores. Now that we have unit tests developed by the district. Sometimes teachers are afraid that the test scores are being used to evaluate their effectiveness in the classroom. The unit tests were designed to get a snap shot of students’ progress so the teacher can determine if students understand the standard or if remedial work is needed before jumping forward. Helping bridge the gap of communication for this is important. Teachers need to be treated as professionals and be confident in knowing that the tests are meant for a check for understanding and administrators need to support teachers in that manner. Teachers that teach to the tests are actually just looking good for the unit tests, but when the actual FCAT, etc. scores come out, the data is not aligned. More professional development needs to be conducted to show teachers how to use these snap shots to guide their lesson planning. More trust needs to be communicated so that teachers know that the unit tests are not “gotchas”. When teachers and administrators treat the unit tests this way, and the tests become more aligned and reviewed, teachers will be confident that they can teach standards in many ways instead of drilling for tests. Now, in some cases, teachers are still adding weekly tests and chapter tests in addition to the unit tests, which just adds more stress on the students, so more communication and trust is needed.
How will you ensure all students get some basic knowledge of our governmental system and proper history of USA?
I have seen social studies in the elementary schools pushed aside as it is not as important since it is not tested. The stress of time and remedial work has pushed it off the plate for many as there are only so many minutes in the day. Civics is a great class, and is required of every student in seventh grade and is a tested subject then. We need to make sure that teachers aren’t brushing social studies aside, especially in the elementary schools as the time requirement for teaching it is too small already. Principals should be reminded that the minutes spent on those lessons are precious and should be preserved.
What will you do to ensure textbooks reflect our moral values and are not based on political correctness, revisionist history, and/or specific agendas such as environmentalism, “white privilege”, et al?
Textbooks are reviewed at the state level and then districts may choose one to use for the school district’s curriculum choice. A committee is formed and I believe in allowing public and parent input, which is now a relatively new state policy as well. The district needs to publish dates for review and input within a timely fashion so that our local community family has appropriate time to weigh in. I also believe that we could reach out to different civic organizations to allow them an opportunity to also weigh in on the school district’s decision. We need to ensure that we are including many different types of professional organizations that can give us important feedback, so that our children are being exposed to appropriate materials that are free of bias.
What concerns do you see that you need to address when you become a School Board Member?
As I have spoken to many people while campaigning, I have learned that there are some real problems that need to be addressed as soon as possible:
- Communication – parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers have all expressed concerns about the lack of communication and also negative communication. My goal is to improve communication by first improving trust. When the surveys are returned with a 27% response rate, something is wrong. We need to have board members that employees feel that they can trust so that communication is accurate and helpful. I hope to be a member that our employees can speak to free of retribution.
- Morale – many employees have told me about morale problems on their campuses. Teachers and support personnel are feeling underappreciated or disrespected or both. There have been many concerns about employees being undervalued. My goal is to improve morale by again, promoting trust. We can’t fix problems that we are not aware of and if employees are afraid to respond to surveys or tell board members what they need to know in order to help improve problems, then we have a management problem that is negative and undervalues our employees. We need to have healthy schools that have faculties and staffs that are happy and supportive of their schools’ goals.
- Budget- The budget issues have been in the news, but the budget should be continuously reviewed as the board is responsible to the taxpayers for spending funds appropriately so that the goals of the district and ultimately, student achievement is improved. During my years as a principal, I met weekly with my supervisor to discuss the issues concerning my school. We reviewed the schools’ budget monthly and I was responsible for explaining purchases and how they would help move student achievement. Large purchases and personnel line items all had checks and balances that occurred between the district finance office, superintendents’ office and myself. These checks and balances were continuous and kept everything in the sunshine. This needs to occur in every school and district.
- Support- Teachers have mentioned that they have concerns about the lack of support for their ESE students as they are mainstreamed into classes. CWA employees have discussed needing appropriate compensation and all employees are concerned about the insurance premiums. We are a small community and our school district is the largest employer. It takes the whole community to educate our children and we need to make sure that we are taking care of our adults so that they in turn, take great care of our children. We need to make sure that Individualized Education Plans are carefully reviewed so that students get the proper care and support that they deserve so that teachers can appropriately teach them. Our employees need a livable wage with a healthcare system that is fair and worth having so that our employees are healthy and in attendance in our schools for our students.
- STEM and Vocational Programs- Parents have expressed their desire to have competitive programs that challenge students and prepare them for highly competitive college STEM programs. Many people have mentioned that they want many options for vocational programs so that students can explore opportunities for potential occupations and can be prepared for the workforce upon graduation. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is a hot topic for many reasons. Mostly, it has become a focus as our nation has slipped in competing with other countries in math and science achievement. Our programs in Indian River need to be rigorous and competitive, yet engaging for our students. We need to attract specially trained teachers to teach rigorous courses such as IB Chemistry, Calculus, Advanced Technology and Physics. We need to have a solid recruiting plan as well as develop a plan for securing highly trained substitutes so that student achievement does not suffer when the teacher is out of the classroom. As a STEM coach and teacher, I support other highly qualified teachers and sub in their rooms when needed so that student instruction is as seamless as possible. We need to train our academic coaches to support the areas of need when teachers are out of the classroom and secure community members that are highly qualified to substitute when needed. We have some vocational programs offered but need to be careful to develop more programs that are needed and wanted by our students and our community.
What plans do you have for solving the problem of teacher attrition?
Teacher attrition is a nationwide problem. We have a much lower percentage of students graduating from college with teaching credentials as we did just a few years ago. In Florida, 40% of new teachers leave within the first five years which is 15%-20% higher than the nation. Studies have shown that it takes an average of three to five years for a teacher to become an effective educator. This means, that the turnover of teachers is causing students to be taught by many developing teachers. I plan to support our district in two ways; helping to recruit high quality teachers and to help ensure that we have a solid mentoring program.
- In my recruiting of college graduates, I have learned that they we need to find candidates with family ties or other serious reasons for moving to our area as it is costly to hire and train employees. This continues to be a problem, however, if we work together with community partners such as our Chamber of Commerce, Builder’s Association and Realtor’s Associations among others, we can brainstorm to develop creative ways to recruit teachers to our area. Our teacher’s union can be a strong and supportive part of this plan.
- A solid mentoring program actually improves job satisfaction which in turn, slows or stops attrition. Studies have shown that mentors improve teacher attrition significantly. Mentees with supportive mentors develop confidence, better management and leadership skills and are able to accept feedback from administrators in order to improve their practices. Good mentors possess an empathetic ear, are able to give instructional support and participate or lead professional development workshops.