Election 2014: Sarasota County School Board

 

Election 2014: Sarasota County School Board

 

Date: August 6, 2014
by: Observer Staff

 
 

 

Sarasota County School Board District 1

Velton Hodges
• AGE: 60
• FAMILY:
• Married with two daughters
• EDUCATION: A.A. degree, Manatee Junior College; bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Georgia.
• OCCUPATION Retired teacher, Sarasota Public Schools, 34 years of service

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
None of my opponents has the breadth of experience I have in the Sarasota public schools. I have been a student (Sarasota High School class of 1971), parent, teacher and teacher representative for more than three decades in our school system. In addition to teaching. I served 12 years as the elected president of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association. In that position I worked directly with five different superintendents and numerous School Board members. I assisted the teaching profession by serving two terms on the Education Standards Commission for the state of Florida. I was appointed by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and reappointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
I have seen countless types of these education reform programs come and go during my 34-year career. Programs of this sort are typically politically motivated, pushed by politicians for their own purposes and are short-lived. In order for any plan to work long- term it must have teacher involvement at its inception through to its implementation. Teachers have to be involved, and that has not been the case.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
A. School safety and security at our elementary schools: We must restore school resource officers to our elementary schools. A trained, uniformed officer on campus with a marked patrol car is our most effective deterrent available.

B. We have become complacent with our student achievement and state rankings. Our recent FCAT scores and school grades show our student achievement has stalled. We need a new action plan to move our students forward, and that plan has to be generated by our teachers.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?

I am not opposed to charter schools. The original intent of the charter school legislation was for the charter school to provide programs or special services not available in our public schools. As a School Board member, I will hold new charter applicants to that standard.

• Vouchers?
I oppose vouchers.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
When was the last time you heard the phrase “world-class education” spoken by our superintendent or School Board members? That’s right, it has been awhile. It’s time we stop patting ourselves on the back for being good and set a course to becoming a great school system. Put our teachers and staff to work devising our plan. If we are willing to put in the time and effort, we can reach world-class status.

 

Ken Marsh
• AGE: 63
• FAMILY: Married, one child
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s in psychology and Master of Social Work degrees, University of Georgia
• OCCUPATION: Former director of long range planning, Sarasota County Schools 

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
My unique qualifications include 35 years in local public education, leadership of six local and statewide organizations, facilitation of numerous community initiatives, and volunteering with numerous youth and senior services. That experience, plus my knowledge of Florida school law, my understanding of the school district’s staff and programs, and my working knowledge of Sarasota County prepare me to respond best to whatever we face over the next four years.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
I support the Standards’ goals of increasing students’ critical thinking skills and ensuring common expectations for all American public school students. I do not support using Florida’s assessment, still in development, for high-stakes decisions until adequately established.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
The most important challenge is to expand our recent success reaching struggling students. Further success can come from working with the community to expand preschool programs to ensure that all children are ready for kindergarten, and from gaining legislative approval for innovative programs at K-12. Another important challenge is to improve our college and career preparation efforts. One effective way is to replicate the recent success of the Precision Machining program for other industries.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?

I support the full range of public school choice — charter schools, traditional public schools and magnet schools (e.g., Bay Haven, Pine View) — that have shared standards and accountability. I do question providing local financial resources to out-of-state and for-profit charter schools.

• Vouchers?
I do not support public tax dollars being used to fund private schools that lack accountability for such funding and do not adhere to the same standards.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
We must maintain our excellent instructional delivery system, our overwhelming community support, our efficient operations division, and our award-winning finance department so that we can expand our efforts to reach struggling students while maintaining our arts, athletics and gifted programs. Building upon our proven success is the best means of guaranteeing solid progress for all students.

 

PAUL SCHAFER
• AGE: 71
• FAMILY: Single
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education; master’s degree in special education; Ed.D. in reading and language arts
• OCCUPATION: Reading specialist, Keiser University; professor emeritus, St. Bonaventure University

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
My education, experience and commitment to education qualify me to be a member of the Sarasota County School Board. Education: See above. Experience: eight years as a teacher for Pittsburgh Public Schools; 37 years as a professor at St. Bonaventure University; 15 years as an Olean, N.Y. School Board member and eight years as a Housing Authority Board member; 12 years as a Cattaraugus County, N.Y. legislator. Commitment: past president, History of Reading Group; currently on the Sarasota County Literacy Council Board and tutoring literacy student

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
Although they are not a panacea, the Florida Standards are a step in the right direction. As a college professor, I have seen firsthand the decline in the reading ability of our college students. Raising literacy standards is a necessity. I also like the fact that these standards give classroom teachers more flexibility in how they will meet these standards.

I do have some concerns that we may be expecting too much from our kindergarteners and first graders. We will want to work closely with teachers as we implement these standards, knowing that there will be growing pains and missteps along the way. My other concern is the emphasis on high-stakes testing. Students, especially elementary children, should not be stressed out over testing.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
One mandate, emanating from Tallahassee, is the proposed teacher evaluation system using VAM (Value Added Model). It is a grotesque embarrassment and a breathtaking example of wrongheadedness. School boards must work with state legislators to derail this looming fiasco.

An important challenge a school board faces is finding a fair and rational balance among its three constituencies: students and patents; administrators, teachers and staff; and taxpayers. All three are vital for a successful school district. The groups are inextricably bound, and putting one group first is deeply problematic. One can only be astonished by the irrational persistence of putting one group above the other two. I will work hard to strike a respectful balance by listening, studying, researching and thinking before coming to a decision.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?

Although I support parents’ right to choose, I believe there should be a moratorium on new charter schools. The charter schools we now have in Sarasota County take $50 million dollars from the operating budget. The question is, how many charter schools do we want/need in Sarasota County? Twenty? Thirty? We must be careful not to cannibalize our public school system.

• Vouchers?
As the product of a parochial education, I fully support private education, but the questions become: Should taxpayers pick up the costs for a private education? Will vouchers weaken our public school system?

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
School board members should have only one aspiration: to provide the best education taxpayers can afford. My vision is to continue the tradition of excellence that has come to symbolize Sarasota schools. Accordingly, I shall work with other board members, parents, administrators, teachers and staff to ensure the continuance of this tradition.

 

 

Bridget Ziegler
• AGE: 32
• FAMILY: Married with one daughter
• EDUCATION: Florida International University, business marketing
• OCCUPATION: Commercial insurance producer, Al Purmort Insurance

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as the a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
As a businesswoman, an active member of the community, and most importantly, a mother to a young child, who will be entering the Sarasota County Schools in a few years, I bring a perspective that is drastically different than my opponents. The decisions we make as board members will impact the current and future students of Sarasota County, and there needs to be a board member who will represent the parents of those children. As an outsider — someone who has not worked within the system — I have the ability to see things from a fresh perspective.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
I am constantly reaching out to the community about what they feel is most important and have received emails by the hundreds that specifically address the concerns about Common Core Standards. I, too, do not support Common Core Standards. I do not believe that the federal government needs to be involved in deciding who, what and how our children learn. Additionally, a one-size-fits-all approach will ultimately fail, as children learn in a variety of ways. The Florida State Standards have taken steps away from Common Core, and they are still in a transition stage. I am eager to see us continue to move away from Common Core and to ensure that our local districts have the power to decide what is best for their students and teachers.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?

Ensuring fiscal responsibility and transparency: As school board members, we cannot ever lose sight of the fact that we are approving the spending of hard-earned tax dollars. Each decision we make must always be in the best interest of our children’s education. In order to ensure transparency, I believe we need to find a better way to communicate to the public on what and how we are spending tax dollars.

Retaining and recruiting passionate, innovative and effective teachers: Teachers are a vital part of the equation. Outside of family, teachers play a crucial role in our children's education and future success. We must focus on empowering our effective teachers and open the lines of communication between teachers and parents. A supportive partnership among teachers and parents will ensure accountability and success.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?
• Vouchers?

I believe in parent choice, and the right to decide which school will provide the best education based on learning style, interest, need or even family beliefs or values. I support charter schools that illustrate a concise plan, proven results and a valuable option for parents, students and teachers. I also support the concept of vouchers. If Sarasota County Schools do not offer what a family needs or desires for their child, they should have the right to choose to go elsewhere. I believe competition is good. It raises the bar and creates accountability.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?

My vision for the Sarasota County School District is to ensure every child has access to a world-class education best suited for their needs and that failure is not an option. I want Sarasota County to be known as a place that chooses the importance of education above all else — a place that empowers their teachers, listens to the needs of students, and concerns of parents and taxpayers.
 


Sarasota County School Board District 4


 

Shirley Brown
• AGE: 61
• FAMILY: Married, two children, three grandchildren
• OCCUPATION: Semi-retired, school board member

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
I am very knowledgeable about how our schools are funded and how/why the legislature changes laws related to education. When I served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1992 to 2000, education laws and funding issues were major areas of my interest. I personally know our local legislators, several legislative leaders and staff members.

I have been a member of the Florida School Boards Association for eight years and have attended meetings, conferences and trainings, served on legislative and advocacy committees and earned master board certification.

Before filing to run for this seat, my opponent only attended school board meetings supporting an individual trying to ban a world history textbook from our schools and advocated to change textbook authorization from state and local instructional professionals to strictly local groups without ever considering the costs involved to switching the entire function to local districts.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?

I like that they have aligned the high school graduation requirements more closely with business and college entry requirements. The new standards stress more critical thinking skills and encourage teachers to have students be more engaged in the learning process.

I don’t like the continued over-reliance on high-stakes testing that will determine if students move on and how teachers will be paid. This is especially troubling now that these standards are to be fully implemented, but not all textbooks have been updated to the new standards and the tests have not been field-tested.

What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
The district-wide transition to the new standards can be challenging for teachers, parents, and students if they do not understand them. We must continue to provide professional development and other support for teachers and administrators and provide information to our parents when questions arise.

Another challenge will be the retirement of Superintendent Lori White. The board needs to work with community and staff to find the best candidate available and take care to ensure that the person will be dedicated to improving our schools, as opposed to padding a resume.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?

Our school board has been supportive of existing charter schools, providing administrative support, professional development, and a share of capital and referendum dollars to the tune of about $1,000 per student. However, I am very cautious about approving new charter schools. I would want a new charter school to show it can meet all state requirements in regards to financial, curriculum and students with special needs. I want to see that the school has local community support and fills a need in our community.

• Vouchers? I think any school that takes state funding should meet the same requirements that public schools do. As long as the state gives vouchers without requiring accountability for student performance or financing, I will oppose them.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
I want to see the Sarasota County School District stay on its course of continuous improvement, both in student performance and financial management. I am proud that we have been able to maintain the district’s “A” rating for the last 10 years, but I want to see more of our students performing at grade level or above. Staff morale is generally high in our schools despite challenges from the state. This is in part due to the fact that they know Superintendent White, the administration, and the board all value their work, understand their challenges and support their efforts. The 77% “yes” vote for the last referendum goes a long way, not just to help us provide a quality educational experience for students, but also to show teachers and staff that our entire community supports their efforts.

 

Helen Wolff

• AGE: 55
• FAMILY: Married with two children
• EDUCATION: European Baccalaureate Certificate, 1976; honors graduate, Institute of Modern Languages, Ghent, Belgium, 1979; degree in modern languages (interpreter/translator) - French, Dutch, English, German; degree in secretarial studies
• OCCUPATION: Former translator, Belgian Navy; former executive secretary to Ambassadors, Belgian Consulate General; former executive secretary to CEO at Europartners Securities Corp.,
former executive administrative assistant, Hottinger & Bros., Inc.,
former Series 7 registered representative

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as the a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
My experience has led me to believe that elected members of the school board are accountable to the community. I believe in greater transparency with our community in regards to all public education issues. This most importantly includes communication with all stakeholders when substantial changes are affecting student education and the teaching profession.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
This new system is being pilot-tested on the fly. Private corporations wrote the Common Core standards, its curriculum and the assessment tests with little teacher and public input. They are not accountable to voters and taxpayers. They are eager to sell to thousands of districts. They hold the copyrights. No state or district can make changes, only additions. The Florida Standards are 99% Common Core. It is education without representation.

High-stakes testing, which ties teacher pay to student test scores, is an integral part of this new system. It is well-documented that high-stakes testing increases dropout rates. It provides an incentive to teach to the test. Teachers are professionals; let them teach, not train. Ultimately, this new educational system needs to be discontinued.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
A recent poll shows 34% support for Common Core among parents with school age children. As a member of the school board, the crucial challenge will be to work to address parental concerns as Florida Standards begin full implementation this school year.

The other challenge will be the search for a new superintendent of schools.

• What is your position on:
• Charter schools?

Charter schools provide a choice for parents and are often able to provide innovative programs, but they are bound to Florida Standards and high-stakes testing. The board needs to put in place an independent quality and financial review process for initial applications as well as ongoing performance.

• Vouchers?

There is a misconception that vouchers affect public school funding. Vouchers offer an opportunity for students in low-performing schools. The criteria for qualifying for a voucher must be equitable.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
Districts around the country are voicing concerns about the quality, cost, and even the constitutionality of Common Core. Sarasota should ask an even more basic question about the nature of education itself.
Common Core’s mission statement is “College and career ready to compete successfully in the global economy.” With that mission statement, it’s easy to see why so many business leaders and politicians support it.

But should the goal of education be “preparation for a global economy”?

In America, the ability to support oneself with meaningful work is important. But it is only a part of being a self-governing person. If we crowd out things that truly belong in education in order to produce good workers, we are not producing good citizens.

Education should be about the highest things, not just to get into the right line of work or the right college. We should study the stars, plant cells, great works of literature, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, because they tell us who we are, why we are here, and our relationship to the world.

We are not programming machines; we are educating hearts and minds. We should raise children to be human beings: to honor what is good and right, and cherish what is beautiful.

It is all about our children. It’s not all about the system.

As a member of the school board, I will always keep this in mind.


Sarasota County School Board District 5

 

 

JANE GOODWIN 
• AGE: 68
• FAMILY: Single with one daughter
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree, University of Georgia
• OCCUPATION: Two years as a high school teacher; 20 years in information technology, including 18 years as a marketing representative with IBM; 10 years as regional manager for a building controls manufacturer; six years as director of marketing and community relations at the Sarasota YMCA; one year as executive director of the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County.

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
I have experience and knowledge of financial issues and am a true advocate for children. I have a track record of involvement in our community with partners both private and public. I have served on numerous boards, mentored students one-on-one and worked with homeless students. I was instrumental in getting the legislature to approve an additional $3 million this year to build a technical school in North Port. This will stimulate the economy in South County and assist those students in need of a career to achieve success.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
We did not vote on this issue, but the Legislature chose this standard. We must implement and do the best job we can to follow the laws of the state. There are always standards and they have changed many times. Standards are the guides for what must be included in a year of instruction. These standards only affect math and language arts. I see merit in more complex thinking and analyzing issues. Our employers and colleges tell us that our students need to be able to think critically and independently.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
We must replace Superintendent Lori White in three years, and that process requires leadership. I have been the chairwoman of the school board for the past two years and have shown that I am a leader on the board. We have to work on assessments, end-of-course exams for more than 700 courses and aligning our teacher compensation with a new evaluation process. These are large issues and require much work on behalf of the teachers and administrators in all districts in the state.

• What is your position:
• Charter schools?

I work very closely with our charter schools and support them. We worked together to pass the referendum in 2014. Our district shares capital dollars and referendum dollars with them as no other district in the state does, and they are very grateful.

• Vouchers?
We have more than 222,000 students in this program, and it is growing at an increasing rate. There is no accountability for these schools. Testing as we know it does not exist for private schools. That needs to be resolved.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
Sarasota County Schools ranked No. 3 last year. I want us to be No. 1! To do that, we must work hard with our at-risk students in the lower quartile to keep them in school and engaged in seeking a career. We must work with the courts, law enforcement, counseling and other community partners to work with families and help educate all of our students. We must align technical schools with course credits in two- and four-year colleges. We have a lot of work to do, and I look forward to that work. It is my life passion.

 

 

RANDY MCLENDON
• AGE: 60
• FAMILY: Married with one daughter and one grandson
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
• OCCUPATION Realtor at the Englewood office of Michael Saunders & Co.; former pastor of Stilesboro Baptist Church/Encourager Church in the Atlanta suburb of Kennsaw for 17 years. 

• What specific skills or experience do you have that qualifies you more than your opponent to serve as a member of the Sarasota County School Board?
As a pastor, my focus was on helping people understand truth, even seemingly complicated truth. I understand that you must have a solid understanding of your principles and beliefs so every political, social or financial breeze that blows your way does not blow you about. As a Realtor, in every transaction we must seek to have a win/win situation for all sides or we do not have a deal. How this all affects my potential school board service is that I believe I have a more correct understanding of what a board should do. Board members are elected by a community to be their representatives in providing oversight and direction, to ensure that the entity the board oversees (their school) is doing what the community expects and funds it to do and doing so in a way the community approves.

• What do you like about the new Florida State Standards? What don’t you like about them?
I can’t say that I like anything about them. I believe there are too many standards. Looking back at the standards that were put in place in 1996, there were 49 English Language Arts standards that applied to grades 3-5. The current set has 230 standards. Assuming many are the same for each grade, which averages out to more than 75 different standards per grade. That seems to bring a lot of unnecessary specificity to saying simply learn how to read and understand what you read, learn how to write legibly, correctly and with precision, and learn how to speak so that you communicate well. Good teachers do this instinctively and in age-appropriate ways. The standards themselves were never brought before the people for their approval. Federal law specifically prohibits the federal government from having any influence over local decision making in standards or curriculum or testing.

• What are the most crucial challenges that will face the school board in the next two years, and how would you propose these challenges be addressed?
The selection of a new superintendent of schools would obviously be a critical challenge facing the school board. The full implementation of Common Core/Florida Standards versus their replacement will be a major issue. As always, financial stewardship will always be a challenge to be addressed, both in lean and abundant times. Transparency in financial issues is key to strong local support.

• What is your position:
• Charter schools?

I support charter schools, though I am not in favor of charter schools where local control is limited.
• Vouchers?
I favor vouchers as one means of parental choice in education.

• What is your vision for the Sarasota County School District?
We are fortunate that we don’t have a school system with deep problems to fix. We have a school system where we can build on what is good and make it better. One effort that would make us better is to work for more local control. There should be no reason for the Sarasota School district to be less than the best school district in the state. Next to the family, it is a teacher who will have the most positive and formative impact on a child’s life. Finding, keeping and supporting those kinds of teachers is the most important job any local school board could have. I am up for the task.

 

 

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