Name: Joseph L. Stokes (Joe)
Occupation: Retired (2016) educator of 45 years in two states: Indiana and Florida, 17 years as a classroom teacher, 21 years as a building administrator, four years as a district administrator; I have been the principal of four schools (in Manatee County, King Middle School), director of elementary education in Manatee County, assistant principal of Samoset Elementary School in Manatee County — experiences in Title I and Non-Title I schools
Family: Wife Linda (married 47 years); two grown children; five grandchildren and 13 foster children who lived in our home
Education: Bachelor's degree from Ball State University, 1971; master's degree from Ball State University (1975); License for Administration from Ball State University (1979); and Indiana Principal Leadership Academy (1992-93)
Elected government experience: None
Why are you running for this position?
I am concerned about the performance and leadership role of the school board in Manatee County. A perception by many in the community is the board is not collaborative and constructive for the benefit of students and employees. Fiscal procedures and reporting must be in place to make sure our latest sales tax and millage increases will be a promise kept to the taxpayers of Manatee County. I support the Citizens’ Committee to help with the process to build trust. In a national search involving our community, we will find a new superintendent. I have been a part of this process in my career. Attracting and maintaining teachers and support staff in our schools is going to be one of the critical issues in our county. Finally, and not last in importance, school safety is on everyone’s mind: schools will be different in the future for security, adaptations to entry points and a focus on the mental health of our youth. All of these issues require a board who can work with each other, connect with the community, raise expectations for results, and assist the superintendent to focus on becoming an “A” district.
What uniquely qualifies you for this position?
No candidate can be vetted more than myself. I have worked in the district 12 years in a variety of roles. As a servant leader, I have a record of leading an A school involved in a complete reconstruction, serving on then superintendent’s “cabinet,” assisting an “F” school to become a “C,” supervising 34 principals and coordinating the (voluntary pre-kindergarten), extended-day after-school program and 21st Century after-school program. In Indiana, as a teacher, I was selected a "County Teacher of the Year." And I have had a small rental business for about 25 years.
What do you see as the three biggest challenge facing the district and how do you propose to address them?
The community’s perception of the school board, including trusting the board and its decisions are a challenge. It takes time to build trust; modeling, consistent communication, transparency and collaborative behaviors will repair the image in time. Becoming an “A” district for the benefit of students, parents, businesses, and employees, will increase our community pride. The next superintendent is connected to this to continue the progress we have started to create a vision for the district. Targeting our academic problems starts with school readiness, quality teaching and teachers who are supported and mentored. Elevate the point of contact for the student which is the teacher who has resources and a structured learning environment. Teacher morale is at a low in our district: testing, bureaucracy, a district vision, change on “change,” the lack of mentoring and staffing needs are reasons teachers are leaving before they retire. Schools of education have decreasing numbers of students who want to teach. Teachers are finding higher paying options for their educational backgrounds. Fixing morale issues includes a community valuing education, fiscal responsibility, leadership from the board with the superintendent and mutualistic relationships targeting problems.
What ideas do you have for improving the district's operations?
Hold people accountable to their roles and responsibilities. We have policies and procedures. We have staff who are charged with supervision and evaluations. Processes to help an employee improve on a deficiency are part of the evaluation system. Improving performance should not be complicated in an organization with high expectations.
How and when do you feel the board should move forward with the superintendent search?
The process has already been started as we have selected an interim superintendent, and no doubt, across Florida, educators are aware of our vacancy. Since three board members could change due to the elections, the “new” board will set the goals and outcomes for the search. A national search provides the best possible candidate list. I am not opposed to a consultant providing expertise as long as the cost is not prohibitive. Community members and employee representatives should be part of a screening committee. The school board attorney must be part of the vetting process of the candidates. The total process could take six to nine months after the elections, since the school year is starting very soon, and some candidates are under contractual agreements with their districts. Hopefully, six to eight viable candidates will be in the finalist category for the board, community and employee groups to interview. Candidates will be assessing Manatee County as we learn about them. A superintendent wants to work with a high functioning board in a supportive community. We have many positives which will attract a great superintendent who will help us implement a plan to be an “A” district for the benefit of our students and community.
Do you think the school board should consider in-house candidates for the superintendent post. Why or why not?
Yes, if the search is a national search and properly vetted candidates have faced the screening process, eligible candidates can come from anywhere. Some candidates have been known to avoid a superintendent’s search if they believe an “in-house” candidate is a favorite. It must be clear to all candidates the process has one purpose: find the best superintendent for Manatee County who will help us to become an “A” district.
What is your opinion of the school district’s plan to ultimately set up an in-house police force, both short and long-term?
I believe working with our professional law enforcement agencies is the best course of action. Who knows more about enforcing the law and issues related to public safety? Who has more training? Officers of the law have a multitude of statutes to give them authority in difficult situations which could even lead to an arrest of an individual. I also believe school based SRO’s and members of the police departments can build bridges with our youth to foster positive relationships and attitudes toward law enforcement.
What other issues do you see as important for the district to address over the next three years and what ideas do you have about them? The tremendous growth in Manatee County will require more coordination between the city council and county commissioners in my opinion because our infrastructure is a high priority to the community. Yes, I am on the school board, but issues facing the commissioners, for example, should not be about “turf.” Our taxpayers want government to work. Are the schools an asset to the community? The business community and the tax payers want an end product from our schools that can go to work, continue training for a vocation, addition high skilled training, or go to college. We will have support if our schools develop and graduate students who can pursue these options. Finally, we have many children who are not ready for the academic structure of school. School readiness means we have programs in our community helping students acquire language skills, social skills, and a connection to their families. Our VPK, Head Start and Early Learning Coalition are vital players in this process.