Nassau County School Board Candidates District 4 respond to Fernandina Observer’s Q & A

July 2020

Editor’s Note:  For the 9th straight year, the Fernandina Observer is offering candidates the opportunity to answer questions posed by our senior staff.  The goal is to inform and educate the voters of Nassau County.  We have disabled comments on this post.

Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms and Incumbent Russell L. Johnson

To read initial candidate announcements click on the names below.
Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms
Incumbent Russel L. Johnson

Which specific, School District policies would you want to change and why?

Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms

Increase and improve Bullying Preventions:  Bullying in schools is of increasing focus for Florida schools, districts, and for the Florida Department of Education. Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, requires school districts to adopt an official policy prohibiting bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, and through school computer networks.

Create a bully-free school environment?

Adult intervention is one of the best defenses against bullying. Educators can first learn the warning signs as well as the myths of bullying, especially of social bullying, which research indicates is more difficult for adults to identify than other forms of bullying. Educators can intervene when they see bullying occur and can send a clear message that the school does not tolerate bullying. Some steps that schools can take to ensure a bully-free school environment include the following: (1) identify where and when bullying occurs; (2) train all school personnel to recognize bullying; (3) increase adult supervision at campus “hot spots”; (4) create an anti-bullying task force charged with educating students and staff; and (5) integrate anti-bullying materials into curriculum for discussion and role-play. Educators can use staff meetings, assemblies, parent conferences, and most importantly daily interactions with students to establish a culture of acceptance, tolerance and respect.

Where Does Most Bullying Occur?

As with most harmful behavior among children, in general, bullying occurs wherever there is the least structure and adult supervision. Most incidents tend to occur on the playground, in bathrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, hallways, at bus stops and on the school bus. In confidential surveys, children say the rides to and from school on the bus are often the periods of greatest vulnerability for them. At school, adolescents indicate that locker rooms are a major area of bullying and hazing (Garbarino & deLara, 2002).

Hazing is a specific form of bullying that involves a person or group of people committing harmful acts against an individual or group in order for the person to be initiated into or affiliated with an organization.

Bullying is occurring with increasing frequency in cyberspace. Technology has made it possible for bullies to reach more people than ever through cyberspace. By using cell phones and the Internet, bullies can deliver their hurtful messages, images, and threats easily and effortlessly. The unique nature of the Internet allows bullies to send messages anonymously they would never con-sider doing in person (Ong, Faye, Bullying at School, the Counseling and Student Support Office, California Department of Education, 2003).

A stronger policy needs to be implemented district wide to ensure bullying is addressed on every campus and with fidelity. The Florida Department of Education and list many resources available which school districts can utilize to decrease bullying.  My goal is to provide research, best practices and strategies to support the school district with this very serious problem.

The current 2019-2020 Nassau County Code of Student Conduct – Secondary Grades 6-12 (see below)


3.1 Philosophical Basis: It is the policy of the Nassau County School district that all of its students and school employees have an educational setting that is safe, secure, and free from harassment and bullying of any kind. The district will not tolerate bullying and harassment of any type. Conduct that constitutes bullying and harassment, as defined here is prohibited.

3.2 Student Responsibilities Conform to reasonable standards of socially acceptable behavior; respect person, property and rights of others; obey authority; and responding appropriately to those who hold authority.

3.3 Student Rights

  • To have a safe, secure learning environment free from harassment and bullying.
  • To report bullying by anyone (student or adult) without fear of retaliation.

3.4 Definition Bullying means systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees. It is further defined as unwanted and repeated written, verbal, or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, by a student or adult, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment; cause discomfort or humiliation; or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation; and may involve but is not limited to unwanted teasing or taunting, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious, or racial harassment, public humiliation, or destruction of property.

3.5 District Procedures

  • Interview the complainant, alleged bully, victim, separately and corroborating witnesses;
  • Collect the facts;
  • Evaluate the facts;
  • Recommend remedial steps necessary to stop the behavior, if unwarranted;
  • Appropriate consequences administered;
  • Notification to parents of victim and bully incident.

While bullying is listed in all classifications of violations (I-IV), I would like to work with the superintendent and board members to develop district wide guidelines to enforce “zero tolerance” on all school campuses.


Which specific, School Board policies would you want to change and why?

Incumbent Russell Johnson

Provisions in salary appropriations should be supplied as applicable to teachers who are seasoned.  For example, the Nassau County 2019-2020 Salary Schedule for teachers shows a basic salary with 26 years of service and only four years from retirement eligibility, at $47,500.  These are the educators who are the mentors, trainers, grade level chairs, steering committee, and worker bees in our school system. They have invested years and hours a day for their profession setting up creative lessons, inspiring classrooms, implemented every standard, and worked over and above every single day of every year they have taught.    Yet, per Governor  Ron Desantis,  new teachers, coming right out of college, with zero experience this coming year, could be starting out above teachers who have in invested  at least 16 years in the workplace and who will be the ones responsible for sharing, teaching, mentoring, and creating these teachers to be successful in the school system.  I just don’t agree with that way of thinking and it makes me believe we may lose exemplary teachers if something isn’t done.   So I want to work with our superintendent to broaden that gap to meet the needs of all educators working for Nassau County Schools that is both fair and equitable.

Which capital projects are most important to the county’s educational efforts and how would you fund them?

Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms

Growth is the most important issue for our county.  Developers will need to become a partnership with the County and pay their fair share.  Developers need to have more responsibility in this and not place the whole burden on stakeholders.  Wildlight is an example…




Which capital projects are most important to the county’s educational efforts and how would you fund them?

Incumbent Russell Johnson

New construction at Wildlight Elementary School, located in Yulee, is our top priority at the moment due to the growth we are experiencing in that area.  The expansion of two new buildings is funded by state and local monies appropriated as Capital.    This is an important project because the population expansion we are experiencing in Yulee is greater than anywhere else in our county.    We must have classroom space available for families as they relocate due to jobs, families, and/or the success of our top rated schools.  Also, Capital Projects are simply monies set aside each year, per state regulations, which can only fund new building projects.  It can be used to improve, renovate, or build on to existing properties.   This was the best fit for us at this time due to the fact that Wildlight already has eleven temporary buildings, and the money is available.


How would you adjust the budget to address unfunded mandates issued by the state?

Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms

Nassau County School District has an approximate budget of 200 million dollars per year.  My goal would be to start in early January with planning by each department at the district level and each school regarding the needs of the district for the following year.  Example:  What goal is written in each of the school improvement plans?  What data supports these goals along with the resources that will be utilized?  Review action plans to address improvement priorities of the district.  It is important that funding is used to guide and strengthen the institution’s efforts to improve student performance and system effectiveness.


How would you adjust the budget to address unfunded mandates issued by the state?

Incumbent Russell Johnson

Adjustments are made to our budget at school board meetings as needed to secure funding in all areas.  Critical expenses must be researched to determine, just cause.  This may necessitate cutting expenditures to save jobs, which would be a hard decision to have to make during these uncertain times.  My experience with governmental budgets has taught me that precise interpretation of policy, along with accuracy in following strict guidelines, is the utmost importance when handling any type of funding.  My part is to remain current and knowledgeable where finances are concerned.  I do this by reading and researching to stay in the know of what is going on in our district, schools and communities.  Financial disbursements must be secure in order for business to run as intended and is expected by you, the voter.


Would you support policies to allow county residents to use school board property like tracks and fields for recreational purposes?

Cynthia (Cindy) Grooms

As long as there is are no conflicts with sports activities or any safety issues, I feel the school principals should work with their community members regarding this matter.



Would you support policies to allow residents to use school board property like tracks and fields for recreational purposes?

Incumbent Russell Johnson

Yes and No.  Yes, if in the future COVID-19 is found to be under control and citizens are safe to resume normal activities.  We all know that our schools are owned by the tax-payers of Nassau County, but we live in uncertain times and must do all we can to protect those who enter our gates and also take care of what we have acquired.   In such cases as reoccurring vandalism, the answer is a definite No, because student needs come before outside interference.  Obstruction of school property would not allow schools to continue running smoothly.   Another important point to consider is the safety within our communities.  Due to health concerns brought on by COVID-19, our schools are now under rigid sanitary restrictions that limit opening our properties for recreational purposes.  All school areas are sanitized and disinfected daily, according to CDC guidelines, to ensure the safety of those who enter.  At this time, we must work to decrease the possibility of spreading this coronavirus; therefore, I don’t see an easy solution that would allow for this to happen.