FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

Nassau County School Superintendent Candidates take part in Fernandina Observer’s Q & A

July 12, 2020

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

Candidates for Nassau County School Superintendent (L-R) Dale P. Braddock, Kathy Knight Burns, and Albert J. Wagner.

To read announcements of candidacy click on the names below.

Dale Braddock

Incumbent Dr. Kathy Knight Burns

Albert J. Wagner

 

Why are you running?

Dale Braddock

There are several reasons why I am running for the office of School Superintendent of Nassau County Schools. As a 35 year veteran teacher/administrator, I feel the frustration of our nearly 1700 employees, both instructional and non-instructional.
• Teacher and employee morale—Let our “Teachers Teach” and our employees work; while treating them with the respect they deserve as professionals.
I live by the Golden Rule.
• Parents are concerned with the decrease of course offerings at our middle schools and “teaching to the test” instead of challenging their young minds!
• We must increase our vocational/technical/industry certification offerings.
• Our school district has a nearly 200 million dollar budget yearly—yet our financial advisor stated that the Nassau School System would be in peril unless property tax was raised to help the wasteful overspending.

Why are you running?

Incumbent Dr. Kathy Burns

As a wife, mom, educator, three-time Teacher Of The Year and the current Nassau County Superintendent of Schools, I have dedicated my career to the education of students. I am just as passionate today about our children’s education as the first day I started teaching. Over the last 4 years it has been my goal to work every day for the success of students and the improvement of our schools. I have worked to create opportunities for collaboration and cooperation throughout our district. We have made great progress. The record of our success under my leadership cannot be disputed. There is still much work to be done. We cannot look back, we must move forward with a strong sense of direction and urgency to ensure success for every student. COVID-19 has changed our lives, both in the community and the classroom. My experience leading through challenging times such as: Safety changes due to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, hurricane seasons, COVID-19, and the coming new standards will assist us in continuing to move forward and be successful. Leadership is about moving boldly into the future, in spite of obstacles and risks.

My goal is to make Nassau County the best in the state by preparing our children for the best and brightest future they can achieve – for the college bound student, students with disabilities, and those who are seeking a specialized technical career. To get there, it will take all of us working together – parents, teachers, school personnel, business and community leaders alike.

Why are you running?

I am running for Superintendent of Schools to bring a new vision to our school district that looks to educate the whole child – intellectually, socially, and emotionally. I am offering a vision to think beyond the A rating and how we can be better in supporting all of our students, provide a balanced life to our professional staff, and serve the needs of our community.

We can do better for our students by developing an integrated mental health program that grows with them as they transform into young adults. We can do better to educate our children by leaving behind one size fits all cookie cutter lessons and replace them with hands-on lessons in math and science and authentic text to their reading instruction. Our students are not one dimensional and neither are our teachers. We can do better by providing our professional teachers autonomy when designing lessons for their specific students. Let’s worry less about the test and more about the individual growth of all our students.

For our middle and high school students we can do better in providing them with more options for electives and honor classes as well as continue to grow our career readiness program so our students can pursue internships with local industries right out of HS. Forty percent of our students do not go on to college. Instead they make the honorable choice to go right into the workforce, let’s make sure when businesses see they attended HS in Nassau County, that they can assume that applicant is humble, respectful, responsible, can read at a 12th grade reading level, and can think outside the box to solve future problems that will arise.

We can do better when it comes to retaining highly qualified teachers by valuing their talents and expertise. We can do better in adjusting our teacher mentor program and our staff evaluation program to help grow our teachers and not “critique” our professional staff that drains their morale. Let’s buildup our staff by treating everyone with respect and as professionals and making sure they can have a balanced life.

We can do better when it comes to managing the finances of the district and directing the money to better serve our students. As a teacher in the district during the 2018-2019 school year, teachers and paraprofessionals were negotiating a raise for the current school year, the district came back saying they had no money. It wasn’t until the union filed for mitigation at the end of the year did the district come back and offer a $500 one time off budget check to the teachers which was neither pensionable nor considered a raise. Why did this occur? Why did the teacher union and paraprofessional union have to fight tooth and nail? Why did the district not have money budgeted for a decent wage increase? As a teacher that school year, it was a demoralizing gesture by school leadership to the hard working professionals. We can do better. We can do better in customer service to our community. I believe education is a career of service. I have been servicing school communities for 15 years. We can do better in being transparent in our communication to stakeholders and accountable to the community we serve.

How would you adjust the budget to address unfunded mandates issued by the state?
•The Nassau county /school budget is nearly 200 million dollars per year! I would address a line by line budget review with all district and school administrators to look at ways to decrease overspending.
• Developers building in Nassau County should pay their “fair” share and not expect the Nassau County School Board and citizens of Nassau County to bear the burden of growth! Ex: NCSB and citizens paid over $4 million for the road to Wildlight Elementary!

 

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

Incumbent Dr. Kathy Burns

Unfunded mandates are nothing new. As every legislative session ends, we see additional tasks added to school districts that require more money that simply isn’t available. Just recently funding was reduced for Safety Officers in schools. This comes on the heels of just over a year ago, when some funding was added to the budget for safety. We know we cannot rollback the safety measures and officers that have been added to our schools. So what are our options? When you put something in you have to take something out! We must scrutinize the budget to determine where or what can be reduced to meet this need. A current topic is COVID-19. As we are working to prepare for the 2020-20201 school year, there are many health and safety items that must be addressed due to the coronavirus. The budget does not include sufficient funds to address the new list of items and actions needed to assist in keeping our students safe, healthy and learning. In Nassau County we have historically invested in people and not programs, this has served us well. Our people make the difference. We do not want to sacrifice this difference. We will continue to scrutinize our budget, strive for effective and efficient operations, while ensuring student success.

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

Al Wagner

The overall job of the Superintendent is to ensure the safety of our school community followed by being the instructional leader of the school district. Another aspect of the Superintendent’s position though is to communicate in partnership with the district administrator to the BOE about the financial health of our district. We do this by developing a long term budget by putting our strategic goals into numbers. Hold bi-annual budget meetings to compare actual results to what we forecasted earlier, and adjust our budget accordingly. I don’t know how much long term planning is happening as we seem to be tapping into our cash reserves even before COVID came about.

There is no easy answer here, but we need to be accountable to our children, our professional staff, and to the overall community. We want our community to continue to flourish and proper budgeting is primary in making sure that happens. We need to be fiscally responsible, so let’s start thinking outside the box and looking at our local businesses who may be able to address the unfunded mandates better and cheaper than we can as a school district.

Dale Braddock

How would you improve teacher recruitment efforts in Nassau County?
• DBStart by treating our teachers and employees with the respect they deserve as professionals! This includes parents as well.
Teacher retention has a lot to do with how you treat and respect your employees.
• Pay our employees a “living” wage-some of our non-instructional employees work just to pay for family insurance. Nassau teacher salaries rank 36/67 counties in Florida; yet we rank in the top 5 in state assessment scores. Teacher/non-instructional should be compensated.

 

How would you improve teacher recruitment efforts in the county?

Incumbent Dr. Kathy Burns

During my time as Superintendent, we have made many changes and improvements in our recruitment efforts. We’ve increased the places where we travel to recruit, we’ve added an annual recruitment fair held in April, on a Saturday at Wildlight Elementary School. This recruitment fair has grown every year, seeing teacher candidates travel from as far away as Washington State and as close by as Duval County. At this recruitment fair, every Nassau County school has a display table, school leaders present, and the opportunity for on-site interviews. This past year we expanded our recruitment fair to include a mid-year recruitment fair for January. Our goal in adding this recruitment fair was to capture those students who were graduating college in December. We were able to recruit several teachers at this mid-year fair. We also have plans to add more than one virtual recruitment fair for the coming year.

How would you improve teacher recruitment efforts in the county?

Al Wagner

Currently I believe we have a very good teacher recruitment program. I don’t believe teacher recruitment is a major problem. I believe teacher retainment is more of the problem. Just this past year alone in the elementary school I was teaching in, one group of 5th grade students had three reading teachers. A fourth grade teacher also left during the year, while another left and chose not to come back after having a baby. At the end of the school year, many more teachers left our district, some who were new this past year, others who were seasoned Nassau teachers. This is a pattern that occurs throughout the district with our teachers and paraprofessionals because our teachers are overwhelmed and their individual talents are not valued. When I came to Nassau County as an educator I had over 14 years of experience as a teacher, instructional coach, and school administrator but I felt like a brand new teacher again because my experience and expertise were not important. I had to learn the Nassau Way.

My first year was indescribable as a professional teacher in Nassau. Everything I learned as an educator, everything that I spoke about in my interview, everything I was so excited about to bring to Nassau County was no longer valued. As an experienced educator I had to submit to pigeon hole lesson plans that focused solely on the FSA assessment. Lesson plans that did not provide time for “family meetings” (mental health) or even reviewing curriculum that students did not grasp as their test results demonstrated. I learned that unless the subject was a tested subject, it wasn’t a real focus that was given a lot of time in the classroom. HISTORY anyone?

As a parent I saw this first hand in how much my daughter in 2nd grade was learning about science or history. I saw it as a teacher in 4th grade about how little attention was given to science and history as well. It wasn’t until I became a 5th grade teacher that I saw how important science was to the 5th grade curriculum. Why? Science is a tested subject in 5th grade. Instead of using STEAM LAB to do hands on experiments with the students (which I did anyway) many planning meetings focused on how to fit in 3rd and 4th grade science reviews during that time.

The starting salary increase signed into law by the Governor is going to help retain teachers, but the teachers I mentioned above did not leave because of the money, they left because of the amount of work (which is vastly more than what typical teachers do in other districts I have served) and the lack of professional respect for their talents and expertise.

I believe we can do better in retaining our teachers by expanding our current teacher mentor program. Our focus should be on the pedagogy of our teachers, not whether they can write FSA style test questions and curriculum each week.

What efforts would you undertake to ensure that students in all county schools continue to excel in test scores and graduation rates?

Dale Braddock

It is a fact that we, Nassau County School District, has excelled in State test scores for the past 18 years, but recently our SAT/ACT for the college bound students have dropped below National average. For the first time, ever, we trail St. Johns, Clay and Baker! We must let our teachers be creative and challenge our students daily. Retain our outstanding teachers whom we already have and stop the Georgia Flight!
TEACHERS TOUCH ETERNITY!

 

 

What efforts would you undertake to ensure that students in all county schools continue to excel in test scores and graduation rates?

Incumbent Dr. Kathy Burns

The single most important thing we can do to ensure student success is to provide the very best teachers for students. In order to recruit and retain the best teachers we must continue to improve teacher salaries, provide mentors and support for new teachers, and increase opportunities for continued professional learning that includes best practices as well as collaboration with colleagues. Students must be engaged in meaningful learning. In the times in which we live, we must provide opportunities for learning in a variety of ways, including: project based learning, hands-on career and technical learning, as well as virtual options. It’s also important for our students to have meaningful relationships with caring adults that can support, encourage, and intervene to ensure success.

 

What efforts would you undertake to ensure that students in all county schools continue to excel in test scores and graduation rates?

Al Wagner

Look folks, our A rated school district has been this way before the current district leadership took office. So I take exception when it is played up like “We are an A rated district. I have done an excellent job. There is nothing to see here.”

Our A rating is based on the sweat equity of our teachers, paraprofessionals, and school administrators who forgo a balanced life to get the job done. We have a high turnover rate in our district, our staff is overworked, and our children suffer because our current district leadership looks at them like a pass or fail FSA score.

During the 2019-2020 school year we had a meeting in which we were told that the students who are solid 1s and 2s and will not pass the FSA are to be moved along in the classroom. We were directed to focus our attention on those borderline students and give them the extra support needed to make sure they pass the FSA. So – let me ask you – what if that was your son or daughter who was a solid one and two and you heard they were just going to be moved along (starting in January by the way) and are no longer going to get extra attention in a small group; although it is not the child’s fault lessons moved so fast they were unable to have the time for extra practice or review of skills. The current system is not set up for students who need extra time to feel success and develop a love of learning and of school. We can do better.

So what will I do – I will make sure our teachers have autonomy in their classroom in designing lessons that provide extra time when students need it. Move through lessons at a slower pace for those that need the extra practice. I will make sure that students have exposure to hands-on learning and are given time to develop their skills. I will see to it that students who excel in a subject get a chance to apply those skills by working on real world scenarios in a problem based learning project instead of sitting in a small group that takes away time from those students who need the extra practice. I will make sure we have an integrated behavioral health program that grows with the children so they can continue to develop socially and emotionally.
I will develop our teacher’s pedagogy skills by bringing a new way to use our teacher evaluation system to make it more into a coaching tool (like it was developed to be used) instead of a critiquing tool.

I will make sure our students in MS and HS have more options for enrichment courses and that there is a path for those who want to go into the workforce out of high school where they can acquire the skills needed to succeed through our career readiness program and internships.
I will hold students, who are constantly disruptive, accountable for their actions so every child can enjoy their experience at school without worrying about being bullied or being accepted by their peers.

Folks, I have a vision for the future of our district and a plan to make our district better. I have the experience and know how to get the job done. I know I will serve at your will and will always be transparent and accountable to our school community. I may not have grown up in Nassau, but I can bet my love of education and my invested aspirations to make my home community the best it can be, is more motivating than saying I grew up in Nassau. I love this county and I hope you will support me by voting for me on August 18th. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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