Colleen Conklin, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | July 30, 2012
Colleen Conklin, a three-term incumbent, is one of four candidates for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 14 primary election. She is being challenged by Deborah Laury for the District 3 seat Conklin first won in 2000.
The two school board elections are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in both races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.
You may cast a vote in both races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 14 will decide the winner in both races. Since there are just two candidates in each race, there will be no run-offs, no general election. This is it.
FlaglerLive submitted 14 identical questions to the school board candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics, and may be awaiting answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Why are you running?
- Explaining the scope of the job
- Three priorities you’d accomplish
- What and where would you cut the budget?
- The IB Program: yes or no?
- Replacing Superintendent Janet Valentine
- Standardized testing
- Sex education
- School prayer
- Who would you emulate on the school board?
- Teacher unions
- Charter schools
- Zero tolerance
- Cops in schools
- Sunshine Law
- Income and school board salary
Place and Date of Birth: Suffern, N.Y., Aug. 6, 1968.
Current job: School Board Member, small business owner, mom, daughter, and student. The small business: Bradshaw Consulting/Coaching 4 Change – Empowering Others to Change the world. Based in Flagler Beach. “We are striving to be a premier international Coaching and Consulting company. We specialize in empowering others to positively impact the world.”
Political affiliation: Centrist Democrat.
Net worth: $73,443. Financial disclosure form available here.
It has been an honor and privilege to serve on the Flagler County School Board. Public education is in the midst of transformational changes and I believe I have the experience and passion to keep students front and center during these challenging and exciting times.
My platform has never changed. While managing growth, navigating legislative changes and dealing with budget cuts are important, we must never lose sight of the academic, social, emotional and physical growth of our children. We need to continue to look at programs, policies and curriculum that address the whole child.
I completely believe in the purpose of public education and the need to provide opportunities for all. I have a keen understanding of what it takes to be in the classroom. I have spent time in the trenches but have also spent the last several years in the business and non-profit world. This combination has provided me with a wide range of perspectives and leadership opportunities. I’m humble enough to admit when I’m wrong and strong enough to stand up against the tide when I feel our students, teachers and families are being attacked. I take my role as a School Board member seriously. I work hard to provide a passionate voice for those who struggle to speak for themselves or those who are often ignored. To be an effective school board, we must work together, collaborate, share and respect each other’s talents and opinions. I believe we have a clear vision for Flagler County Schools and desire to be the best of the best. Being an active part of the Flagler County community, I have had the pleasure of working with numerous entities and organizations all dedicated to providing the best opportunities for our students. I believe in being fiscally transparent and accountable to the citizens of Flagler County and strive to make myself available at all times. More than anything else, I believe I will continue to be a passionate advocate for our students!
2. Describe the scope of your job as school board member as you understand it: what’s your primary responsibility? What’s in your power to influence on a day-to-day basis? What is not in your power to do?
I believe a School Board member is ultimately responsible for setting the vision, structure, having systems of accountability in place and advocating on behalf of students, employees and families. Developing a shared vision for student achievement is the starting point for any school board and its community. We establish policies to facilitate academic standards, set budget priorities, and implement statutory mandates. They create an organizational framework to achieve the district’s vision, bring alignment to resource allocations, and communicate with the community on planning and program implementation. Accountability improves student achievement as measured by comprehensive data collection and analysis. Members must model effective teamwork and critical analysis of multiple types of data to build comprehensive academic programs for students. We provide a critical link between schools, parents, and the community and are empowered to listen to concerns, initiate conversations, and make decisions to improve academic achievement. School Board members cannot hire and fire staff outside of the Superintendent and the Board Attorney. We cannot arbitrarily move money around on a given whim. We cannot tell principals how to “run” their schools. We must be careful not to micromanage the school district. That is the job of the Superintendent and staff. We provide guidance, transparency and a watchful eye to ensure the tasks I mentioned earlier are taken care of.
The Live Interviews:
Flagler School Board
Flagler County Sheriff
3. Name your three specific priorities you intend to achieve as a school board members within the scope of the doable-not pie-in-the-sky stuff, not generalities. That is, three priorities you’ll be able to say, four years down the line, that you’ve achieved.
a) Fight for the return of our science labs in the elementary schools in order to intensify STEM experiences for students in the early grades and increase the number of students participating in higher level course work in grades 7-12
b) Be the first school district in the nation to have 100 percent of our students graduate with either a GED, standard diploma or tech certification
c) Be ranked the number one school district in the state of Florida
All three of these goals sound more like fantastic, if not fantasist, campaign promises that would be, given budgetary constraints and the district’s current momentum, very difficult to achieve. Do you realistically think you can get these goals accomplished–without falling back on the commonly heard alibi elected officials that you’re just one of five votes?
Yes! This is an interesting conversation to have. Our current graduation rate reported from the Department of Education is 83.3 percent but our drop out rate is reported as 1.7 percent. This begs the natural question regarding all the students in the middle. It’s important to understand how this graduation rate is calculated. Florida’s high school graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduated within four years of their initial enrollment in ninth grade. Each student is considered to be part of one of three adjusted cohorts who receives a final classification as either a graduate, dropout, or non-graduate. A non-graduate is the group in the middle. This could be students who have moved away or out of the country, become detained or have passed away. We have a huge mobility rate with people moving in and out of our county so this doesn’t surprise me. If we focus on the drop out rate of 1.7 percent I don’t think my idea is fantastical at all. As a matter a fact, with no disrespect meant, I believe it is that attitude and expectation that keeps us from guaranteeing every singe student graduate with either a regular diploma, GED, industry certification or tech. certificate. We should not allow one single student leave us without one of those things. No excuses.
When I worked with the Florida Endowment Foundation, one of our programs was called Jobs for America’s Graduates. I supervised teachers all over the state who were charged with identifying and working with students who were at most risk of not graduating. One of the nice features of the model is a year of follow up that is mandatory for their teachers. So teachers, were mandated to follow up with their students on a monthly basis to check in and see how their job, college, life experience was going. We judged their graduation rate based upon the completion of that follow up. My team knew I expected a 100 percent of those kids to make it across the finish line. I have personally shown up at some of their places of employment and dragged them back into our adult high schools to at a minimum get their GED. Of course, in the most loving way. I don’t think we have to break the bank to do this. I’ve discussed this idea with our administration for a few years. I am only one of five and my ideas, I admit, can (at times) get into the weeds of management. However, I truly believe this is attainable. If we take each adult on our campuses and assign them 5 kids to build a relationship with, to encourage, support and motivate when times get tough. I was hopeful when we embraced last years motto of GraduateOne – Everyone, that we would move in this direction. In my opinion, it’s gone flat but the original intent was there. I believe we could achieve this goal. If nothing else, at a minimum, we should all believe it’s possible.
4. Budget cuts are now a routine part of board members’ duties. Assuming that salary cuts are off the table, but eliminating positions aren’t, name three specific programs, curriculum areas or activities you’d cut. Please be specific, citing actual programs or areas you’d cut before others.
I would not line item veto any specific program without the involvement of staff, with that said, it doesn’t mean I would 100 percent agree with their recommendations either. I would very carefully need to weigh the long-term benefits versus the short-term fix. I would most likely hold off on textbook adoptions, enforce a hiring freeze, offer another early retirement incentive package, and freeze all travel.
How would a hiring freeze square with class-size requirements?
The truth of the matter is that the state has not been funding class size. In the past we have attempt to comply with the mandate. However, if we need to hold off on adding a new class then we should do that. Currently, we are suppose to add an additional class as soon as we get overage in a class – even by one single student. It’s silly. In addition, a hiring freeze wouldn’t just impact our teaching positions, It would be across the board.
5. The IB program at FPC is the district’s most academically rigorous and accomplished program, serving a small but high-performing class of students beginning with the pre-IB program in 9th grade. What is your opinion of the program, how committed are you to its continuation, and would you support its expansion, or an expansion of a similarly themed feeder program, at Buddy Taylor Middle School, as is being considered currently?
I am advocate for the IB program and believe it provides a wonderful and rigorous academic environment for our students. Even though we are not fully funded to support this program, we courageously continue to provide it. This past legislative session, I worked with Highlands County and the Governors office attempting to get a special appropriation for Flagler County to support IB programs in rural communities. The funding didn’t make its way through the process but it raised the level of awareness regarding the high quality of our program and the recognition that we are one of two such counties that support the program. In order for the program to grow, I would like to see the model moved into the middle schools and eventually into the elementary schools. Students need to be challenged and motivated to participate in such engaging programs, with the increase in graduation requirements we need to push programs like this into the lower levels.
6. Superintendent Janet Valentine will retire during your four-year tenure, making her replacement one of your top responsibilities. Explain how you’d go about replacing her: would you favor an internal candidate ahead of an external one? Would you conduct a national search? Also, explain your assessment of Jacob Oliva, now the deputy superintendent, and whether you see him as the next superintendent.
The Superintendent’s position is a critical one that can either drive student success forward or drag it back. I’ve been on the board long enough now to have survived good and bad superintendent experiences. A Superintendent who divides a district can be devastating to the focus of student achievement. Our experience with developing strong succession plans and putting them into action has benefitted our district greatly. Prior to Janet, we moved Bill Delbrugge from the High School to the Board Room. His energy, talent and enthusiasm served our district well. Janet moved into the position of Superintendent from Assistant Superintendent and has done a great job in some very difficult financial times. I can’t say at this time with certainty whether the board would conduct a national search for the next Superintendent or not. I can tell you I’m more in favor of growing our own and promoting from within. Again, this philosophy has served us well. Your question in regards to Mr. Olivia is a bit cheeky. In fairness, he has only been on the job for a month. He is doing a great job and I absolutely believe that Mr. Olivia has the talent to become an outstanding Superintendent. We have an amazing team and are fortunate to have them both at the helm.
If we are striving to be the best of the best, we must focus on more than FCAT scores. We must provide our students with the tools and skills necessary to be productive members of society and ready to compete in the global market. The misrepresentation of a student’s ability creates multiple ripples of negativity. It hurts our economy, the teaching profession and most importantly our kids!
The FCAT first came into existence in 1998 and was intended to be used as a diagnostic tool, identifying students strengths and weaknesses in relation to the new Sunshine State Standards that were adopted. Since that time, the FCAT was expanded to include exams not only in reading and math but writing and science as well. During this time period they were revised to remove norm-referenced components and amend cut scores (or the equivalent of passing scores). The KEY components to the validity and reliability of the exam were removed. A norm reference assessment is the process of comparing one test-taker to his or her peers. The FCAT is now a criterion-reference assessment. Only particular standards are tested and the “cut scores” can be manipulated as we witnessed when the State Board of Education came out and changed the cut scores overnight.
Our kids are much more than just one questionable test on one day. The state would like for us to believe that the only test they are requiring is the FCAT. This is simply not true. This year alone our students spent time not only taking the FCAT math, reading, writing, and science exams but also a number of other assessments. The testing calendar provided by the Florida Department of Education also requires that our students be given End of Course (EOC’s) Assessments in Algebra, Geometry, Biology, US History, and Civics. The window for testing is dictated by the state and often students are forced to take these EOC’s long before the courses are complete. For example, the window for a district to test students in Geometry is April 23rd to May 11th. However, school was not over until mid-June. How is that even remotely fair to our students and teachers? We are testing them on material that hasn’t even been taught yet.
Additionally, we must provide them with the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screening (FLKRS), Florida Assessments for Instructional Reading (FAIR), Preliminary SAT (PSAT), Florida Alternate Assessment for Students with Significant Disabilities, Comprehensive English language Learning Assessment and Advanced Placement (AP) exams – all of which take time and money. We have testing companies making hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments. The average cost spent on student assessments in 1997 was $5 a student. In the 2010-2011 school year it was $30.87 per student and that doesn’t include the necessary technology, substitutes to cover classes for groups being pulled out, or the development of these new EOC’s and on and on.
I truly believe no one in education has an issue with learning gains or accountability. We would all agree that students should walk out the door in June showing academic growth over the course of the school year. And teachers, who are not effective, in my opinion, need to leave the profession prior to committing what I call educational malpractice. However, testing, testing, testing our students will not make them smarter. Forcing teachers to teach to a criterion referenced test will not provide our students with the skills necessary to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Diagnostic/standardized tests are critical tools to measuring student learning gains, proficiency, and areas of student academic weakness. Student success and high standards will continue to be my expectation for Flagler County Schools. However, I do not support them being used as a political billy club.
8. Sum up your position on sex education: is abstinence-only education scientifically sound? Is it sufficient? Would you support an expansion of sex education, as was considered last year, to include broader information about and access to contraception?
I support an abstinence plus education model, which provides students with instruction on human growth, development and hygiene, but also includes the dangers of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Schools are requited by state and federal statue to make students aware of the dangers and consequences of AIDS and other STD’s. We are required to address causes, transmission and prevention of such diseases. I support a families right to exempt their children from this type of instruction. However, I support and agree with the mandate. Florida Statute 1003.46, requires us to:
A. “Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children while teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.
B. Emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity is a certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, including Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and other associated health problems.
C. Teach that each student has the power to control personal behavior and encourage students to base actions on reasoning, self-esteem, and respect for others.
D. Provide instruction and material that is appropriate for the grade and age of the student.”
While I understand the nature of teen sexuality, I don’t believe they are socially or emotionally ready to be sexually engaged. Knowledge is power and students need to understand the consequences of unprotected sex. Flagler County has a high rate of teen pregnancy and STD’s. Today’s pop culture doesn’t help the situation with MTV’s Teen Mom glorifying the situation. Abstinence may be the only way to stay a 100 percent free of STD’s but we need to arm and empower students with the knowledge to make appropriate decisions. I am not in favor of handing out condoms in our schools.
Your answer is all over the place, and doesn’t answer a specific question: do you consider abstinence-only education scientifically sound, and has the considerable spending on that approach yielded results worth the money? Flagler County schools, in the little sex education they have provided, have done so from the abstinence-only model, but with little to show for it. Are you suggesting more of the same?
No I don’t believe abstinence-only education is scientifically sound. I am not recommending much of the same and we are moving towards an abstinence plus program as described above.
9. The Legislature just passed a law enabling school boards to grant students permission to conduct prayers or their variants, such as “inspirational messages,” at public events. But the burden is on you as a school board member to enact a policy allowing it—or to leave the matter silent, as it is now. Understanding that private and personal prayer has never been forbidden in schools and may not be, do you think public prayer should be permissible? What will you do regarding the new law?
I don’t intent to do anything with the new law that has been adopted. We have never had an issue in Flagler County and I don’t anticipate having one. We have always supported our students and staff’s right to pray through such events as “Prayer around the Flagpole.” I personally believe it is healthy for our students to have a relationship with their Lord or a higher power. I can’t imagine not having my faith or not being able to reach out to the Lord when I’ve needed his prayers, guidance and support. If we think kids are not praying in schools already, we’re wrong. I’d say many of them are silently saying a little prayer before their FCAT test. There have been many times I have stopped and prayed before a school board meeting. However, there is a great and valid concern about how we define an “inspirational message.” What I may find inspirational, you may find highly offensive. It’s about respect. The expectation would be for students and staff to respect each other and I have no reason to believe they would not.
I would say it was Peter Palmer who passed away a couple of years ago or Jim Guines. I miss them both terribly. At this time, I would say Andy Dance. The two of us have children on the Board. I believe he understands the role of a board member. We both work hard to communicate with the community using technology and other tools such as social media. However, each Board member brings a valuable perspective to the board table and contributes a great deal to all discussions.
This is an interesting question. Some may immediately say “Oh, things would be so easy without the unions’ interference.” I don’t see it that way. The question almost implies that one can’t exist with the other without conflict. I don’t agree with that. Again, I believe it comes down to respect and tolerance for each other. Unions serve a purpose. Just as the school board is the steward of your tax dollars, the union is charged with protecting their employees from being taken advantage of. I’m not sure why that is a hard concept to grasp for some folks.
When I was a teacher in New York City, the union made sure that our classes didn’t have 34 plus kids in them or that we had supplies and appropriate curriculum to teach our students, that due process and fairness was handed down from a principal or that I could find time within my schedule for a bathroom break. I don’t see our union in Flagler County as anything but a collegial partner in the education of our students. It is about respect. What is given is often received. It is simply not true that you cannot get “rid” of an ineffective teacher. Administrators can do this through appropriate documentation. It happens all the time. I am a strong believer that teachers have a moral responsibility to leave the classroom when they feel their time has come and the fire is gone. This is not just a job for the sake of a paycheck. It has a direct impact on the future of our country. Those who choose to ignore this moral responsibility; commit, what I call “educational malpractice” and need to do the right thing and find a new profession, if their heart and soul is not on fire to teach. With that being said, policy makers need to wake up and begin to nurture environments that support and encourage teachers instead of constantly beating them down.
Some think I am “in” with the union or that I’m “controlled” by the union because I used to be a teacher and garnered their endorsement this year. However, the truth is that this is the first time in 12 years I’ve been on the Board that I’ve been endorsed by the teachers union. I hope it was because they know I will always be as honest and as forthright with them as I can be and sometimes that means not agreeing with them. My endorsement was not given lightly, and their leadership team grilled me intensely for three hours. I’m honored to finally get it. There is not a group of individuals who I hold in much higher regard than those who chose to touch the future and dedicate their life to teaching.
12. Understanding that charter schools have been the only schools to experience substantial growth in Flagler County, how do you see charter schools fitting in public-school equation, and how successful has that fit been in Flagler, with heritage’s closure and Palm Harbor Academy getting an F this year?
Charter Schools are public schools. They provide parents with a choice. The movement was originally designed to give parents and educators an opportunity to come together and give students whose educational needs were not being met an educational alternative. However the concept has evolved into a corporate cash cow. We have seen our own tax dollars used to purchase, build and pay for buildings that become part of the corporate entity. Those dollars have been used to pay CEO’s millions of dollars. No one should be making a profit on the backs of our students! We have little to no control over their curriculum or finances. We struggled greatly with our first charter school and were disappointed by the management company but most of the teachers, students and parents were an inspiration and only wanted the best for their students.
We have added charter schools to the menu of choices for parents in Flagler County. I would like to see the state legislature allow school boards to put forth their own charter schools for approval. I cannot fathom why we would be held back or left out of the educational reform game.
In relation to Palm Harbor Academy, we must be fair and put things into perspective. Palm Harbor Academy is probably the closest I’ve seen to the original intent of the charter school movement. Teachers, parents and community members came together to develop an educational program for students who were struggling in our traditional public schools. The student body is academically growing. However, many students have entered their program already a grade or two behind. They may have shown a year of academic growth but they are still behind. If a kid moves from level 1 to a level 2, the school can still be labeled with an “F” but the truth is that their students are making academic gains. The other piece we need to look at is the number of students being tested and the cell size that is counted. I could go on and on – not making excuses for them, but we need to look at everything in context to be fair. They are a fairly new school. I wish them well this coming school year and look forward to an improved rating next year.
I don’t believe things in life are either black or white. Circumstances and issues are made up of multiple shades of gray. Those issues need to be taken into consideration when dealing with students, staff and families. I’ve often been on the outside of student expulsion cases for this reason.
Can you be more specific? Have you voted against the expulsion or suspension of students because you were seeing zero-tolerance policies applied? You can give us examples without naming names.
I recall one particularly heartbreaking situation. We had an elementary level student who was being expelled for bringing a butterknife to school. He was a straight A student, who had never been in trouble before. He had been bullied. It had been reported. The bullying continued. He was told that he was going to be beat up on the way home from school and he brought a butterknife to school with him to scare the bully’s. We expelled this child. I thought it was wrong then and think it was wrong now. We expelled him for a year. He didn’t use it in any kind of a threatening manner and was discovered when it slipped out of his backback. In my opinion we failed that child. I voted against his expulsion.
I believe school resource officers (SROs) can provide a positive impact in our schools by building relationships with students and educating them on topics such as drugs, alcohol and the law. My concerns with certain weaponry remain. I believe we lose a level of credibility in the eyes of our students, parents and community members. I recognize and understand that there are some that won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. In the case of Tasers, the risks involved are unknown. The effects of being tased can be devastating, even deadly. A deputy is more likely to pull out a taser and use it than a firearm. A comprehensive, strategic plan needs to be developed to take a holistic approach to this issue if we truly want and desire to get to the heart of the problem and create safe campuses for our students. If that is truly what we want to do, then we as a school board need to take responsibility for creating that environment. It’s a sad day when this question even has to be asked.
The Sunshine Law is both a curse and a blessing. There are certain conversations that are just more appropriate in private. In the same sense, it forces civility and transparency. I believe some individuals take the interpretation of the sunshine law to far. I remember when I first got on the Board. People had me believing that I couldn’t speak to any of my board members at all. Of course, that’s not true. We are colleagues and being a Board member can be very isolating at times. We talk to each other about family and everyday events. We are forbidden to discuss anything that may come before us for a vote. If two or more Board members are invited to any given location for the same purpose it must be posted for the benefit of the public.
Understanding that you have broad latitude to keep student privacy and disciplinary issues absolutely confidential, and that you may even keep legal discussions in pending litigation secret, how is transparency of public officials and the public’s business ever a curse? What sort of conversations already not protected by exemptions to the Sunshine Law would you like to have in secret?
Union negotiations and legal matters are discussed in executive session. A perfect example is when I had particular concerns about a past superintendent. The Board needed to discuss it. I don’t feel that type of a conversation is appropriate for the public. In fairness to individuals involved – there are times when we may have concerns about employees or the direction of the board. Those conversations provide nothing positive to the public and I wish they were protected by the sunshine.
16. You’ll be making roughly $31,000 a year as a school board member. What proportion of your income does that represent, including all salaries, retirement income, annuities etc.? Former school board member Jim Guines argues that school board members should not be paid. Do you agree? Should salaries be reduced?
At this point and time, my School Board salary represents two-thirds of my income. However, owning a small consulting company that number may ebb and flow. I don’t have a retirement income or annuities but look forward to that day. I love my past colleague, Jim Guines, and while the two of us agree on most issues we differ on this one. I believe a School Board member is just as important as any other constitutionally elected officer. Why is a School Board member less valuable than, say, a County Commissioner, who makes over $50,000? [Note: county commissioners currently make $48,061.)
I understand this is an unpopular position to take and I’ve lost support over the years because of it. I also understand that other states do not pay their board members in the same way as Florida. However, Florida’s School Boards are the most diverse across the nation and I think that is a good thing. I will continue to support this concept for the next generation of School Board leaders. I could never have run if it wasn’t a compensated position. The state of Florida mandates that constitutional officers be compensated based on a formula. We have frozen our salaries on multiple occasions. In the spirit of transparency, with the ridiculous increases in health care costs, my take home pay is $494.82 every two weeks. We are often asked to attend dinners and events that can be very costly and add up quickly. My family and I are grateful that school board members are compensated. I believe it encourages and supports diversity on Florida’s School Boards.