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Trevor Tucker, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview

| August 25, 2014

Trevor Tucker is the incumbent for the District 4 seat of the Flagler County School Board. (© FlaglerLive)

Trevor Tucker is the incumbent for the District 4 seat of the Flagler County School Board. (© FlaglerLive)

Trevor Tucker is one of eight candidates for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 26 primary election. In January 2010 he was appointed to the school board to fill the seat left vacant by the late Peter Palmer. Tucker went on to win election that November to hold the seat.

The three school board elections–for District 1, 2 and 4–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in all three 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. 26 will decide the winner in District 1 and District 4, because each of those races have just two candidates (incumbent Andy Dance and Maria Barbosa in District 1, incumbent Trevor Tucker and Michael McElroy in District 4).  So this is it for those two races, but not necessarily for the race for District 2, which features four candidates–incumbent John Fischer, Toni Baker, Lynnette Callender and Janet McDonald. The race in this case would be decided only if a candidate wins better than 50 percent of the vote. Short of that, the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off, to be decided in the general election on Nov. 4. 

FlaglerLive submitted 15 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. Questions appear in bold, follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in bold and italics, and may be awaiting answers. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.

School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $31,640 a year.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

CANDIDATE: The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: Daytona Beach, January 12, 1976.
Current job: Part owner of Sun Country Pest Control, founder and co-owner of CourtCaseResults.com, School Board Member.
Net worth: $614,536.84. See financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites: None provided.

1.     Why are you running for school board, or running for re-election, and what makes you the best person for this public service job? What is your vision for public education in Flagler County?

I am running for School Board for my children Hailey and Garrett. I want my children to have the best education possible. I am a good candidate for the position. I have performed in the position for four years. I am financially conservative and believe in giving opportunities for students if financially available. I have a stake in education besides my own children. I have a business in Flagler County and quality education attracts more people to Flagler County, which in turn generates more potential customers.

What is your vision for public education in Flagler County?

My vision for public eduction is for rigorous academics, which enable students to attend higher education after leaving our school district, and a job training or certificate program that enables students to easily find employment after leaving our district.  I believe we are ahead on the academic side with IB, dual enrollment, and AP courses.  I believe we are moving in the right direction by giving students in high school the opportunity for certificate programs for job training.  We need more programs that enable a student to find a job immediately out of high school.

2.     Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, what your temperament is like: what would your enemies say is your best quality, and what would your friends say is your worst fault? Give is real-life examples to illustrate your answer.

I am usually a calm, mild mannered individual but will take a stand on items I do not think are right. I do not get easily frustrated or overwhelmed. I try not to speak unless I have something worth saying, which has been a fault. I have been criticized for not arguing my points enough.

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3.     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?

School board members’ responsibilities are to set policies and oversee the financial obligations of the district. A school board member should not interfere with the day to day activities of the schools. If a member learns of policies that are being broken or not followed, then he or she should inform the superintendent to find out. If the superintendent does not satisfy that member, it should then become a topic for the whole board to discuss. On a day to day basis a school board member could visit schools and check to see if policy is being followed, or learn from the public concerns about the district. The member may speak on a day to day basis with anyone who would like to know what the district is doing.

4. What are the education gaps or weaknesses in the districts—in other words, where and who the district is failing most? What are the brightest successes?

The educational gaps in the district currently are students who are not going to college, but want to learn a trade. The district in the past has not made certificate programs easily available to students without transportation. Moving toward Flagship programs and offering FTI classes at the high schools (i.e., vocational education through the Flagler Technical Institute) will hopefully begin filling this gap. The successes in Flagler at this time are the diversity of programs available to students. Examples are service learning, I3 academy, dual enrollment (enabling students to attend high school and Daytona State College concurrently), and the IB program. These programs give students different educational opportunities, because each child does not learn the same.

5.      Common Core has caused a good deal of controversy, much of it invented out of thin air, most if not all of it irrelevant to Flagler County. Define common core as you understand it. Explain your position regarding common core. And understanding that the Florida Standards have rendered it a non-issue for Flagler, tell us whether you are campaigning for or against common core, and if so, why. 

I am not campaigning for or against common core. I feel that state standards should be left to the state to decide. I have other issues (such as budgeting) that I would rather spend my time on, than something I do not have the power to change.

6. School taxes: Do you consider them high, low or just right? How much do you, as a school board member, control the setting of school taxes, and if you’ve been campaigning against high taxes, explain your position, and how relevant it is given your very limited powers as a school board member in that regard. 

6. Last fiscal year I considered the taxes to low. The district had to use 1.4 million out of reserves. This current year I consider the taxes just right as the state has raised the per student funding, which should allow us to cover our budget this year and not use reserves. I am not campaigning against taxes as the state sets the millage rate based on per student funding. I am campaigning on spending tax dollars prudently, which is reflected in my voting record over the last four years.

7.      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.

7. First I want the district to be ranked in the top ten in the state. Second I want the reserve to built up to 6%. Third is full implementation of the Flagship programs in our schools.

8.      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 will fully embrace IB programming in the middle schools. The district will have to be creative to find funding, but any academically challenging program that can give our students an advantage in life should be used.

9.      Evaluate Superintendent Jacob Oliva, based on what you know, specifying how supportive—or not—you are of his administrative approach. 

I am very supportive of Jacob Oliva’s administrative approach. I commend an individual who will work for the students first, then the employee’s, before himself. He did not take a stipend while he filled in as superintendent during Janet Valentines absence.

10.      Who on the board currently is the board member most closely aligned with your idea of a school board member and why?

My ideal school board member has a stake in education in Flagler County. The individual should have children in school or a tie to the educational system. The individual should have a strong understanding of the Florida Education Finance Program and a business background. The choice would be myself first, and then Andy Dance as he also fits those qualifications.

11.  If you had a choice of running the school district with a teacher union or without one, what would that choice be, and why?

I have mixed feelings about the Union. The Union has good qualities and things I do not like. I love that the district has only one contract to negotiate with the Union. The district does not have the time or the financial resources to negotiate with each individual staff member. Unfortunately that takes every individual and lumps them together and they either all receive a raise or no one receives a raise. I believe this may reward individuals who are not performing and punish individuals who deserve more for their efforts. I like that the Union has set procedures with the district if a staff member feels the contract was not followed. These procedures, or more commonly known as grievances, make it impossible for any administrator to ignore the situation. A Union that works for the benefit of children first, is the best Union for a school district.

What do you think of the merit-pay system the state instituted and the local school board is executing? Is it mitigating the one-raise-fits-all approach you mention? Do you consider it fair?

The merit pay system the state requires does not mitigate the one raise fits all approach.  My problem with the system is that if a teacher’s raise or merit pay is based on student tests, and the scoring on those tests are one to five, one being the worst and five being the best, based on the previous two years data of a student, then a teacher who has a class of students who all scored fives the previous two years, can not make merit pay.  The teacher may be an excellent teacher but, if the students max it every year then that teacher can only maintain their current pay.  On the other end of the scale, a teacher who has students who earned ones for the previous two years, can only go up or receive the same pay even if the teacher is terrible.  Also with merit pay, the pay must be at least one dollar more than the largest step increase (or annual pay increase due teachers based on experience) in the current pay scale, and then becomes the teacher’s new base salary.  If you have a high performing district and teachers are great, then pay will become higher faster which will lead to larger salaries which may financially hurt the district.  If this occurs then the state will either change the test to make it harder for a teacher to make merit pay, or change the standards.  Also the previous test (FCAT) had large fluctuations in scores from one year to the next.  An example of this is the test between 2011 and 2012 in fourth grade writing scores. In 2011 81 percent of fourth graders passed the FCAT writing, compared to 27 percent in 2012.  Either the test got harder from 2011 to 2012 or across the state, students were not prepared for writing.  I find it hard to believe the whole state took a dramatic drop, but instead, the test or grading criteria got harder.  I do not agree that when the state changes these tests or criteria for grading, a teacher should be penalized. Even after all of these problems with the merit pay system, it was hopefully a start for something better which will actually be based on true merit.  I will not say I have the solution either, even though I have thought for a long time on this topic.

12. Charter schools have had a very checkered history in Flagler, with pronounced failures—Heritage, Outreach Academy—several rejected applications, and sharply contrasting growth and success for Imagine School at Town Center, and this year’s remarkable turn-around, from F to A, for Palm Harbor Academy. How do you see charter schools fitting in public-school equation, and what are the most important criteria by which you’d approve (or reject) a charter school application? Also, what’s your position on vouchers in public education. 

I believe charter schools should fill a role in education that the public school system cannot. I also believe the charter school should have test scores equivalent to or higher than traditional public schools. I believe in school vouchers only when the public school cannot provide adequate care for or education of the student. If a student has a disability and can find better education for the student with a disability then they should be allowed to have a voucher. If all of the public schools in the district or the district grade is a D or F then a student should be allowed to use a voucher to find a better educational opportunity.

What is the make-or-break criteria for you, for a charter school applicant in the district, given the troubled history of applicants and actual schools?

The first make or break criteria is financial stability of the group wanting to start a charter school.  If a group had financial stability, I would then look to see if they run any other charter schools and would check to make sure those schools were up to our standards.   I would want their grades to be higher than surrounding schools.  The third would be if they offer something unique that our traditional public schools could not offer.

13.  Explain zero tolerance discipline as you understand it. Explain whether it is effective, whether the approach should be reformed, and how. 

Zero tolerance policies are for serious offenses that could harm students or staff members. A clear defined zero tolerance policy helps deter individuals from harming other students. These policies I agree with. Preventative measures and programs will insure students do not commit serious offenses is the best procedure to deter acts from happening. I hope our schools do not have to implement these policies, but safety of our students should come first.

But given your experience in the last five years on the board, when you’ve sat through many expulsion hearings, and have heard the concerns summed up in the lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center (about discipline disproportionately being meted out against minorities) do you see any room for reforming the policy?

The zero tolerance policy always could be amended or changed if something better is introduced.  I do not have a better solution than what our current policy states.  Unfortunately all matters are not exact and then someone has to make a judgement of each situation, or an interpretation of the policy.  I do not think the policy is the problem but, the interpretation of the policy. 

14.   Do you find the Flagler County School Board accountable to the public on student achievement and school performance over time? If not, how should it become so? And how should the district address underperforming schools?

I do believe the school board has been accountable to the public for its education over time. The district has moved from 29th in state ranking to 11th two years ago and 12th last year since I have been on the board. Underperforming schools should get the assistance needed to move the school in the right direction. If the school has educational gaps then they need to be resolved through teacher training and additional support.

15. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.

No.

16. Opponents’ questions. 

Michael McElroy did not ask Tucker any questions.

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4 Responses for “Trevor Tucker, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Joe says:

    Very good interview!

  2. Steve Wolfe says:

    Nice man with local roots. I wish he had taken strong stands re: common core and zero tolerance. The culture of education needs to be held up and that requires control of student conduct.

  3. Bethechange says:

    While l believe having a board member bring more fiscal expertise to the table makes for potentially more balanced decision making on issues, making our district Top Ten in the state IS irrevocably bound to the standards. Florida Standards are akin to Common Core; pure political semantics to appease the far-right. Fluency in the implications of the implementation of said standards is focal to most decisions brought before the board and if forefront in the minds of the members, would create increased seamlessness, efficiency and consistency for students, their families and FCSB employees.

  4. Devrie says:

    I did some minor research on low-income rural middle school students and found that middle schoolers’ grades tend to drop across the board after leaving elementary school. That seems to be the case in Flagler County too.

    As someone with little ones cropping up in the outer-regions of the county, I can’t help but wonder how geography plays into the policy setting and scheduling setting of the school board members. There are two main public middle schools in the county. They don’t have activity busses, and with budgeting challenges, many of the regular school busses are having to make dual trips from middle-school to high school.

    So, anyway…(forgive my copy-paste of excerpts from a school paper I wrote…).

    Adolescents require different sleep patterns for which school scheduling times could interfere (Wiggins and Freeman, 2014). A study published in 2014 on start times for elementary school described a positive correlation between early start times and poorer academic performance for those students, and the study also found that early start times could negatively affect the retention rates of students (Keller, Smith, Gilbert, Bi, Haak, and Buckhalt, 2014). The study by Keller, Smith, Gilbert, Bi, Haak and Buckhalt focused primarily on elementary school students, but if younger students are affected negatively by early start times, and adolescents need more sleep and later wake times, than the study implies a need to further investigate the potential effect of the earlier rise of the rural middle school student who must wake up earlier than his or her peers for a long bus commute to school.

    There’s that, and…

    Preliminary research reveals that parental involvement in school and student engagement in activities enhances student academic performance. With that knowledge, the question evolves as to how to define the importance of community connectedness to the school. Jane Preston (2013) conducted a qualitative case study on the effect of community involvement on schools in bedroom communities. The study found a positive correlation between community cohesion and school involvement in the community and student achievement, but a negative correlation between distance to the city and community to school cohesion (2013). Preston’s study, while focused on bedroom communities, is relevant to this study in that she has found community involvement with the school to have a positive impact on student achievement. In the study, Preston describes a valuable insight about rural schools. Preston writes,

    “For several reasons, rural schools are ideally positioned to foster high levels of community involvement in school. Because of size and limited student enrolment, rural schools and their communities tend to be socially connected and socially cohesive (Haas & Nachtigal, 1998; Mitchell, 2000; Parker, 2001), both of which encourage community involvement in school. Community involvement is also facilitated through a hospitable school environment. Rural parents are more likely to have contact with their child’s school and to view school administration as approachable (Newton, 1993)” (Preston, 2013).

    Preston’s study on community involvement in school highlights the challenge of this particular study, because much of the current information on rural student challenges focuses on small rural communities in which the school is located. This study focuses on rural students who must commute outside of their towns to attend school. The infrastructure of low-income rural communities may vary to the extent that community services such as Internet connections, after-school youth services, transportation for extra-curricular activities, and school involvement in the community may or may not be available. Lemley, Schumach, and Vesey conducted research published in 2014 that asked, “What learning environments best address 21st century students’ perceived needs at the secondary level of instruction?”

    The study concluded that, more than anything, students need to stay connected to their educational environment through some form of connection outside of school (2014). The implication of that study is that rural students must have some form of engagement with their schools to foster student performance, and that engagement could come from class websites, school materials at a community center or library, or through accessible transportation from the school to stay late for extra-curricular activities.

    Keller, P. S., Smith, O. A., Gilbert, L. R., Bi, S., Haak, E. A., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2014). Earlier
    school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public
    elementary schools in the commonwealth of kentucky. Journal of Educational
    Psychology, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037195

    Preston, J. P. (2013). Community involvement in school: Social relationships in a bedroom
    community. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(3), 413-437. Retrieved from
    http://search.proquest.com/docview/1540744709?accountid=8289

    Lemley, J. B., Schumacher, G., & Vesey, W. (2014). What learning environments best address
    21st-century students’ perceived needs at the secondary level of instruction? National
    Association of Secondary School Principals.NASSP Bulletin,98(2), 101-125. Retrieved July
    26, 2014 from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1532145811?accountid=8289

    Wiggins, S. A., & Freeman, J. L. (2014). Understanding sleep during adolescence. Pediatric
    Nursing, 40(2), 91-8. Retrieved from
    http://search.proquest.com/docview/1520305175?accountid=8289

    ———

    1. Has anyone attempted to determine any correlation between geographical advantages or disadvantages of students in the county and their test scores and grades?

    2. With regard to parental involvement, how does the school board assess the needs to connect parents and students with the school outside of class time?

    3. This is a me thing, but my kid went from 6th grade, standing at the bus stop at 8:30 am, to standing at the bus stop at 6:25 am to start middle school. That’s a pretty big leap for a young adolescent transitioning to middle school. School lets out at 1:25 pm, but my student gets home 10 minutes to 3:00 pm. So, again…geographys: could that be a big detriment to student achievement?

    4. I can afford to drive my kid to middle school if necessary, but for the record, we get 18 mg on the ol’ minivan, and the school is 20 miles from the house. If someone out here had a kid that lost an ID tag and didn’t cough up the $5 for one in five days, that child could see Saturday school, meaning the trip costs double that. It’s not just money, though, it’s time. I look around at some of these folks, you know, with no cars, and I wonder if certain services and disciplinary requirements could adversely affect them. I got a call about a tutoring service because my kid was slipping in advanced math. Luckily, we fixed it at home. The challenge in Flagler County isn’t just that some folks live so far away. Palm Coast itself is a bedroom community. Many parents commute in all directions, and when schools are so far distant, services such as tutoring after school are nearly impossible to gain access to.

    So, there’s a geography issue that could affect scheduling, school policies, and suggestions about how to move forward.

    But…maybe geography isn’t a problem. Maybe we just need people who know how to assess the needs of students, parents, and teachers so that the results can guide them. Evaluate the situation before we talk about raising or lowering taxes, before we start new programs, before we exhale money and time into something that has a big deficiency in the seams. Do an assessment, right? School gaps? All we have is theories on how to correct them: teacher training, charter schools, tougher standards.

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