Myra Middleton-Valentine, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 9, 2016
Myra Middleton-Valentine is a candidate for Flagler County School Board, District 5. She faces three opponents: Paul Anderson, Maria Barbosa, and Sharon Demers. Two candidates are running for the District 3 seat: incumbent Colleen Conklin and Jason Sands.
This is a non-partisan election. That means all registered voters in Flagler County, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for both races, regardless of district. Whoever wins with a simple majority is the winner of the race: there is no runoff. The races will be decided on Aug. 30.
Flagler County School Board members serve four years. They’re paid $31,900 a year.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Successes and failures
- Discretionary tax
- Art v. sports
- Transgender bathrooms
- Censorship and school authority
- IB program
- Code of Conduct
- Jacob Oliva
- Board affinities
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: May 3, 1951, Daytona Beach.
Current job: Currently retired educator working part time as a Teacher Intern Supervisor at Flagler College, St. Augustine.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Net Worth: $400,000. See financial disclosure here and here.
Website: On Facebook.
1. What makes you the best person for this public service job? What is your vision for public education in Flagler County? If you’re not the incumbent, about how many school board meetings and workshops have you attended in the past 12 months? If you are the incumbent, how many have you missed?
I believe I am the best person for the school board position because I have been a life-long educator with strong academic credentials and over 40 years’ experience. I have lived and worked in Flagler County for 17 years and am committed to providing the best educational experiences for all children. I served as Flagler Schools Exceptional Student Education Director from 1999 to 2010 and had to demonstrate these qualities to implement a successful program and services to students with disabilities. I also serve as a volunteer on the governing boards for Easter Seals and Community Partnership for Children. I have chaired the Scholarship Ministry at my church for over 12 years providing financial support and educational resources; and provided tutoring support to students in after school programs. I have attended 14 school board meetings and 3 workshops since September 2015. I also serve on the Rymfire School School Advisory Council.
What is your vision for public education in the county?
My vision is that the school district will prepare all students with the skills and knowledge to be successful in whatever they choose to do after graduation, whether college, training or a job. That means student are functioning at or above minimum standards as measured by a standardized instrument and graduating. I also envision parents actively participating and other governmental entities working in collaboration with schools.
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 us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
Who am I? I am a person with compassion who believes that all people bring something of value to the table. I am a good listener and patient with others. I like organization, structure and hard work. I believe we always need to find a way to make things work in the best interest of the student. I am passionate about the education of our children because I believe it leads to opportunities for success. Some might think that I need to shorten the length of time I take to review all the facts before making a final decision on an important issue. My best quality is getting things done.
Being deliberate before making decisions would be seen as a quality rather than a flaw, and appears here, as in many cases with candidates handling this question, as a way to veil in the form of a flaw. But you’ve served on advisory boards before (most recently, the advisory board that led to the appointment of Superintendent Jacob Oliva). And you’ve worked in education for many years. Surely you can tell us more revealingly, with an example, what flaw you’ll be working on as a board member.
I am not perfect so therefore probably some flaws that I have not identified but until I get into the position I would not think mistakes I have made as a teacher or administrator, or my personality traits would be exemplified in the same manner when I become a board member. I still think taking extra time to evaluate and investigate as a way of overcompensating if my flaw.
3. Besides the obvious—leading by example, remaining ethical, listening to constituents and to your fellow-board members–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?
My responsibility as a school board member is to read, listen and act in making determinations on policies that will impact the students, teachers and staff in the school district. This will include allocation of resources to meet needs, student achievement or lack thereof, communication with the public and tackling relevant social issues that impact the schools.
Power will come through communication with the community and consistency in adherence to policy and procedures. I only have one vote on the board but hopefully I can present data to support my case if there is difference in opinion. Legislative and federal mandates are not within my power to change immediately; however, it will be my duty to keep elected officials informed of our local needs.
4. What are the district’s three brightest successes and it’s the three failures that affect students most? What will be your three chief priorities regarding student achievement, within the limits of the doable—that is, four years from now, what can we look back to and say: you were responsible?
District successes include: Obtaining a grant to allocate all students their own computer; collaborative agreements for dual enrollment at college for high school students; and early learning opportunities at each elementary school. Failures include: Not reducing the suspension and expulsion of minority students; not increasing the graduation rate for minority students; and lack of adequate minority teachers in classrooms. I hope to see data that shows annual improvement in the areas of failure; increased parental involvement in school decision making; increased mental health supports to students and staff; and a transportation agreement with the city/county to help access school meetings and activities for all.
Your first success raises a point of fact: the district did not obtain a grant to ensure that students have individual computers, but successfully passed a referendum to raise the local sales tax to do so (a referendum you were eager to vote in: you cast an early-voting ballot, according to election records). Surely you’re aware of the distinction? Can you explain what you mean by “early learning opportunities,” which we assume are part of the minimum requirement of every elementary school in operation. In your failures you point to a distressing and enduring problem in Flagler schools–the wide gap between minority and non-minority achievement. But what will you as a board member effectually do to narrow that gap, beyond the talk we keep hearing about it?
5. The school board’s discretion to raise revenue locally has diminished drastically in the last few years, but it still has some authority to do so. Would you support a referendum to raise the local property tax by 0.25 mils (or 25 cents on $1,000 in taxable value, what would add $31 a year on a $150,000 homesteaded house), raising $2 million that could be spent on educational programs at the local board’s discretion?
Yes, I support a 0.25 mils tax increase for schools. Most residents, I believe, want to see students achieve success at this small cost because they have come from areas in which taxes for schools were much higher than in Flagler. However, I would like to see the board hold geographical town hall meetings to present a plan to the public and gather their input.
6. Almost two decades ago the late educator and theorist Neil Postman wrote: “Forty-five million Americans have already figured out how to use computers without any help whatsoever from the schools. If the schools do nothing about this in the next ten years, everyone will know how to use computers. But what they will not know, as none of us did about everything from automobiles to movies to television, is what are the psychological, social, and political effects of new technologies. And that is a subject that ought to be central in schools.” Provide us with your analysis of Postman’s statement. Tell us if you think Flagler schools are too infatuated with technology, or not enough.
I don’t believe the district is infatuated with technology. We can only predict the future from past experiences, so we need to teach students how to effectively use technology in wise and thoughtful ways. Whether we like technology or not, it is our connection to global experiences and every aspect of our lives. In my opinion, television has had a more negative effect than any other technology. Parents also have to be educated.
The question goes to the degree to which Flagler schools have invested in technology–all the while seeing the district’s performance stall at a B, for four years in a row, with learning gains not pushing the district higher. If Flagler claims to be a pioneer in providing technology to students, what has been the point, absent demonstrable improvements in performance?
The point has been to make sure that students know how to effectively use technology for more than fun and games that are not related to education that will help them better their future. Students need to know how to use technology for post secondary environments, jobs and functioning in today’s global environment. The measurement of learning gains were changed by the state with new and different standards so I think we are not measuring apples to apples. We also need make sure teachers are provided with ongoing education and support for using technology as a supplemental tool to teaching.
Art education and football both have places in our schools. I would ask that the district look at strategies for integrating Art Education into classrooms through various subjects. Football can be discussed as part of subject matter (i.e., math statistics, physiology) but is more of an out of class activity. Football brings in extra funds to the school district; it serves as a motivation for some students to achieve academic success and gives hope for a better life to some students. Americans love their sports; and sports help children to be well-rounded individuals and members of teams.
How does football bring in extra funds–that is, more funds than it costs?
Extra funds over and above cost may not be generated at the school level but the program could financially benefit a student going to college. As a board member I would not cause a community uproar by removing football.
8. You’re at a school event with your 5-year-old child or grandchild. You take that child to the bathroom. A transgender person who was clearly not born as the gender represented by the bathroom you’re using enters as well. What do you do? How would you change current policy to address the issue?
Transgender individuals and bathroom access is a very heavy issue. It impacts social, religious and now academic arenas. School district policy has to follow federal mandates and the interpretation of the law has to come from the school board attorney, not me. Current school board policy addresses the concerns on an individual basis with assigned single person unisex bathrooms. Anyone who feels unsafe at any time in any of our schools needs to report their feelings to an administrator. Our policies are established to give all children a safe environment to learn.
The legal requirements are clear. The question asks how personally you would react in that situation.
I believe I answered the question. That is my reaction – follow the law and make sure procedures are in place district wide to address the situation on a consistent basis.
You did not answer the question–that is, you did not tell us how you personally would react in the situation described above, with your 5-year-old child or grandchild. We would welcome an answer.
Myra Middleton-Valentine did not answer the question.
9. Twice in the last six years Flagler Palm Coast High School was the scene of high-profile conflicts between free expression and censorship: the censoring of the staging of “To Kill a Mickingbird,” and the censoring of a student’s art work in a student display. After a long controversy the play was staged and whatever fears had been claimed over it proved groundless. The student’s art work was never displayed alongside its peers’ works, even though administrators recognized its accomplished value. In both instances, Jacob Oliva—as principal in the first case, as superintendent in the next—asked that staff’s decisions at the school itself be respected, though the school board is an avenue of appeal. Would you readily defer to staff? Please provide examples of when a school board should override a staff decision in certain controversies?
In censorship situations I would want to review each case individually and need to gather as much information from school staff as possible, and then confer with the superintendent before making a determination on which way to go. Depending on the information gathered the decision could be overturned by the board if it violates the student’s amendment rights and school board policy to show harmful effects to the school environment and other individuals.
The IB (International Baccalaureate) program is the most rigorous academic endeavor available to a high school student. It gives them an advantage over other programs in getting into college and being successful. Its curriculum is recognized worldwide. I definitely believe it should be continued with emphasis placed on recruiting more students into the program.
I would probably strike TARDY from the Code of Student Conduct. I know being on time is important but the punishment aspect is not appealing to me. The policy otherwise is very comprehensive and addresses secondary and elementary issues in different documents. I would like to see the addition of more specific information on the academic requirements that will be fulfilled during the time a student is in detention and/or school suspension, add drug and alcohol counseling and mental health therapy as options for some offenses (i.e., bullying).
I am supportive of Superintendent Oliva’s Flagship Programs. It gives parents and students choice with emphasis on STEM and helps students become excited about learning. I would suggest considering the addition of a program for the performing and creative arts.
If we recall correctly you were opposed to Oliva’s hiring when you served on the advisory committee that recommended that decision. Tell us whether, and how, your evaluation of him has changed over time, and how you see his administrative approach.
I did oppose the hiring of Mr. Olivia because of lack of experience in any other environment other than Flagler and not as a superintendent when we had other candidates who met all the criteria. But I believe he has proven himself to be a good leader, hard worker and visionary leader. The district is slowly moving in the right direction, even with its flaws, so I changed my mind about him.
Each current board member brings a unique perspective to the table and I think that is good. It helps in decision making to look at different views and weigh the merit of each. To me, it’s about coming to consensus for the good of the students and the community we serve.
It’s a given that every board member brings valuable insight. But voters have a right to know how you might perceive the most appealing qualities of a particular board member, particularly as a new board member yourself. It gives us a better understanding of your familiarity with the board, and of your potential sensibilities as a board member. Can you try again?
What I currently know about the other board members is that no one person stands out to me. Sorry.
You are still not answering the question asked.
Myra Middleton-Valentine did not answer the question.
14. 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.
Absolutely no felony, misdemeanor, civil issue, bankruptcy or other charges involving courts or litigation. I have only had two speeding tickets in my life and no arrest or investigation for anything. I am required to do a background check through fingerprinting every other year for my job at Flagler College and for my volunteer services with youth. No issues pending.
15. Question customized for Myra Middleton-Valentine: When you were the director of exceptional student education in the district, the division was at the center of one of the most consequential incidents in the district in recent years: a teacher and two aides were criminally charged with aggravated child abuse after brutally washing out an autistic child’s mouth with soap, because that child had used foul language. How could such a thing happen on your watch, how did you address it, what should we know about your supervisory vigilance?