Lynnette Callender, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 25, 2014
Lynnette Callender is one of eight candidates for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 26 primary election and one of four candidates in the District 2 race.
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 1)
Andy Dance (Dist. 1)
Toni Baker (Dist. 2)
Lynnette Callender (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
Michael McElroy (Dist. 4)
Trevor Tucker (Dist. 4)
County Commission Candidates:
Dennis McDonald (Dist. 2)
Nate McLaughlin (Dist. 4)
Frank Meeker (Dist. 2)
Mark Richter (Dist. 4)
Palm Coast City Council Candidates:
Woody Douge (Dist. 4)
Bill Lewis (Dist. 4)
Steven Nobile (Dist. 4)
Joel Rosen (Dist. 2)
Anne-Marie Shaffer (Dist. 2)
Heidi Shipleyu (Dist. 2)
Norman Weiskopf (Dist. 4)
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
- Purpose and vision
- Scope if the job
- District’s weaknesses and successes
- Common Core
- Three priorities
- IB Program
- Superintendent Jacob Oliva
- Who would you emulate on the school board?
- Teacher unions
- Charter schools
- Zero tolerance
- Background check
- Questions from other candidates
Place and Date of Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., June 18, 1950.
Current job: Attorney, Florida Bar member in good standing.
Net worth: approximately $243.000. Click here for financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
I want “Successful Schools for Successful Students.” My authentic qualifications over the past 30+ years are:
- Admissions Committee and Policy Committee member, Sarah Lawrence College;
- Teacher, P.S. 121 (The Bronx) and P.S. 125 (Manhattan), and Boys and Girls High School;
- Assistant Professor, Hofstra University School of Business, Undergraduate and MBA Div.;
- Professor of Criminal Justice, Florida Community College at Jacksonville;
- Award Recipient, Education Leadership, University of Florida;
- School Board Trustee, Daytona Beach Community College, 1999-2006 (Jeb Bush appointee).
- Mentor, Indian Trails Middle School and Flagler Palm Coast High School.
As a Board Member, I intend to work to:
- Raise the academic and social achievement of all students;
- Implement solid STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Courses;
- Assure music and arts instruction;
- Ensure meaningful Teacher and Staff support;
- Listen to all citizens’ suggestions and concerns; and,
- End bullying and security threats to healthy schools.
You do not tell us what should compel a voter to unseat your opponent and his four years’ experience on the board–John Fischer–and vote for you instead. Do you consider the six items you listed not to be among the priorities of the current board, and your opponent?
Everyone agrees that Mr. John Fischer can be a very pleasant man at times. I’ve heard him described as a “sweetheart.” He is known for his support for the Uniform Dress Code Policy and various other suggestions. It is curious that these policies did not exist when our current school board members, business owners and civil leaders, who have long ties to this County, attended Flagler County Schools. I happen to like certain uniforms and believe wearing them could be “incentivized.”
Policies built on a system of punishment are by their nature, arbitrary, counterproductive and wasteful.
I bring a new perspective to the School Board. Wherever we see successful schools we see that they are also guided by professionally, racially and gender diverse school board members. This is not a new idea in the history of our school board. For many years we had been led by school board members who looked like all of Flagler County and who have, themselves, sought and achieved professional growth through education. Northeast Florida’s nationally recognized schools have School Board members from diverse backgrounds and have student enrollments similar to ours.
I invite everyone who questions my motivation to review my resume and see first- hand that I consistently strive to give back to all students. I do believe, that good education is a human right. Education has the capacity to save lives, end conflicts, conserve life-sustaining resources, and impart beauty and joy.
I am personally compelled to give back in exchange for the sacrifices many citizens have made to secure the best educational opportunities that have contributed to my achievements. Particularly in my case, since, history’s leaders paid for the gifts I received. Business and civic leaders, such as myself, have an obligation to invest in strengthening the education of all children. In a fairly recent interview, Alma Powell, wife of Retired Four-Star General Colin Powell, stated “ . . . it takes all of us working together to reach the goal of raising education rates.” See: YouTube”Real School” Episode 1708, Published on May 2, 2014.Even in a non-partisan race voters should remember that General Powell, served two Presidents and endorsed our current President, as have all who have served our country.
In the University of Florida’s Educational Leadership training, my group at Florida State College designed a computer technology initiative for the 95,000 enrolled students and staff. I use software programs constantly and propose adding courses that will excite our students about school attendance and classwork. I want our students to learn programming and software development to make our lives more productive.
In addition to living here as a taxpaying homeowner longer than any candidate, I am the only candidate who has lived and worked with a cross-section of all Flagler County residents. I am the only candidate who has volunteered as a Flagler County Mentor, I donated a multitude of books to Flagler County schools and libraries, I served as a Sunday school teacher, I was reading mentor to our students, and I supported the Flagler Education Foundation. During the decades I’ve lived in Flagler County I have expanded my reach to children and families of all ethnicities, religious and philosophical affiliations, ages, and, financial circumstances.
And, since everyone mentions their spouse, I am married to Jim Callender, one of the finest men in Flagler County. He has given his time, his resources and gifts to the children in this County for more than twenty years and has sought nothing in exchange.
I am the only candidate who has had my son and grandchildren attend and graduate from Flagler County schools. I am the only candidate who has been a member of numerous County charitable and civic organizations. I am the only candidate who has actually taught children in public school. I am the only candidate who has a Juris Doctorate, which is equivalent to a Ph.D. I am the only candidate who was appointed to a Florida School Board with Senate approval. I am the only candidate who taught in the State of Florida. And I have earned a Certificate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida.
I have to wonder, how is it that if teaching experience makes a preferred School Board member, then why are no other current school board members held to the same standard?
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.
My enemies would describe me as humble. My friends would agree that my worst fault it that I am too humble, especially when it comes to my achievements and determination. For example, when I applied to the City Council to fill a vacancy, the local press printed my resume. People who knew me, in the Courts, Church, neighbors, friends and relatives alike, told me, “I didn’t know your qualifications are so spectacular!” Actually, I was somewhat embarrassed by the attention. Yet, I am proud to be determined to work for our children because they deserve the best.
As St. Matthew reminds us, “whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” which places that virtue in the qualities column rather than defects. We would very much like you to tell us what actual faults you perceive yourself or are perceived to have.
It is difficult to admit that I have not always been the best judge of character. I am an idealist who tends to accept people very easily and give some people more credit than they deserve. Obviously, this means that I’ve made a fair share of mistakes trusting basically unreliable people.
But, I am most comfortable avoiding being judgmental. My view is: as long as people are respectful, safe, informed, healthy, and refrain from injuring others, they are can make their own choices. After all, with certain exceptions, American citizens have a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. Bill of Rights, Right of Privacy IV Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, I believe that democratic principles unify — not divide us. Conversely, I am aggressive in defense of others. I cannot abide bullies, be they children or adults.
In this non-partisan campaign, there is tremendous concern about my party registration (Republican), which was the same as that of former Board Members Theda Wilson, and Dr. James T. Guines and earlier Court Candidate, Attorney Mark Dwyer.
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?
This is where my experience as a member of the Board of Trustees on the Daytona Beach Community College Board will benefit our constituents and the Flagler County School Board.
Given the considerable length of this campaign, it surprises me that some candidates appear to be more interested in the State Legislature than the School Board. Fellow citizens need to know that, regardless of the promises and grandstanding, the School Board is authorized by the Florida Constitution to perform only specific functions. Anyone wishing to do otherwise should consider a different position. Simply put, Boards, of any kind, are strictly forbidden by law from involvement in day-to-day activities. The School Board performs its duties through the Superintendent and with the Chair usually set the agenda.
I am not authorized override he decisions made by the Governor or State Legislature. The only distinction is that there may be circumstances where I may be asked by the Superintendent together with the entire board to meet with and petition the appropriate State Legislators, on behalf of the School District. The School Board, itself, is a Constitutional body of the State of Florida, and the School District budget is based on the millage rate, which again, is regulated under the Florida Constitution.
There are 27 itemized powers and duties of a district school board, such as, requiring the administration of minutes, control property, adopt school program, school operations, personnel, ethical conduct, employment matters, student welfare, course of study such as guidance, diagnostics, and services for severe emotional disturbances, transportation, finance, school lunch program, school improvement and accountability.
Be on notice, Board Members are required to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the State. Taking the oath raises a presumption of truth. Frequently, officeholders discover that they seriously misunderstood the seriousness of the office and their true role.
Weaknesses become most strident when students are mislead into being stressed about state “achievement” testing. These exams are designed to test whether the instruction is reaching the child and should be used for no other purpose. Our teachers are well trained and only need the opportunity to work collaboratively throughout the entire district to standardize best practices.
The brightest successes are the graduates who reach their full potential as productive citizens in a diverse and changing world. Can they be self-sufficient and achieve personal satisfaction, in doing so, anywhere they may choose to live?
You defined the notion of success but did not specifically relate it to what is working in the district. Can you give us a couple of specific examples of programmatic or other successes you know of?
The International Baccalaureate program is a definite example of school district success. In my opinion it produces some of the best teaching and learning opportunities in our schools by emphasizing academic rigor and international skills development. I was also enthusiastic about Dual Enrollment with local colleges such as Daytona State College. The program had successfully propelled Flagler County students, whom I knew personally, to accelerate their professional ambitions. Dual enrollment, while not currently available, provided a great option for students who were more comfortable and productive in a college environment.
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.
There is a quantity of local activism against Common Core. Accordingly, the Governor and Legislature adopted Mathematics Florida Standards and Language Florida Standards. Many retired educators have stated that they, too, oppose Common Core because they object to corporate influence on education standards. Others object to the influence the Administration had in endorsing it. Most students and teachers have not been asked their opinion. The time has come to raise similar objections to the corporate influence on the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCATS, GRE, or their costly review courses. I believe that in a representative democracy, majority interests that do not conflict with human rights should be upheld.
The answer leaves it unclear where you stand regarding Common Core, and the last sentence leaves us perplexed: where do you think “majority interest” stands regarding common core?
As regard Common Core, I stand with County taxpayers. Until we are able to verify their positions there is an active group that despises Common Core. As is expected, the Governor and Legislature have the final say.
There is recognition that the 2014 Mathematics and Language Arts Florida Standards was designed to “soften” Common Core. However, due to our local dissatisfaction with Common Core, I anticipate another set of revisions this Fall Semester, unless the voters determine otherwise.
However, it is also recognized that military families, affected by frequent moves, noticed that the students had to deal with the stress of adjusting to new class and course assignments. I’ve seen our nephews, who serve in the U.S. Army and Marines (with 3 sons), literally move the family across the country from one coast to another on short notice. And they seem to welcome Common Core.
Given the existence of “Migratory Children” in our region, on which Title 1 grant eligibility is calculated, it seems likely that their mobility risks inflicting similar stresses on their learning opportunities. They may see Common Core as a solution to their concerns for improved education. Personally, I am underwhelmed by the Common Core curriculum. And as a School Board member I will meticulously scrutinize the Governor and FLDOE’s next step.
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.
School taxes are based on the millage rate, which is also strictly regulated under the Florida Constitution. I strongly advise people who say, “I’m not interested in the School Board because I have no children in these schools,” to look carefully at their Tax Assessment Record.
But what is your judgment of where school taxes are today: too high? Too low?
I believe that Flagler County School taxes will eventually increase but only over the course of a long time. Simply put, it will take a while to see an increased tax base shared by new homebuyers, and that increase should yield greater school district revenues. In my opinion, today’s school taxes are affordably linked, to our school district rate formula. With that in mind, though, the District School Board should be reminded that there is a responsibility to verify outcomes in student success, for all students.
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.
School Board members should identify pressing educational concerns as well as create solutions that do not require exorbitant financial expenditures. By being proactive the school district ensures that all students are safe, receive an education that will prepare them for their future and recruit parents in the mission to achieve academic success.
- I intend to build and document strong alliances with extended day and after-school organizations that have successfully focused on our K-12 children and form grant-writing committees to initiate a serious exploration of measures needed to extend school days and offer after-school enrichment and improve safety and security for the children.
- I intend to encourage teachers to select student centered teaching styles and that courses that address the needs of divergent thinkers with various learning abilities. This would include studies in agriculture, vocational skills, the arts, local geology, archaeology, writing, computer programming, as well as fitness. I will champion and expand the work presently performed that prepare our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, and active rather than passive learners. I want to establish learning communities based a central STEM courses and the arts. As in the IB Program, we can sponsor development of rigorous a multi-cultural curriculum infused across all disciplines.
- I want to build strong collaborative networks to upgrade teacher training and review educational ethics, legal standards, and student development to prepare our teachers in the current issues in teaching and learning.
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?
Essentially, the International Baccalaureate Program is equivalent to a college prep curriculum. The Program encourages students to think broadly, emphasizing intercultural understanding and enrichment. The IB program is greatly admired by students, parents, teachers and the School Board. There is every reason to incorporate its main areas of study, language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer science, the arts and a theory of knowledge course, learning outside the classroom, and an essay to virtually every class.Traditionally, higher education emphasized similar curriculum designs. I can see no justification to limit the number of participants. Education is challenging so, with teachers and parents, students deserve the opportunity to decide whether to choose the IB Program or other unique accelerated programs. I am aware of are many cross-skill student programs, too numerous to itemize here.
As this time I have friends and family members who have worked with Dr. Oliva. They are pleased with his approach. We have a diverse array of talented and accomplished people in this county who are passionate about children and their educational success. The time has come to rely on their interest and he has done this rather astutely.
You may remember that Jimmy Carter was roundly criticized for citing his daughter Amy’s opinions when asked about nuclear policy. We would be equally skeptical to hear you citing friends, rather than your own judgment, regarding the one employee you are responsible for (the attorney aside) in the district. Assuming you have followed his administration since he effectively took over the top job last Thanksgiving, what is your assessment of his capabilities and limitations? And please tell us to what extent you have been at school board meetings and followed Oliva and the board in action since you decided to run.
I have observed Oliva at many School board meetings, and with the exception of Mr. Fischer, considerably more than the other District 2 candidates. He has done an effective job taking over as the Flagler County Superintendent. The County is eager to work with him. And having a commanding lead, which he has built, the opportunity to build more support for a rise in student achievement for all students. His capabilities clearly extend from his knowledge of the Flagler School System built on his coming up the ranks and his service as Assistant Superintendent and then Acting Superintendent. He knows our District Schools, is respected by the Board Members, whom he knows equally as well. Oliva is familiar with the County’s financial resources and he has the requisite professional training to guarantee successful schools for successful students in Flagler County. He has also made some strong appointments
Superintendent Oliva appears ready to meet the challenges facing the school system however, it remains to be seen whether he is has the support necessary to make the bold decision to hire teachers who reflect the student population. He has said: “The more diverse our staff is the more diverse our programs are the more opportunity for our kids to make connections. It’s going to pay off with more kids graduating from high schools, which is our goal.”
On behalf of all Flagler County students, I am certainly ready and willing to work with him to reach that goal.
Not having worked closely with any one School Board member, it is hard to say how I would feel working with one board member or another or who is most closely aligned with my idea.
Every candidate has in one way or another attempted to evade this question. So we’ll tell you what we told other candidates: The question fairly goes to your philosophy in relation to your colleagues and to the dynamics of the board, which voters have every right and expectation to understand as much as possible in order to make an enlightened choice going into the voting booth. It also goes to your recent record of analyzing and understanding the board you say you are qualified to serve on. Please try again.
I would have to admit that I would be most like a combination of Colleen Conklin, Trevor Tucker and myself, Lynnette Callender. And I mean that to say, that although I may not be as reserved as Trevor, (whom I have known personally for several years), we share a few philosophical similarities regarding substantial concerns facing our School System. As for Ms. Conklin, I have said publically, that in my opinion, teacher ranking only fosters poor morale and strangling competition. It serves only to pit one teacher against another but does nothing to benefit student achievement. As Lynnette Callender, I continue to advocate that the district try something revolutionary – let’s create a forum: an incubator that allows teachers to research, collaborate and share best practices.
As a former National Labor Relations Board Field Attorney, my choice would be to work with and respect professionals who have already decided that issue, as it appears they have. In my professional opinion there is no difference between the two in Florida, which is a right-to-work state, so I see no point in my making an issue out of something that is already specifically regulated. To have successful schools all parties have to work collaboratively.
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.
It has been widely rumored that the formerly derided Palm Harbor Academy’s new A-rating has now seen its students, being “recruited” to attend the public elementary schools. Raiding, under the guise of recruitment is damaging to the school district because it comes from a philosophy of competition. It would be preferable for the school board to use this opportunity to encourage collaboration among the district’s teachers as other successful schools throughout the nation and the world have done. Palm Harbor Academy teachers should be commended for their success and encouraged to mentor interested teachers. The lessons learned could be repeated and built upon in all our schools to benefit all our students. Finally, the school system has a diamond that should be cherished, not ravaged. The point of education is to give children an opportunity to thrive.
The question was not about Palm Harbor, but about how you would analyze prospective charter school applications in light of recent, difficult history on that score. Can you give it another try?
Charter Schools are still in their infancy, as compared to public school systems. When exploring new systems, I typically research them by comparing successful systems and following those models, apply their formulas. Then I would devise a set of rules and apply them to applications submitted here in our County.
‘Zero’ anything is substandard, and the absence of any meaningful standard. The term “Zero tolerance,” originated as criminal justice vernacular and is far from representing anything recognizable. Discipline, which from its Latin root, means “instruction”.
Educators, both in the schools and on the school board are expected to act in loco parentis. These schools are open for young developing student-citizens. Educators are responsible, trained, professionals who have the ability to lead by example. Any failure to do so is a breach of professional responsibility. Punishment is the opposite of education. The school district should encourage student discipline, and do its best to motivate more parents and guardians to join in as co-educators, regardless of education level.
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?
In March 2013, an External Review, was prepared for the Flagler County School Board by Advance Education, Inc. (a.k.a., “AdvancED Evaluation Report”). Dr. George W. Griffin, prepared the report and its conclusions and made several recommendations. In “Opportunities for Improvement,” the report stated, a need exists in this district, to create valid evaluation assessments that support the needs of the students and which enable all to “ . . . reach their full potential as productive citizens in a diverse and changing world.” The Report stressed that its team found no evidence that valid assessments programs existed in our schools. We have to review administrators, teachers and staff evaluation procedures to ensure that the procedures are relevant to performance, unambiguous and equitable to include remedies for those receiving poor evaluations.
I am concerned with the overall lack of awareness that 40 percent of all our students are struggling with classwork, below grade level. The numbers speak for themselves: the difference between 60 percent student competence deducted from 100 percent total student population leaves 40 percent struggling students — in most educational settings 60 percentusually results in an F. At a very minimum this must impact student and teacher morale. Teachers want support. Students want to succeed. The Report outlined concrete educational principles recognized in all successful schools: high performing school districts coordinate collaboration among its teachers to enable them to assist each other.
Consequently, this AdvancED Evaluation Report noted a huge divide between the poor evaluation given to the Board by parents, students, and staff, and the Board’s misperception the public’s satisfaction with the School District’s purpose and direction. As respects our citizens, it was suggested that, the Board really must listen and communicate more with its constituents. Everyone can benefit from the suggestions contained in this Report.
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.
I have no felony or misdemeanor charges, and have had two small claims cases closed with voluntary dismissal without prejudice and stipulated settlement.
Please explain in greater details the small claims cases, and explain your disciplinary matter with the Florida Bar.
Small claims matters are civil suits that concern parties whose claim is less than $5,000. Initially, the parties are encouraged to meet with a Mediator and attempt to reach a settlement. This the procedure followed in my case. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the case will be set for a Trial. The County Judge will hear the case and render a written Final Judgment. In my proceedings, the parties mutually agree upon the settlements and the matters are concluded with no further judicial input.
More than a decade ago I received a public reprimand by the Florida Bar. This reprimand was reported by the News-Journal on or about May 2005 at the conclusion of the disciplinary hearing by the, the findings resulted in a recommendation but imposed no limitation on law practice. Immediately thereafter, I served as Attorney for the Family Life Center, under the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence; I was appointed as a Florida Lemon Law Arbitrator, the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Affairs Division; I became a certified Arbitrator and Family Law Mediator; I became a Judicial Administrative Commission Court Appointed Counsel Registry.
According to the Florida Bar, since the date of my admission to the Bar, I have been a Member in Good Standing.