Colleen Conklin, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 4, 2016
Colleen Conklin is a candidate for Flagler County School Board, District 3. She faces one opponent, Jason Sands. Two seats are up. Four candidates are running for the District 5 seat that Sue Dickinson, who’d been in office since 2000–like Conklin–has chosen not to run for again.
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
- Longevity v. change
Place and Date of Birth: Suffern, N.Y., Aug. 6, 1968
Current job: Flagler County School Board Member, Director of the Gaetz Aerospace Institute, a Dual Enrollment Program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Assistant Professor.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Net Worth: $251,496. See financial disclosure.
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 am uniquely qualified to continue to serve as a School Board member in Flagler County. I have over 25 years of experience in education and nonprofit management. I started teaching 25 years ago in the South Bronx and Washington Heights, N.Y., where I fell in love with my students and became passionate about education and ensuring that all students are given equal access to an excellent education. I’ve transitioned from K-12 to teaching aspiring new teachers in the college classrooms of Daytona State College and freshman aviators at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. I know what it’s like in the trenches.
In addition, I’ve spent over a decade leading non-profit entities that impact the future of children. I have led two statewide education programs with budgets totaling over $5 million dollars and reaching close to 10,000 students. Currently, I am the Director of a Dual Enrollment Program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and oversee 80 high school programs, over 100 teachers and faculty, and manage a $3.1 million dollar budget that supports providing cutting edge programming to over 4,000 students statewide, introducing them to today’s advancing technologies such as unmanned systems,commercial space operations, aerospace engineering, aviation and flight. I’ve seen the disconnect between secondary and postsecondary education and believe this knowledge will help Flagler County bridge the gap.
I fully understand the value of career technical programs and the need to connect students to industry. Last but not least, I believe I’m the best person for the Flagler County School Board because in addition to my past experiences I’m a mom. My oldest son recently graduated and my other son is still making his way to the graduation line. I’ve seen and witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly from the inside out.
I very rarely miss meetings. There have been times where I have been attending a conference or meetings in Tallahassee but typically will attend those meetings by phone. However, there have been two occasions in the last year where that was not possible due to a poor internet connection.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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.
I believe our life experiences and how we respond to them mould who we become. I believe I am tenacious and an individual who works hard to see situations from multiple perspectives, weigh the data and balance it with empathy to make decisions in the best interest of children. I am passionate about what a school board member does. My enemies might say my best quality is having the ability to see and understand that life is made up of various shades of grey; nothing is black and white and that they have witnessed my concerted efforts to view the world through multiple perspectives. My push for continuous improvement is rooted in finding the best solution to an issue. My friends would say my greatest fault may be that my passion can be blinding and my unrelenting optimism annoying.
An example of this may have been my push to engage our Board and community in the importance of adequate funding in education and the need for the legislature to uphold Article IX of the state’s constitution. This ultimately cost me my position within an organization that I was passionate about. Another, may be when we went out to build public support to reinstitute our.5 millage that had been cut by the state and now, in order to have it return to our budget, we needed the community to support a referendum. The loss of this revenue came on the heels of the downturned economy and budget cuts that took us to the bone. It was also right after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I strongly advocated that some of the funds be used to secure our facilities and increase mental health services. I never anticipated the backlash or how some would think we were trying to use this tragedy to just obtain additional funding. I learned a lot through the pain of losing the referendum.
There was a direct link between the Sandy Hook massacre and the school board campaign’s stated aim to place additional cops in schools. How could that not have been seen as using the tragedy to an end that, as it turns out, proved unnecessary, given the fluid use of school resource deputies at all schools that the sheriff’s office applied instead? The criticism about that campaign for the extra tax was that the message was imprecise and the purpose left vague. Would you favor a new campaign with a different approach?
There seems to be this given expectation that education can continue to absorb budget cuts. I understand where it comes from because historically that’s what we do. The fact is there is no other option. We have to make it work. However, there comes a point when it becomes unacceptable. The referendum was coming on the heels of having cut $12 million over a five-year period, from our general operating fund. In 2007-08 our general operating budget was $92.4 million, in 2011-12 it was $80.4 million. I felt like enough was enough. I don’t apologize for that. In addition, we lost a significant amount of funding from our capital budget because the .5 millage was cut from our discretionary funding when the legislature eliminated it from the purview of locally elected school boards to levy the .5 millage by a supermajority, as it had historically done. The requirement to maintain that funding was a referendum vote. The issue was challenging to explain. I believe part of the issue was attempting to show the cuts to our overall budget, our general operating budget and our capital budget. I believe in the spirit of being totally transparent it created tremendous confusion. In hindsight we should have only reflected on the total budget.
In reality, adding resource officers to each school was only a portion of the plan. Unfortunately, it became a major focus. Yes, the conversation came on the heels of the Sandy Hook tragedy. School districts across the country were forced to look at security from a whole new perspective. The unimaginable had become possible. As a mom, a teacher and school board member, my only focus was keeping our students safe and ensuring the mental health of students was being addressed in a preventive way. I never in a million years thought my concern for our students would be perverted in the way it was. The idea that this could possibly happen anywhere was horrifying to me. Unfortunately, it proved to be exceptionally difficult to refocus the conversation on the whole picture. And yes, I take responsibility for drawing attention to this component of the plan in the beginning of the campaign.
The referendum if successful would have allowed us to create facility changes to the entry ways of our buildings, additional security measures at all of the schools to include cameras, and updating communication systems. We wanted to add additional guidance counselors and an additional psychologist at each of the middle and high schools and increase mental health support programs as well as expand anti-bullying, cyberbullying and suicide awareness programs. The additional dollars would have also restored some previous cuts as well such as the 45 minutes of instructional time cut from our middle and high schools.
The goal was to provide a heightened level of security while maintaining the academic focus. It wasn’t meant to be overwhelming or intrusive but just available if and when needed. Since losing the referendum we have worked hard to ensure the safety of our students, educate our school staff and share resources between schools. We redesigned our crisis plan and have put in place a training system to educate staff and administrators. Would we like to restore the 45 minutes of time to our middle and high schools and enhance the other programs mentioned? Of course. Do we believe our schools are safe? Yes. Would it be better to have resources dedicated to each school instead of sharing? Yes. Would we like to offer more in terms of mental health? Always.
Would I favor a new campaign with a different approach? Possibly.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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?
I believe a School Board member is ultimately responsible for setting the vision, structure, and systems in place to ensure the success of all students. School Board members are responsible for 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 are currently updating our strategic plan with input from a variety of stakeholders in our community.
We establish policies to facilitate academic standards, set budget priorities, and implement statutory mandates. Schools Boards in conjunction with the Superintendent 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. Over the last three years we have redesigned our organizational structure to reflect a 21st century learning organization. School Board Members must model effective teamwork and critical analysis of multiple types of data to build comprehensive academic programs for students.
They 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. But have a responsibility to ensure schools follow appropriate policies and recognize that they are not an island unto themselves but are part of our whole system. 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.
Being the board’s legislative liaison all these years, and a frequent critic of the Legislature’s funding mechanisms and its various mandates, you’re in a position to give us a clearer answer about your limitations: you have been a vocal critic of the state’s testing regimen, for example. This past session was not to your liking, judging from the way you reacted at a board meeting when either you or the superintendent were done listing new mandates. Give us two examples of such mandates you consider onerous, and tell us why.
We advocated for the following:
Give districts at least a full school-year implementation period for any new state laws or rules to accommodate necessary planning and budgeting and/or to make any needed amendments to local school board policies. I have said multiple times we need to take control and get off this crazy train in regards to the accountability plan. The accountability plan in my opinion has lost credibility. It is in a constant state of change. They continue to manipulate the so-called “cut scores,” meaning the score that determines a student to be proficient in the given subject matter (what would be called a passing grade in simpler terms.) They continue to change the standards which have been shrouded in controversy. They have changed the assessment tool which has also found itself in the middle of tremendous controversy as to whether or not it is actually valid. They denied the demands of Superintendents and School Board members across the state to put a moratorium on school grades this year. This year school grades were based upon comparing student data from the old assessment system to the new assessment systems. The data sets are completely different. It is simply not appropriate. There were a number of legislators who had attempted to support this issue but it was defeated.
2. Fully fund all State mandates with State general revenue funding: Adequately fund school-based costs associated with student health, student mental health and student safety from the healthcare and public safety budgets instead of through the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program). Provide meaningful increases to Safe Schools funding. Fully fund transportation as designated in F.S. 1011.68. Fund School Choice transportation. Fully fund Governor’s Teacher Allocation as a line item in budget. Fund the higher education costs (dual enrollment/instructional materials) within the higher education funding formula instead of the FEFP.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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?
I’m proud of the changes Flagler County has made during the last several years. The three brightest successes are:
- Being the first and only county in the state and one of the few in the nation, to provide every student with access to technology and one-to-one devices. This plan took over 14 years to implement and could never have been done without the local support of Flagler County taxpayers. We saw a future need. We understood the research and the future workforce requirements and with the support of local taxpayers we were able to invest in the technology and the infrastructure needed for a 21st century learning organization.
- As a school board we’ve worked hard to not only protect the arts in education but to expand it. During the downturn of the economy when many districts around the country were eliminating art and music programs from elementary schools we held the line and kept programming whole. At the same time, we continued to support the Flagler Youth Orchestra and encouraged the expansion. We have continually grown our band programs at both high schools and developed strong feeder programs at both middle schools. We have a state of the art performing center that caters to National touring groups while providing students with hands on experience with real professional theater groups.
- There seems to be a continuous battle to grow our science programs. In 2012, one of my campaign goals was to ensure that every elementary school had access to high quality, hands on, inquiry rich science programs. We now have science programs in our elementary and middle schools offering programs that range from hydroponics, aviation, robotics, unmanned systems, agriculture, underwater remotely operated vehicles, marine and environmental science. We have begun to see the fruits of this investment as science assessments have begun to grow.
The following are three challenges that may have impacted our students the most:
- 2012 .5 Millage Vote: In 2012 we did not garner enough community support to restore a half millage to our taxbase. There are numerous things I would have personally done different. Regardless, this was definitely a failure. Passage would have helped us restore 45 minutes of instructional time, added additional security to our schools, expanded mental health programs and restore previously cut programming. The downturn in the economy took a devastating toll on our schools. From 2010 on, we’ve faced continual cuts. We’ve worked exceptionally hard to minimize the impact on students and teachers. However, I do believe we would have been able to improve programs and opportunities for our students if it had passed. We do have the lowest millage in 22 years but I often wonder at what cost.
- Secondary science and math programs: Just like we have focused on improving our STEM opportunities for students in the elementary schools we must insist that secondary students have access to updated science labs that engage students in hands on learning labs. Science labs and experiments should be an everyday experience for students taking science. In regards to math, we need to reexamine programs to ensure they meet the needs of our students but also build an appropriate bridge for those going on to college. We need to ensure we are providing our teachers with appropriate professional development and support for the classroom.
- Inclusion roll out: This is the third year that Flagler County will be implementing the mandated inclusion model across the district. At the time this proposal was made I had cautioned the Superintendent and Board calling attention to what the research suggested in order to successfully implement this model. Districts would need to invest appropriately in teacher support in the classroom; adequate and effective training of teachers and parents needed to have a choice as to whether or not to participate in the program. I am proud of the intent of this initiative but believe the roll out presented a number of challenges. It is my hope to see a dramatic improvement in the program this year as leadership worked hard to identify needs last year and has made a commitment to supporting the initiative appropriately.
My three chief priorities regarding student achievements:
1. Increase graduation rates by a minimum of 15 percent – pushing towards being the first school district in the nation where 100 percent of our students graduate with either a traditional high school diploma, GED and or industry certification.
2. Increased math and science rates by 15 percent – reimagine and reinvent our science and math programs at the secondary level to support hands on lab experiences for students.
3. Increased and expanded education options to include project based learning, alternative scheduling and the increased use of industry certifications and internships for secondary students.
We keep hearing that Flagler is one of the few districts in the nation to provide that one-to-one technology initiative, one of the achievements it celebrates most, but–blame it in part on lazy reporting–we’ve never actually seen evidence of that Flagler was such a pioneer in that initiative: Maine, for example, launched its own in 2001, and Education Week reports that in 2013 and 2014 alone, about the time when Flagler’s initiative was gaining momentum, schools across the nation bought 23 million laptops and other such devices to push their own such initiatives. Rather than take it on faith that Flagler was a pioneer (thus playing into an advantageous campaign narrative), can you give us evidence that it was so, rather than being part of an obvious national trend fueled at least in part by the marketing wizards of the computer industry (and in Flagler’s case, Apple’s lavish, mostly company-paid trips for local school officials Cupertino (eight officials in 2011, including Andy Dance, 13 employees in 2010, 15 in 2009, and so on?). In your list of shortfalls and goals, we’re surprised not to see you address the still-gaping achievement canyon, not much changed over the years, that has about a quarter of the student population below proficiency in basic subjects. Surely the district isn’t giving up.
We are currently working on pulling primary sources as evidence for our 1 to 1 initiative and will provide them to you shortly. As for the achievement gap, of course the district isn’t giving up. A computer is strictly a tool in the classroom. It will never take the place of the teacher and must be utilized to expand learning, not take the place of learning. It needs to be used for more than searching for information on the web. I believe we are still learning how to harness the possibilities of fully utilizing these tools.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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?
I’m unsure. It requires a much larger, complex conversation. However, benefiting from lessons learned, I would recommend we do much more pre-work to identify whether or not there was support in the community before moving forward.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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 believe Postman’s statement is right on the mark. We are in the midst of transitional technology. Meaning much of today’s technologies are expanding and evolving quicker than many of us can keep up with, never mind the policies and programs necessary to guide them. Nationally, we are learning more and more about user time and the impact that technology may have on the neurological development of a child. Studies have cautioned the continual use of technology as it relates to health problems, both physical and mental health. Like anything new, there must be a balance in place. We must be mindful of the great benefits technology can bring to the table but balance it with the available research on the impacts of overuse.
If we are going to invest in being a technology rich district we must equally invest in educating our students to be good digital citizens. Students must know how to responsibly use technology and not abuse it. They must know how to remain safe on the internet and how to use information appropriately when found on the internet.
Your answer raises great points, but also two issues. First, Postman, with whom you agree, clearly said that schools’ role in teaching students how to use computers is not as crucial as it’s being made out to be. It’s now like learning to drive. Considering the millions of dollars invested in our schools for computer technology, what equally impressive–not average, not acceptable, but impressive–learning gains can you show us in the Flagler School District, a B-district four years running–the four years after the one-to-one initiative was implemented? Second, your two original and useful online town halls on the matter aside, what are you doing as a board member to achieve your stated goal of responsible computer use?
Please see my response to your followup question #3 and 4. The simple fact is that students in today’s world need to be technologically proficient. These are not magic tablets when used will immediately improve a student’s level of achievement. Technology and specifically, computers are a tool used in the learning process. I will continue to utilize technology as a tool to increase communication. By the way, I’m hosting a Tweetup on August 10th at 8:30 using the hashtag #conklin4kids, where the community can ask me about the school district, my campaign or anything else. The past on-line town halls I’ve hosted have always garnered a greater audience than past face to face town hall meetings. However, both are important. I will continue to do both as situations arise and or we feel information needs to be shared with students and parents.
Your answers to questions 3 and 4 don’t explain the disconnect between the heavy investment in technology and four years running of being a B school.
Investing in technology does not automatically translate to student achievement. In today’s environment students must be technologically proficient. This is a minimum requirement today. However, there is mounting research that points to the need to continue to focus on the importance of curriculum, professional development and leadership. I have shared previous frustrations with my colleagues on the Board and the Superintendent that we are still not fully utilizing the technology we have given students and teachers. I see it as a parent when I’m requested to buy multiple binders when there is a perfectly fine notebook application installed on their computer system. Part of the challenge is changing the mindset. We want to control and contain the technology with overreaching security and firewalls. I completely understand this issue. However, the unintended consequence is that we leave students with something that actually may limit their ability to fully utilize it. We must recognize that students have to develop a sense of digital citizenship. This means they must know how to use the technology they have, apply and utilize it to solve problems, create and decipher meaning out of the information gathered from a variety of sources and be responsible in their social use of technology. Students must understand and begin to take responsibility and control for their social interaction on social media. They simply would never say the majority of what they are saying and doing if they had to do it face to face. We must encourage and teach them to become good and responsible digital citizens.
We have yet to truly harness the power of the technology we’ve provided. Once we do that and I mean, we all do that – teachers, students and leaders, I believe we will begin to see the academic achievement in our students. I’m not dodging the question but in reality it’s difficult for me to lend so much weight to the accountability system when it has lost much of its credibility. If we hadn’t changed systems (standards, assessments, calculation of learning gains) this may not be the focus of your question.
Please know, this doesn’t mean I’m not concerned. My immediate conversation with the Superintendent the day our achievement scores were released was a shared frustration. We wanted to fully understand what the scores meant. Superintendent Oliva and his leadership team began to analyze the data. We knew something didn’t make sense. When we dug into the data, we found pockets of great success and upon digging deeper we noticed those teachers were focused on teaching the new standards. I know we have some of Florida’s best teachers and our students are capable of much more than what is being reflected in their scores. We are putting practices in place this year to assist teachers and administrators in fully understanding the new accountability system. If our request for a one year moratorium was accepted, we would have had an opportunity to realistically evaluate learning gains since the assessment tools would have been the same. Forgive me for being redundant but remember this year’s scores were based on a new test,new standards, the moving of what the state defined as proficient by increasing the cut scores, and new learning gains. They were measured against an old test, old standards, old cut scores and a totally different formula for learning gains. It seems highly unfair to compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges.
I am intentionally treading lightly on this issue. I really want our teachers focused on engaging students in the classroom in meaningful ways and not become obsessed or pressured to teach to the test. I believe many of them are feeling this pressure already and attempting to cover way too much material and students are stressed trying to absorb a ridiculous amount of information. I’d rather them focus on taking a deeper dive into the curriculum standards than being worried about trying to cover a mile-wide spectrum of content. I have no doubt it will all equal out in the end. In regards to technology, I’m certain that the investment will pay off once we realize how to harness the power of technology; empower students to maximize their potential and teach them to become responsible digital citizens.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
Both have their merits and bring opportunities to students that may be necessary to round out their development, enhance their education and keep them engaged in school. I refuse the premise of the question. I would insist on both. We may not be able to fund both but I would support keeping both and working with parent and business groups to raise the necessary funds to ensure students had access to participate in both opportunities.
If we granted your wish to repudiate the premise of the question, you could dodge every one of them that way. Since parents and business groups would be equally burdened by a deep recession, and choices must be made–and former Superintendent Janet Valentine almost made such a choice, as Volusia’s superintendent in fact did, during the recession–what would you do?
I would recommend we do exactly what we did. Work with our community and parents to kept both. It can be done. It’s a matter of priorities.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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?
If I were to go into a bathroom with my 5 year old and a transgender person walked into the bathroom, the reality is I would most likely never know it. I would use the restroom with my child and be on my way. I would not change the current policy as it addresses treating all students with dignity and respect.
The question made it explicit that you would actually know, as is not entirely unusual in such situations. Knowing that you do know, does your answer stay the same? Can you explain that policy?
Yes, my answers stays the same. Our current anti-discrimination policy 217 is fairly comprehensive to protect all students and staff against any form of discrimination. When this specific issue has been brought to the attention of school administration we have worked through them on a case by case basis.
The anti-discrimination policy states that ” No person shall, on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, marital status,sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, political or religious beliefs, national or ethic origin, or genetic information, be exclude from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity, or in any employment conditions or practices conducted by this School District, except as provided by law.” You just changed the policy to include pregnancy. Should transgender persons not be specified for protection?
We actually have two different areas of our policy regarding discrimination. Policy 606 is entitled Unlawful Discrimination Prohibited – it is under our Human Resources Section. There is no reference to pregnancy under this policy. The second area where discrimination is mentioned is the one I shared under Policy 217, Prohibiting Discrimination, Including Sexual and other Forms of Harassment where there is a statement regarding policy against discrimination. The update in October of 2015 was pursuant to the Florida Statute change to 760.01 Chapter 760 (Discrimination in the treatment of persons; minority representation). Specifically, in 2015 the Florida legislature amended its existing workplace anti-discrimination laws to include pregnant women as a protected class of workers. When this change was made we amended our policy to reflect this statutory change whereby pregnant workers were recognized as a protected class. We believe our current policy is fairly comprehensive.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
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 Mockingbird,” 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?
No. I believe no one individual, be that a Principal or Superintendent, should be in the position of making a decision that could be misconstrued as censorship. We all view life through our own lens. There should be a policy and procedure in place to protect against one single person having the ability to censor student expression. In both situations mentioned, it was unfortunate that our district was presented, across the country, as being small minded, incapable of thought provoking conversations and in support of censorship. On a local level, much work was done to correct that perception. However, the damage was done.
We should make clear that in the second case, your son’s art work was at the heart of the controversy (and that there is some value in a school board member not receiving preferential treatment). That said, what have you done, given those two issues, to advance the sort of policy you are suggesting here? We don;t recall any discussion of an actual policy proposal at the board. Why not?
I intentionally decided to wait until after the election to visit this situation. I did not want to drag him or this issue into the campaign. I have been working on a policy and plan to hopefully turn this into a valuable learning experience. While this situation was disappointing for my son, challenging for me as I tried to play the dual role of mom and school board member, and uncomfortable for school administration and the Superintendent, it has proven to be a learning experience. My son is on his way to Flagler College to study fine arts and just received a request to have his piece licensed for use in a book. Everything happens for a reason. Again, it’s my hope to revisit this issue once the campaign is over.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
My support of this program remains the same. I am advocate for the International Baccalaureate 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 do so. 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.
With what money?
I see no reason why would not be able to utilize current dollars.
You’ve been telling us how stretched and limited current dollars are. The IB program costs several hundred thousand dollars at FPC (we’d provide a more precise figure, but the current budget book is virtually unreadable). How can dollars be stretched to the lower grades?
If we were to study expanding programs like this down to the lower grades and discovered it was simply unaffordable that does not stop us from utilizing current dollars to design programs that may be similar. For example, we may want to take a hard look at our k-8 gifted programs. Currently, we offer students who qualify for “gifted” a cluster program at Bunnell Elementary School and Indian Trails Middle School. There may be support for us to redesign the program in order for each school to have it’s own program. We currently have a number of parents who have decided to not have their children participate because they don’t want their child to leave their home zoned school; don’t want their child to spend so much time in transit to the the cluster site or don’t want to split up siblings. All of which are legitimate concerns and reasons for keeping their child from participating. However, if we were to redesign the program to a blended model of gifted and high-achieving students at each school site, we could expand participation while maximizing resources and not duplicating efforts. If we did this and student participation increased, the district may be able to capture the appropriate funding for these students to offset any additional costs.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
I would change Zero Tolerance and advocate for an expansion of our bullying policy to have clear consequences for cyberbullying and online stalking and harassment.
Jump to Jason Sands’s answer.
The Flagship program is part of the Flagler Education Foundation’s Classroom to Careers program. I support our Flaglership programs and have been a long time advocate of connecting students to rigorous and relevant, project based curriculum that exposes students to various career fields. We often discuss the challenges around closing the achievement gap but it is becoming abundantly clear this gap may be more about a gap in opportunities than anything else. The Flaglership program has provided our students with a multitude of opportunities. I am excited to know that we have a goal in place to expand the number of internships and industry certifications available to our secondary students. Mr. Oliva has been involved in the early stages of development of this initiative and has done a great job in providing school leaders and teachers with the flexibility to build their programs around a specific targeted industry. He has worked diligently with our business community to support programs and increase student opportunities.
What are your signal differences with Oliva?
I don’t have any differences with Mr. Oliva. I believe he is and will continue to grow into a fine Superintendent. I will continue to shine a light and keep the focus on issues that will continue to move the ball forward on student achievement and success. There is nothing personal involved and Mr. Oliva has been great in trying to work on those issues.
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At this time, I would say Andy Dance. 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. Additionally, I often find myself in alignment with Janet McDonald and value her experience in neurodevelopment. However, each Board member brings a valuable perspective to the board table and contributes a great deal to all discussions.
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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.
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15. Question customized for Colleen Conklin: Next to George Hanns on the county commission, and with your colleague Sue Dickinson choosing not to run again, you are the longest-serving elected official in the county. You were elected in 2000. This year’s electoral battle cry is for change. Haven’t you had your time? Why should you be an exception?
I appreciate this question. I contemplated not running for re-election. I cringe at the thought of being referred to as a politician and didn’t want to be viewed as one of those individuals who hung on and couldn’t see it was time to go. I was concerned about the available time I have and wanted to ensure I still had fire in the belly to fight for students, parents, teachers and staff. In everything I do, it’s 110 percent or it’s nothing. The situation with my son also created some hesitation in running again. Initially, I ran with one child in a stroller and the other on my back in a hiking backpack in the hopes of creating an educational system that would be amazing for them and all of Flagler children. On reflection, sometimes I think my sons actually got the short-end of the stick. I had considered stepping back to protect the final two years with my youngest. In the end, it was my sons and family who encouraged me, the teachers, paraprofessionals, parents of our most vulnerable children and the community who asked me to please run again. I was the one they would often confide in or share issues from inside the system and out. I always kept their confidence and they trusted me. I also realized I still had “fire in the belly” for these issues and truly wanted to continue in my advocacy work. I recognize the voters will decide if they wish for me to continue. In the meantime, I will continue to shine a light on the issues I hope to have addressed whether it is by me or my opponent. I’m exceptionally grateful for the time I’ve spent representing Flagler County residents as their school board member.
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