Last Updated: 6:44 p.m.
Emergency Medicine Physician Paul Mucciolo Files to Run for Conklin’s School Board Seat
Dr. Paul Mucciolo, an emergency-medicine physician at AdventHealth Palm Coast, picked up his two children from Indian Trails Middle School this afternoon, headed to the Supervisor of Elections’ office in Bunnell and declared his candidacy for the District 3 seat on the Flagler County School Board to bring back “a healthy dose of professionalism” to the board, he said, and to return the school district to an A-rated organization.
Mucciolo is running for the seat Colleen Conklin has held since 2000, as he did three years ago. Conklin has elected not to run again in 2024, as has Cheryl Massaro, though Massaro may not have entirely closed the door on another run.
Their departure will leave the board with the least combined elected-office experience it has had in memory, with three other board members–Sally Hunt, Will Furry and Christy Chong–each having only two years on the board by then, assuming all three complete their first term.
The school district’stop administrative staff has also lost experienced hands and is led by first-year Superintendent LaShakia Moore, with additional administrative losses ahead. Moore expects to have a deputy superintendent by early next year. That would not necessarily be a problem in an organization moored to a functioning board. But that has not been the case, as a member of the public put it to the board this afternoon at the beginning of a workshop.
“I’ve been coming to these meetings a long time. But for the past year, which coincides probably with three new members of the board, what I don’t seem to see or understand or perceive is that the board has spent any time in the last year thinking about kids,” Mike Cocchiola told the board before enumerating the board’s various firings and going “after anything with a rainbow on it, for your own personal convictions. It seems to me that you’re spending more time and more taxpayer money attacking cultural issues, and not once that I hear, especially the new members, say let’s do something for the kids.”
Mucciolo hadn’t heard the comment–it was delivered around the same time that the doctor was leaving the supervisor’s office, three floors up from where he was–but seemed to echo it. “I’m trying to get Flagler schools and mainly the school board back on track to try to get the students and parents first, then the staff, then the support staff, and then the the board actually last,” he said. “The board should be there to serve, to serve the students and to give them the best possible education that they can get.”
He does not want the operations of the school board to control so much of the agenda, as it has for the past few years, often at the detriment of other priorities. “Flagler should be back to an A school [district], it should never lost the designation,” he said. “We have to look at why it’s not an A school and make sure that we dedicate the resources to bring whatever area needs attention up to par in order to earn that designation.” He added: “I would like there to be more of a business like attitude, a healthy dose of professionalism, and what I would like to really see happen is to open the doors more to our community. That is what is going to benefit our children, benefit our businesses, benefit our district in general–by having a closer relationship with the educational opportunities and businesses in the community.”
Mucciolo carries a heavy workload. He practices emergency medicine full time, serves as the medical director at AdventHealth Palm Coast and AdventHealth Palm Coast Parkway (both the north and south campuses of the hospital), and at the International Speedway, where AdventHealth is the exclusive healthcare provider. “My demands are many but the flexibility in my scheduling affords me the ability to attend meetings, to take phone calls, to meet with people. So, while I do have a heavy load, I can adjust it in order to accommodate additional demands,” Mucciolo said.
He and his wife Christie moved to Palm Coast in 2008. He was in emergency medicine with Halifax Health before switching to AdventHealth in 2015. Why emergency medicine? “The variety of the job. I get to see it all,” he said. “And it’s a privilege to be able to care for people who are at their worst. It’s their worst moment, and it’s an honor to help people put their trust in you to try to help them.” The current school board may not be such a leap from the emergency room.
He is now one of two candidates for the District 3 seat. Nicole Durenberger, a relatively new arrival in Flagler County, initially filed for a Palm Coast City Council seat, withdrew, then filed for School Board. (Like County Commission candidates, School Board candidates are elected according to districts. The candidates must live in the district they represent. But voters from across the county cast ballots for candidates regardless of district. The races are ostensibly non-partisan, but in today’s ideologically polarized campaigns, most voters pay attention to a candidate’s registration and the local political parties overtly politicize non-partisan races.)
Mucciolo has been following the school board since before his first campaign. He ran against Conklin three years ago. Conklin won in a three-way race (she took 52 percent of the vote to Mucciolo’s 35, with a third candidate taking the balance of the votes) Mucciolo, a Republican, and Conklin, a Democrat, then essentially became colleagues as Mucciolo appeared on a virtual town hall Conklin organized during the Covid pandemic to counter the effects of unscientific information and tamp down some o the hysteria surrounding recommended safety measures at the time, in school and elsewhere.
“Paul and I had an opportunity to work together during Covid,” Conklin said this evening, after a boar workshop. “I relied on his expertise and it was clear to me that he was greatly focused on the success of all students. I believe he’s disassociated himself from those who thought they may have been able to influence him. He is very much his own man.”
“I can’t fill her seat,” Mucciolo said of Conklin. “With that depth and length of experience and the breadth of experience, I’m coming in new. It has some disadvantages because I have to uncover a lot of things and look behind the doors that we don’t see now, because I’m not active on the board. But it has an advantage of bringing some fresh perspectives. And the thing to do is to carry on the good work. She has worked tirelessly for the students and the teachers. And what I’ve noticed from her is that she’s very open to listening. And I think that’s where it’s most important–that we listen to our students. We listen to the teachers, and we listened to the community, and I would like to carry forth that quality more than anything, and the dedication to making sure that everyone’s needs are met when there are difficult times like Covid or an economic downturn.”