Raven Sword is a Flagler County School Board candidate running from District 5, but all registered Flagler County voters are eligible to vote in the Aug. 24 election. Sword, an attorney, is running against John Fischer and Peter Peligian for the seat being vacated by Evie Shellenberger, who’s retiring. Click here for an overview of the race, and here for a previous article on the candidates.
FlaglerLive submitted written questions to every candidate. The intention of the Q&A was not to enable another campaign brochure but to challenge the candidates to clearly state their positions on some–and by no means all–of the issues relevant to the position and responsibility they’re seeking. The candidates were asked to avoid generalities and the usual campaign clichés and answer as specifically as possible. They received follow-up questions where necessary. Some answered more directly than others. Answers not relevant to the given question were edited. Incomplete or lacking answers were noted as such.
Why are you running for school board, and what makes you think you are the best person for the job?
Flagler County School Board Candidates: The Live Interviews
There are many reasons why I chose to run for Flagler County School Board. I received an email from the Gap Commission that contained what was described as verbatim responses from our students. At first glance, I assumed that the responses were from middle school aged students and then I read closer and realized that those responses came from our high school students. I was shocked by their inability to form a grammatically correct sentence or to spell correctly. I wondered how these high school students would ever be able to complete a successful application to college.
Another motivating factor was the continued emphasis on standardized exams. As an attorney, I have had my share of standardized exams and to be completely honest I did not do well. Thank goodness that the University of Michigan and George Washington Law School looked beyond my less than stellar performance and relied on other indicators of performance. Although I tested poorly, I graduated with distinction. My point is that I am sure that there are many students like myself who simply will not ever test well, but the lack of performance does not always equate with an inability to perform. The important questions to me, with respect to standardized exams, are whether are students have substantively mastered the core subjects or have they merely mastered test taking strategy. I am encouraged by the legislature’s effort to phase out the FCAT and instead move to an end of the year exam for the core curriculum. I want to be a part of this change. My hope is that the end of year exam truly test student’s mastery of curriculum and forces the student to rely on critical thinking skills. I also hope that this alternative proves to be much cheaper than the FCAT in its implementation.
- School Board Candidates Tread Gulf Between Ideal and Reality in Chamber Forum
- School Board Candidate Peter Peligian’s Impersonation (and Tax and Claims) Problems
- Shellenberger, Steadying Voice for 8 Years, Will Not Run Again for School Board
- Rachael Kopec Withdraws from School Board Race
- Raven Sword Wins Florida Bar Pro Bono Award
- Flagler County 2010 Elections Guide
I am the best person for this job because my training as an attorney clearly sets me apart from the other candidates. The following skills that I use in private practice are valuable transferrable assets to a position on the school board: research; reading comprehension; problem-solving; time management; communication; leadership; debate; and the ability to analyze and draft legislation.
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 affect on a day-to-day basis? What is not in your power to do?
Simply put, the role of the board is to set policy. Policy that is consistent with the Sunshine State Standards, Florida statutes, and the rules of the State Board of Education. It is not the Board’s job to administer or execute that policy; that is the job of the superintendent and administrators.
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.
Three specific priorities I intend to achieve include the following: add more vocational programs by partnering with the local universities; fully utilize the Advanced Technology Center; and develop a large scale grant writing initiative intended to offset costs.
It’s January 2011. State revenue is tanking. Flagler schools must cut 5 percent of their budget. Salary cuts are off the table, but eliminating positions isn’t. Name three specific programs, curriculum areas or activities you’d cut.
Cutting programs and/or activities should not be an arbitrary decision. I would have to review the level of attendance in those extra curricular activities to make any cuts. Before any decision is made to eliminate the activity I would like to brainstorm on some alternativeness to the program’s elimination. For example, pay to play programming or partnering with the municipalities or the county to provide the program as part of their respective parks and recreation departments.
The answer explains the method of going about cuts, but not quite the areas, beyond unspecified extra-curriculars, that you would cut. Please be more specific, citing actual programs or areas you’d cut before others.
Again my hope is that the board would not be cutting programs per se, but creatively eliminating the programs as an expense to the district by engaging in a combination of partnering with entities to offset the expense and intensifying efforts at grant-writing to likewise offset the expense. Before the decision is made, however, we would have to make sure that the cost savings would be applied for use in the general fund of the budget. Assuming that the cost savings could be applied to the general fund, I would start with peripheral programs like the nursing program that currently staffs each school with a full-time nurse. I would suggest researching available grants to see whether a grant exists to pick up the staffing expense and still allow students access to the nurses for health related treatment. This idea truly is not all that far-fetched in that Rymfire currently benefits from a grant designed to allow nurses to come to the school. I do not know whether this particular grant allows the visiting nurses to actually treat students, but it could be a possibility or there could be another grant that would allow such services. I would then look to our extra curricular activities as a whole and again see what grants are available or partnering opportunities are available to allow the program to exist without incurring an expense to the district.
The school board split on hiring Superintendent Janet Valentine, with two board members arguing that a national search should have been conducted first, rather than sticking with an internal choice. How would you have voted on the matter? How do you rate Janet Valentine as a superintendent, understanding that she’s only been in the job a few months?
Let me first start by saying that I am confident that Superintendent Valentine will prove to be an excellent choice, however, I would have voted in opposition. My opposition is based on the process of the hire. I would have advocated for an in state search; not a national search. Competition is a good thing and pairing Superintendent Valentine’s resume with other candidates would have likely demonstrated why she is best suited for the job.
Who on the board currently is the board member most closely aligned with your idea of a school board member and why?
I think Colleen Conklin is most aligned with my idea of a school board member. Ms. Conklin shares my passion to ensure that our students are prepared for the 21st century. She also understands and appreciates the deficiencies in relying on standardized exams.
If you had a choice of running the school district with a teacher union or without one, what would that choice be, and why?
If I had to make the choice, I would run without the teacher’s union. As I have explained, my goal is to make sure our students have the tools to be successful in the 21st century. In order to reach that goal, we have to make sure that the providers of those tools, i.e. teachers have the incentives, pay and benefits, to meet this objective with enthusiasm.
Outgoing School Board Chairman Evie Shellenberger said in May: “The folks in Tallahassee, to me, their goal is to shut down public schools. Shut down public schools and go to charter schools.” Do you agree? How do you see charter schools fitting in public-school equation, and how successful has that fit been in Flagler?
I do not believe that Tallahassee is trying to shut down public schools. I would agree, however, that by not funding many of mandates this places many pressures on the district. Charter schools can be a great alternative for some children. The School Board is required to support charter schools as long as the Charter school fulfills it’s charter. In order to fairly determine whether charter schools have been successful in Flagler you have to ask the parents who enrolled their child in a charter school what their objective was and whether that objective was met.
Is the notion of zero tolerance as a disciplinary approach effective?
The notion of zero tolerance as a disciplinary approach is not the best approach to discipline because a mechanical implementation of that approach can have unintended results. I do not think zero tolerance is really appropriate in any setting because I think that in crafting sanctions, all of the facts and the circumstances of each situation should be given weight in designing an appropriate punishment.
What is your position on sheriff’s deputies in schools-in elementary, middle and high schools, and what weaponry should these deputies be allowed to carry in schools?
I do not think it’s necessary to have deputies in schools at the elementary schools. I would like police presence at the middle schools and high schools. The officers should only be permitted to carry minimal weaponry like a taser in the schools.
In a choice between raising taxes and laying off teachers and other personnel, what would you do?
Under this scenario, there would have to be sacrifices on both sides. As a board we would have to have a frank and honest discussion with the union. Brainstorm with the union representative to develop an alternative to terminating teachers. Perhaps requesting a “temporary pay cut” whereby teachers agree to forgo a certain percentage of the salary for a specified period of time.
With the tough economic climate that we find ourselves in, governments, municipalities, businesses, and schools are all at some point in the near future going to look to taxpayers for help to cover anticipated deficits. Schools must be given priority in this dilemma. A well educated populace has long term positive consequences for all ages in this community. If we invest in education then we will be developing a strong workforce. If we invest in education then businesses may decide to make Flagler their home base thereby solving two problems, providing sustainable jobs in Flagler and increasing Flagler’s tax base.
What is your understanding and personal opinion of the Sunshine Law, and how will you ensure that you are always operating in the Sunshine?
The Sunshine Law provides a right of access to government proceedings at both the state and the local level. It is in our best interest to comply with this law if we want to continue to maintain a free and open deliberative process.
You’re a lawyer. You’re a young mother. Two demanding jobs. How do you propose to balance that with your duties as a school board member, understanding that even when you’ve attempted to sit through meetings of the board, you haven’t managed to make it through some of the more interminable ones—and that meetings are only the public side of a demanding job? Do you foresee having to miss some meetings or cutting back your workload?
It will be a balancing act, like any endeavor taken by a working parent. Please note, I said parent -not simply a working mother-because regardless of whether you are a working mother or a working father; it is difficult. I think, however, that working parents on the board is a valuable asset. There is a lot of discussion as to how should the board get parents more involved in the school district. The board and this community would certainly benefit by having a person such as myself on the board to offer insight on this issue. All member’s of the board’s schedule have to be accommodated irrespective of whether you are a retiree, empty nester, or a working parent.
[email protected] says
one of the problems i think that we have in this country is that we have too many attorneys involved in running the country.
Ralph Lightfoot says
Ms. Sword seems to be the only candidate in the District 5 race to answer all questions.
Yes, she answered in lawyer-speak — not convinced there is any “there” there — real help with the district’s issues is missing.
I’m glad I voted for Raven Sword and hope she wins.
The comment “lawyer speak” to me means she has a command of the English language, which is a VERY good thing. I know Ms. Sword, and if she puts her mind to solving an issue, good ideas will result – so she should be a great help in solving the “district’s issues.”
over it says
I love it when unknown, usually anonymous, people get on the internet to “vouch” for another person…… “I know her, and she is this, she is that, she is whatever’…………..OH YEAH, There ya go, there’s a credible character assessment……….
I can’t wait until tomorrow morning when can say to someone “I read on the internet, this person named Will said that he that knows her and he said she is A-OK!!!!!”
Good enough for me!!!! hahahahhahahaha
Over it, you may be right about that. I can hear the conversation now between “hogsbreath” and “horsespatoot.”
Horsespatoot meets Hogsbreath at the polls and says: “Hey,hogsbreath, you sure don’t want to vote for this person ’cause I read on da internet that she can string together more than three words and make a real sentence outta da English language. We sure as hell don’t want no educated people running the school board, they might make our kids smarter than we are.”
No less credible are the people who anonymously post derogatory comments like wsh302 and lin. Lin obviously didn’t read Ms. Sword’s answers to the questions. Wsh, my concern is not that a well educated lawyer is running for the school board, but that the no-nothings of this county that have the same right to vote as anyone else.
Dorothea, I read the so called answers and did not find any that adequately addressed the issues that face the Flagler county school board. And there are plenty of “KNOW-NOTHING” (not no-nothing) lawyers in decision-making positions that are well spoken and dance around the real problems that need solving. Attacking a poster does nothing to further the discussion.
Over it, thanks for the morning chuckle.
Anonymous compliments have their place in the online world. Isn’t it better than complaining? And, as far as being “unknown” goes, a few people know me, and I’m sure a few know you too. If either of us wanted our real or full names out there, we might not have used the names above. Hmmmm – think “Poor Richard” and his almanac to start. Franklin used pseudonyms from time to time to suit his purposes (and no, I’m NOT comparing myself to Ben.)
You have my permission to quote me all you want. Or not. :)h
Speaking of well-spoken candidates with some concrete ideas for tackling Flagler School issues — I think Marc Ray would be a good addition to our Board.
Lin, I read the answers to the questions posed to Ms. Sword and I found the answers did address what she was asked in her interview. In fact, Tristam had to remind several of the other candidates for school board that they did not answer the question that was asked. I see no negative post from you about these candidates. We are making decisions about individuals who are running for school board, not indicting or making generalizations about an entire profession.
If you consider attacking what one says on a blog as an attack on a poster, so be it. But posting a comment on an internet blog is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned.
As for no-nothing, I could not correct it after I posted. But thanks for your input.
over it says
Will: Thank you for taking my sarcasm for what it is. Unfortunately, a lot of people have forgotten how to laugh. And if you combine that with the internet, where anyone with a keyboard can “know everything” without even straining a single brain cell, you have a recipe for some very illogical thinking.
And I WILL quote you today.
My point was that being a lawyer does not AUTOMATICALLY qualify you to contribute to the School Board.
For example, Raven Sword, at a recent Candidate forum, could not answer a question regarding Concurrency — did not seem to know what it meant and how it related to the schools. This is a Florida law 2005 which directly affects our schools. I have heard her talk about her “qualifications” as being a parent, able to write legislation, licensed as lawyer in 3 states, etc. Being well-spoken is great, but not enough.
If 2 readers of the blogs disagree — fine, that is what the blogs are for, right? But, yes, I read her answers and disagree with her. Something sparked me to make a comment here, but I don’t have the time to answer all posters on every blog.
By the way, Pierre, good ?s – I wouldn’t have thought to ask which other SB members the candidates identify with, and interesting about the Sheriff’s rep’s in the schools.
Anonymous, I have to be honest with you, and I must really be uninformed, because I thought that concurrency was a term used in the computer world. :)
I don’t know why my last post came up anonymous.
A lawyer running for school board should have known what concurrency meant. It is an important consideration. But none of the 5 candidates on the forum answered that question.
I liked some answers, she seems to be an outside the box thinker, the Board could use the diversity, she seems to be a very smart young women.
Sorry, in the interest of being accurate — John Fischer did attempt to answer the ? re concurrency.
Joe, R S did have info re Charter Schools that the others did not know.
[email protected] says
27 years in federal law enforcement and lawyers are tearing down this country
Jenn Kuiper says
I was surprised to hear that she would rather the board run the district without a teacher union while all the other candidates chose with a union. This disturbs me a bit in a state that seems to be anti-union.
Darren May says
Anonymous you stated that Raven Sword could not answer the question on concurrency. I listened to the forum that night on the radio, and no candidate could. Peter Peligian said he could not answer it either. Fischer tried to answer but could not really do so because he did not know what was meant by the question either. Your views are slanted and did not provide all the information. I hope she gains Peligian’s votes and gets elected. it would be nice to a different perspective on the school board.
Cheryl Tristam says
Jenn, Fischer said the following: “I would prefer running the school district without a teacher union so a new and fairer evaluation system could more easily be established for all teachers. Given that we currently have a teacher union, I will work with the union to develop better programs to assess student progress and teacher performance.”
Jenn Kuiper says
Thanks Cheryl! I guess I missed that. Disappointing.
Darren May says
Funny to me. How Mrs. Sword warrants 21 comments but no one really commented on Fischer and Peligian. Makes you think she must be the one that really said the right things and people are trying to justify a reason they should not vote for her.
Raven Sword should stick to being an attorney. The lawyers and unions have ruined this country. Raven is for tenure. For those who do not know what that is. It is protecting teachers from being fired. We have too many bad teachers teaching our children today and they should not be protected by tenure.
over it says
Upset: And why do you think that we have “bad” teachers here?
Hey upset, if you get arrested call a…um…errr…a shoemaker. Seriously, where did you see or hear about Raven Sword supporting tenure? Not that I think it’s a bad thing….just curious.
lovie sloan says
hi i have been trying to contact you for some time i need help please contact me as soon as possible .concerning a student issue.