Herald Tribune Questionnaire

CANDIDATE INFORMATION
Birthplace: Warren, PA
Family: My fiancé, Lisa Ramirez, is active in the community working for Healthy Start Coalition and the Florida Department of Health in Manatee. My brother, Mike, resides in Bradenton with his wife and two children.
Religion:
Education/degrees: B.A. – Political Science, Univ. of Pittsburgh ’94
M.A. – Social Studies Education, Duquesne University ’03
Civic Involvement: High School Teacher & Coach (2004-present)
Habitat for Humanity (volunteer 2008-09)
Big Brothers/Big Sisters (volunteer 2010)
Endorsements:
Elected/appointed offices held: None, this is my first experience as a candidate.
Other Government services:
KEY ISSUES
Key Issue 1: I decided to run for school board because I saw that it was lacking one crucial voice, that of a classroom teacher. Therefore, my first priority is students. The school district has made a dramatic financial turnaround in the past 18 months, however further cuts will have to be made. I want to make sure children are the last stakeholder to be affected by those cuts.
Key Issue 2: My second priority is teachers. As a high school teacher myself, I understand the challenges of the job and what is required to be successful. Our district’s teachers haven’t seen a pay increase in years; in fact the cost of benefits is rising for teachers and the district. Once the school budget is back on solid footing, with the required fund balance and a budget surplus, I will advocate for a modest increase for teachers that is fair for them, and for taxpayers.
Key Issue 3: I have said this from day one of my campaign: we must allocate maximum resources to early childhood education. Mountains of education research show the benefits of early education. It is successful across racial and economic lines. It is relatively inexpensive considering the educational gains that are achieved in later school years. In addition, there is economic benefit to our community as one study predicts a benefit of $8 of economic benefit for every $1 spent on early childhood education.
Q&A
Assess the superintendent’s performance.
I support Supt. Mills, Dr. Greene and Mr. Hall. The district’s dramatic financial turnaround, the transparency of board deliberations and documentation, the budget and accounting professionalism and expertise shown over the past 18 months and the measured, educational gains that our students have shown. While students and teachers deserve much of the credit for those jumps in test scores, the district’s leadership should get some credit for putting resources, and the right people, in place to facilitate student achievement.

My only concern for Supt. Mills is how to rebuild trust between the leadership and the teachers. There is a perception among teachers and administrators that Mr. Mills has been heavy-handed in his personnel decisions and further, through investigations of school board employees. Whether or not these perceptions are fair is a matter of opinion; however we must deal with the reality that these perceptions are felt by teachers and administrators of the district. If elected, I would like to improve relationships among, not just our leadership downtown and teachers, but among all stakeholders in the school district.

Did you vote (or would you have voted) for or against Superintendent Rick Mills’ proposed two year-extension of his contract?
I would not have voted for it, and at the time made the following public statement: “One can see the positives in Supt. Mills’ performance over the past 15 months, however has this performance earned him these dramatic changes to his contract? He’s right, “stabilty is critical” for our success. However, young and new teachers are on year-to-year contracts, as are every principal and assistant in the county. Only experienced, tenured teachers have stability. Still in late May, many teachers and admins have no idea where (or if) they’ll be working next year. I hope the board will consider the stability and compensation of all school board employees. Further, I hope the superintendent holds himself to the same contract status, incentive structure and oversight process afforded to every school board employee.” facebook.com/charliekennedy2014 (May 25)
What is your view of the Florida Standards and Florida Standards Assessments?
Having been a teacher for the past 10 years, I have seen a handful of “next big things” come and go. I believe Common Core (aka Florida Standards) will follow that pattern. With a change in leadership – in DC or Tallahassee – could come the end of CC/FS. One interesting difference between this movement and previous reform attempts is the political opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. It is interesting to see an education reform movement that angers the right over curriculum requirements and angers the left over a perceived preference for charter/private schools and the undermining of public education. However, my biggest concern with CC/FS is how education decisions are being taken out of the hands of individual states and local school boards, and are being made by the federal government. While it’s a noble concept to have nationwide standards and measurements, education has always been a local issue and I believe it should stay that way.
Should the School Board have someone conduct an anonymous survey of teachers and other personnel to determine the work “climate” in schools?
Provided the cost was minimal, I think an anonymous survey of teachers is a good idea. As a classroom teacher, I always ask my students for anonymous feedback at the end of the year so I can improve my performance. School administrators do the same. However, any one working in the Manatee School District, like I do, knows that morale is low. The sometimes controversial and heavy-handed style of human resources decisions has fostered distrust and brought morale to a low point. Therefore, I’m not sure we need a survey to understand this. However, if it could be done inexpensively, and cover every employee from custodians to administrators, then I don’t see why not. Otherwise, this survey would just tell us what we already know – morale is low.
Please state, in 250 words or less, why you believe you should be elected to this office.
My experience as an educator in Manatee County will give the public trust that they have a classroom teacher on the board who knows what students and teachers need to succeed. Further, I don’t bring a particular ideology or personal agenda to the board. As stated earlier, I want to build consensus among the board, leadership team and the public. Education is filled with political land mines but, despite these sometimes vitriolic arguments, I’m sure we all want the same thing: for our students to succeed and our schools to operate efficiently. If we can remove our own egos, partisan viewpoints, and personality conflicts and focus on our number one priority – kids – public trust can be fully restored in our school district.
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