School Board Candidate Survey Answers - Dream Lake Elementary School PTA


1.) What are your priorities for the district if elected? Why and how did you select these issues?

The following are my priorities for our School District if I am elected. I chose these priorities because I believe teaching and learning should be at the center of all that we do as a School Board and School District. I believe we must help all students to find success, especially those students who are most at-risk.

Priorities:

(A.) Leverage district resources to help our students and schools that need the most help. Increase funding for mentoring, tutoring, and extracurricular activities at our most at-risk schools. As District Athletic Director, I worked on the Board of The City of Orlando After School All Stars program that worked with 8 Orlando middle schools. As a result of the work of the After School All Stars program, these schools all show positive data for attendance, discipline, and student achievement for the students who participated in their after school programs. I plan to push for an expansion of these programs to other schools outside of the city of Orlando that could also benefit from such programs. Many students will succeed regardless of what teachers they have, but our students that are most at-risk need those game-changer teachers and programs that can transform the cards they have been dealt by life. A student that receives a good education is one less citizen that you have to protect yourself from, one less citizen that will need to be supported by welfare, and one less student that will need to be supported in prison. It is imperative that we reach our most desperate students and help them succeed.

(B.) We must listen to our teachers. We are losing countless great teachers to private and charter schools due to our evaluation system. We face massive amounts of teacher vacancies as a result of the way we are treating our teachers. We need to scour the nation for a more authentic teacher assessment system that has the approval of both administrators and classroom teachers. We must attract, develop, respect and retain our great teachers. We cannot help our most at-risk students without great teachers that feel secure enough to take risks on the toughest of assignments. We have to discard the Us vs. Them mentality, and replace it with an “All for one, and one for all” mentality. We are on the same team with the same goal—to change lives through education. We cannot put students first by putting teachers last. Great teachers are the life-blood of a healthy school system.

(C.) I plan to push for a District initiative that would call for Debate class to be required for all freshmen students. Our students will benefit from the following skills that they can learn in Debate: research, critical thinking, organizing their thoughts, articulating their ideas, listening, understanding the views of others, thinking on their feet, creative thought, and debating ideas in a civil manner. We currently live in a society that is very divided. It is important that we educate our students on current events, and that we teach them to respect the views of others. Students also benefit from offering and receiving feedback from their fellow students. Students learn to trust and appreciate the constructive criticism of their classmates. Finally, the top-level students will benefit from Debate by the opportunity to compete in National Debate Tournaments where they can be observed and recruited by the top schools in our nation. The skills and benefits that students experience in Debate class will bleed over into all of their other classes throughout their academic careers, giving them the foundational building blocks of learning and achievement.

(D.) I believe reading is key to lifelong learning. I plan to not only push for students to learn to read, but to cultivate a love of reading. Students who have access to great books, learn to love to read. With strong encouragement for reading, students will improve their background knowledge, their vocabulary, their spelling, their writing skills, their confidence, their ability to learn in all of their classes, and an expanded vision of what they can become one day. I firmly believe that a love for reading can eliminate any achievement gaps that exist. I would love to see the story of famous neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was being raised by a single mother and was called “dummy” by his classmates where he was the only African American in the class. Ben was always out first in the Spelling Bees, and when the teacher read off everybody’s test scores, Ben’s was always the lowest, to the relief of the other students. Ben’s mom prayed for an idea to help her make education important to her two boys. Ben’s mom got the idea to require her two boys to do two library book reports a week. Ben didn’t like the reading at first, but after a while, he started to like it. Ben was reading about all kinds of different people who did great things. Ben began to believe that he could do something great with his life. Ben’s mom couldn’t read or write, but she used highlighters to mark up her boys’ book reports, and they never figured out her secret. When Ben was in the 7th grade, everyone came to Ben when they had a question—Ben knew things about everything. Ben had become the smartest student in the class in just four years. Ben went on to become the first neurosurgeon to separate two individuals joined at the head. Ben has written several books and was a recent candidate for President. I believe Ben’s success started with reading, which started with an illiterate parent who was working 2-3 jobs that prayed for help in order to make education important to her children. If she can do it, any parent can do it. I believe we need to reach out and encourage all of our parents to expend the same energy and effort toward their children to support the growth and development that is being nurtured at school. Reaching out to parents starts with teachers who build positive relationships with the parents of their students…relationships where all involved know that they are all on the same team with important roles to play.

(E.) I plan to push for the district to invest in career technical education programs at the local high schools of students. It is important to offer great programs that students don’t have to leave campus for. This is important because students with a GPA lower than 2.0 cannot leave campus to take a career technical education program, so the downward spiral of their grades may not have any possible disruptors that promises hope for their future. I am currently an Assistant Director at the Westside Campus of Orange Technical College in Winter Garden. The education environment that we have there is amazing—almost every student is passionate about the program they are pursuing…whether it is a student pursuing a career in welding, cosmetology, veterinary assistant, medical assistant, building construction, or even an adult student with a 3rd grade reading level going back to school to get their GED. We don’t have discipline problems—we had less than 10 referrals all year. Passion makes a difference. When students are pursuing something they are interested in, they don’t have time for misbehavior and distractions. We need to add this component to our local schools that students call home.

(F.) I believe we must encourage the development of character within our students. As MLK Jr. once said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” We invest a massive amount of time to help students develop intelligence…we must do the same to help them develop character. We must teach the all important traits of integrity, honesty, empathy, teamwork, wisdom, positive attitude, hard work ethic, etc. I believe we can begin this effort by having students post a quote of the day that students can begin their day by reading, writing a journal response to, and then discussing the meaning. Quotes can both offer wisdom, and they can also offer valuable background knowledge for students. I view quotes as seeds that teachers can plant in their students—and you never know what seeds will take hold and grow later in life. We must go beyond teaching students how to make a living…we must teach them how to make a life.

(G.) I believe members of the School Board must become deep thinkers about the current trends in education, they must be passionate about the teaching and learning process, and how many of these current trends are having destructive effects on students and learning. We must have robust debate about Common Core, high-stakes testing, retention, the Marzano teacher evaluation system, the necessity of creativity for the future, etc. The School Board must become a strong voice of resistance against trends that are bad for students.

(H.) I hope to help teachers and administrators create positive learning environments in classrooms and schools. I believe we need to have a learning revolution that makes learning fun again. I believe students learn the most when they are inspired to dig in and teach themselves as a result of a spark of inspiration that they caught from a passionate teacher. Passion is caught, not taught. The School Board must create environments that encourage such passion and creativity in learning.

2.) What is your own experience in Public Education and how has/or will your own experiences influence your work as our board member?

Experience:

23 Years in Education

12 years - Teacher

11 years - Administrator

1993 - 1995 Pine Castle Christian Academy Teacher

1995 - 1999 Vacaville HS (California) Teacher

1999 - 2001 Boone HS Teacher

2001 - 2005 Apopka Memorial MS Teacher/7th Grade Dean

2005 - 2007 Ocoee HS Teacher/Dean of Discipline

2007 - 2010 Boone HS Assistant Principal

2010 - 2012 Apopka HS Assistant Principal

2012 - 2013 Apopka HS Assistant Principal of Instruction over Student Services

2013 - 2015 OCPS District Athletic Director over all Extracurricular Activities

2015 - Present Orange Technical College Assistant Director

(Westside Campus in Winter Garden)

I've coached Varsity Boys Basketball, Track, Varsity Boys/Girls Bowling, Varsity Boys Volleyball, MS Boys Basketball, MS Girls Volleyball, and Recreational League Soccer. As the OCPS District Athletic Director over all Athletics and Extracurricular Activities at the High School, Middle School and Elementary School levels, I understand the importance of strong athletic and extracurricular activities for the development of healthy students and schools. I also was the District supervisor over all District Debate teams, District JROTC programs, Elementary School Chess Club teams and tournaments, and Sportsmanship and Character Education initiatives. As an Assistant Director at Orange Technical College, I supervise our adult education programs for adults who want to come back to pursue their GED and then go on to obtain a technical certification in a field of their passion. I feel as though I have been uniquely prepared for such a time as this, and such as task as this. I want to use my variety of experiences in education to help lead a learning revolution based on teachers answering a simple question, "What can I do to create a positive learning environment for my students?" I am not running for the School Board because I need a job--I've got a great job. In fact, if I am so fortunate to win this position, I will take a significant pay cut. But that is what passion is all about. Passion comes from the Latin word "pati", meaning, "to suffer". When you have a passion about something, you are willing to give up time, energy, sleep, comfort, and even money in your pursuit of the object of your desire. My passion is to make a positive difference in the lives of students and teachers, and to help them find success. My motto throughout this campaign has been, "Pursue your passion, not your pension." I will bring my depth of experience to this position in order to give the School Board a perspective of both how their policies affect schools, but also how the School Board can work for real change that can make a difference in the classroom, the athletic field, the auditorium, and in the lives of students and teachers.

3,) Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system?

I believe a School Board member ought to be a representative of the community, first and foremost. The School Board member ought to have an open door and a listening ear for all of those that they represent. The School Board member should be their voice when there are things that need to be addressed at the policy level within our District. The School Board member should actively seek the opinions and perspectives of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community stakeholders. The School Board member is first and foremost a public servant of their district, and they should be ready and willing to help in any way necessary to improve the educational experience of our students.

4. Why are you running for the school board?

I am running for the School Board because I believe I have the experience, the knowledge, the heart, and the passion to bring about positive change during this desperate time in education. Throughout my career, I've been led by an inner drive to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. I believe it is time to take what I know, along with my heart for students and teachers, and use them to make a positive difference in schools across our District. I believe I've been uniquely prepared for such a time as this, and for such a task as this.

5. What do you hope to achieve if elected?

I want to help lead a revolution in learning in our School District, where students and teachers are excited and passionate about going to school every day. I once heard it said that the true test of the quality of a school is whether or not students run into the school in the morning faster than the run out of the school in the afternoon. I want to help teachers and administrators create learning environments that cause students to run their fastest in the morning. I want to positively affect the learning of our students. I want all students to discover, develop and dart in the direction of their dreams.

6. In your opinion, what has the district done well over the last 5 years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?

Bright Spots:

(A.) I think the District has done a good job of building high quality schools throughout our district, which should be credited to the taxpayers of Orange County and those individuals involved with the construction, planning and government relations departments at the District office, and school personnel involved in design input and day-to-day progress updates.

(B.) I think the District has also done a good job of encouraging students to be involved in academic extracurricular activities through the initiative "Making Smart Cool".

(C.) I believe our District is making strides in Career Technical Education by renaming our Tech Centers "Orange a Technical College" and supporting the administrators over those departments and schools.

(D.) I believe the District has done well in its investment and encouragement of Debate at all District high schools. The District has allocated funds to help students compete in State and National tournaments for Debate competitions. These Debate competitions are the primary places where the top universities recruit for their schools.

(E.) I like the school histories that the current School Board member has worked on. As a history major and teacher, who happens to like to write, if I am so fortunate to be selected as the next District 7 representative on the Orange County School Board, I would be delighted to continue the work on this project.

Areas of Improvement:

(A.) The District must address the low morale of teachers. The current evaluation system, in my opinion, is driving good teachers out of public education. The pressure that I've observed from district-level administration to have teacher evaluation scores lowered is unacceptable.

(B.) The District must strive to be transparent in terms of improving the District's school and student data. I believe our Districts graduation rate has been downgraded by the State of Florida from 90% to 77% because we withdraw many students from our high school and send them to alternative schools to get them off of our books. These alternative schools have horrendous graduation rates (6%), and we celebrate that our graduation rate is going up as a result. We seem to have an incredible spin machine downtown that uses a laser focus to meet the criteria required to win awards. We need to use that same focus to make actual changes that bring about authentic improvements. With the Broad Award for Urban education, no one mentions that Eli Broad discontinued the award after Orange County Public Schools tied for winning the award. The reason the founder ended the award was because it had become "too political". I was at the District office at the time. The amount of focus and energy that went into meeting the criteria of the award was immense. One measurement that came into play was increasing AP participation at the high school level. The District adopted a policy of forcing students into AP classes, whether they wanted to take them or not. They used a students PSAT "AP" potential test score to determine who should be taking AP classes. My own daughter was signed up for three AP classes, but the District wanted her to take five. My daughter was an excellent student at Apopka HS, scoring three "5's" and four "4's" on the seven AP classes she took while in high school. She had other classes she wanted to take. I was able to get her the classes she wanted. Not every student had such insight and access to what was possible. Students had to get signatures to get out of those classes. I saw too many students who received "F's" in AP classes to support such an effort that seemed geared entirely for the quest to win the Broad Award. The District has since backed off of this practice.

(C.) Another area of improvement is to limit the amount of instructional time that is lost to Benchmark testing. We already lose a good portion of the end of the school year for testing. We need to protect instructional time throughout the school year. Students need time to learn.

(D.) We need to limit the destructive effects of a "test-centric" education system. Schools lose programs students love in order to accommodate test prep classes and intensive classes designed to help students with their weaknesses. In the process, we cut programs that students are passionate about...their strengths, the reason many of them come to school. I saw this firsthand when Apopka HS lost their Auto Tech and Culinary programs. We increase the dropout rate when we cut programs that students love in order to provide more test prep classes. We must improve our efforts in helping students discover and develop their strengths. This is what education is about -- preparing students for "their" unique futures. We must strive to help all students: those with special needs, those who are not interested in academics or college, and those who what to shoot for the academic stars.

7.) How can school board members be held accountable for the overall performance of our district? What are your views on accountability at all levels?

I believe School Board members should receive some kind of survey feedback from their constituents--what they are doing well, what they can improve on, how responsive are they to public concerns that are brought to them, how did they spend the discretionary funds they are given by the District each year - somewhere around $30,000 or $40,000. Are they too political in an effort to satisfy the rich, powerful, and connected in order to help them get re-elected. How would the teachers and administrators anonymously grade the efforts of the School Board member. Is teacher morale improving? Do schools feel supported? How would parents, teachers, and administrators rate the School Board members understanding of the teaching, learning, and leadership process? All of this feedback would be valuable to the public, and it should be made public in order to help voters make informed decisions. Ultimately, School Board members would be held accountable by elections.

8.) What are your views on charter schools and what role do you believe charter schools should play in public education?

I believe charter schools can bring healthy competition to public schools. Charter schools serve as evidence that there are other ways of doing business when it comes to schooling our children. Charter schools have far more freedom to experiment, find solutions, and discover better ways of doing business, which is sad for someone like myself that has a heart for public education. Charter schools do not have to use District mandated policies and systems, so they can end certain disasters much quicker than a slow-moving, massive District organization. I believe public schools can learn much from charter schools. I believe the data at charter schools is difficult to assess--some schools take in any and every student, regardless of their achievement level, discipline history, or parent support and involvement--these schools will have lower school grades from the State of Florida as a result. Other charter schools screen their students very tightly, require parent involvement in order to attend, and have long waiting lists to get in. These schools will naturally have higher school grades. I believe charter schools should work with all students, and there should be complete transparency as to how public funds are spent. I also believe that charter schools can offer a smaller environment for students with special needs. I have a son that is on the autistic spectrum, and he was being bused across town for 2 hours a day because, at the time, the local elementary school that his sister attended said they did not have sufficient services to meet his needs. We decided to look for other options for him when we were told he was going to have learning issues for the rest of his life. Home school did not work for him. He was number 35 on a waiting list for a charter school. We found a small, inexpensive private school in the area, Hampden Dubose Academy, where he could go to school and have a smaller learning environment. He is doing well and making progress. It would have been nice if there was a charter school that could have met his needs.

9.) How will you ensure that our students acquire the STEM skills that are needed in today and tomorrow's workforce?

This is certainly an important topic. They say that the majority of the jobs of the future have not been created yet. Just as the cell phone industry was not imaginable before its creation. I believe we need to provide students with opportunities in the STEAM areas (I say STEAM because the latest trend is to add the Arts to the equation because of the design and creativity that are encouraged within this field.) We can do this by making sure that “test prep” classes do not siphon off funds that could be directed toward STEAM curriculum offerings. We need strong teachers to champion such programs. We need to embed STEAM standards and projects in core-curricular classes. We need to invest in and encourage afterschool clubs and competitions at all schools that will encourage our students to be a part of Robotics, Coding, SkillsUSA,, etc. We need to allocate funds for schools to have STEAM summer academies that help all students stay engaged during the summer months. We need to bring in guest speakers who work in STEAM careers to offer inspiration and vision for our students. We need to have ongoing professional development for our student services, professional school counselors in order to keep them up to date on the many different, fascinating careers that students can pursue in the STEAM areas. We need to build STEAM fieldtrips into the experiences of our younger students to enlighten them to the growing, exciting opportunities in STEAM.

10.) What are your views on daily recess (not PE)

I think students should have recess at least twice a day--that's what I had when I was growing up, and I turned out all right. Recess is vital for child development. Students need breaks in their learning, and they need physical activity to get rid of pent up energy, provide opportunities for exercise and to give their brains a break. There is much research available regarding the positive benefits of recess--1.) Free play encourages creativity. 2.) Recess helps students learn to get along with others. 3.) Recess provides students with something to look forward to every day, which helps them concentrate when they are in class.

Recess and student achievement can be quite a paradox of sorts--we think that by cutting recess we can focus more time on academic learning, which will improve student achievement. In reality, cutting recess is harmful to healthy childhood brain development, which will affect student achievement. There was a time when China cut recess in order to give their students more time for academics. The results were disastrous. Creativity took a plunge. China now has rules that guarantee recess, extracurricular activities, minimal homework on weeknights and weekends, and a maximum of days of instruction during the school year. Students need a break--daily, weekly, and yearly--in order to develop into healthy young adults. Recess breaks up the day with fun, excitement, and exercise. The education brain trust got it wrong on this one when they minimized the importance of recess. Kids can’t sit in a chair all day, intensely focused on learning. One thing educators learn during all-day trainings at school is the fact that it is tough even for adults to maintain focus when one is sitting all day. Everyone benefits when we give students the opportunity to break up the day with play.


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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Matthew J. Fitzpatrick, Non-Partisan, for Orange County School Board Chair

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