The Gulf County Democrat Party provided a list of questions for School Board candidates in the two races on the primary election ballot.
Both races, non-partisan, will be decided Tuesday between candidates seeking to succeed retiring board members.
Respectively, in District 1, Bernadette Hackett faces Dennis McGlon; and in District 5, Ruby Knox faces Barbara Radcliff.
The questions were published in The Star Aug. 9.
1. What are your plans to resolve the teacher shortage in Gulf County?
Hackett: I believe in dialogue to uncover the reasons for the shortage. I have begun to do that by attending the Cafe Conversations. I would be proactive and hands on in finding creative solutions. I believe in being respectful of all opinions and ideas for changes needed. I believe that good leaders reach out to all stakeholders; operate in the “Sunshine”; do not think they have all the answers; are not dictatorial; and, nurture a culture of collaboration. I have a history of being the Executive Director of two corporations and so I do know something about leadership. I learned that putting my ego aside and respecting others; just listening to individuals breaks down barriers and effects practical solutions.
Knox: I advocate allowing classroom teachers in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) to extend their DROP beyond the five years currently allowed by the School Board for up to three more years, which is allowed by state law when approved by the School Board.
I support allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom after the required year of retirement at their pre-retirement salaries.
The School District uses the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) to help advertise for teacher vacancies, but I would like to encourage “casting a wider net” by using other online services.
I encourage implementing clubs such as “Future Teachers of America” at the high schools to recruit local students to get their college degrees in education and return to the District.
We should work with the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to help publicize teacher recruitment efforts.
I will continue positive relationships with area universities to develop teacher preparation programs that meet the needs of the District.
Radcliff: There is obviously no quick answer for the teacher shortage in Gulf County. It is a problem facing schools across the country. Specifically, for Gulf County affordable housing is an issue for many people, not just teachers. Something affordable isn’t suitable and something suitable isn’t affordable based on teacher pay levels. This problem is multi-layered and will require the implementation of a multi-year strategy in order to address this situation. I feel my business background and unique skill set will prove very helpful in analyzing and solving such problems.
2. For which vocational programs, if any, should Gulf County seek Triumph Gulf Coast funding?
Hackett: First I would seek the counsel of Mr. Shoaf. I would speak to school Guidance Counselors and High School teachers as they would know our students needs and dreams best. Educate myself as to where the future good paying jobs will be for those who do not feel inclined to go on to college. I have great respect for those who choose vocations in “the trades” and such. My husband has been a woodworker, cabinetmaker, and, furniture fabricator for over 40 years. I love my hairdresser as she transforms my unruly locks, and, am in awe of my auto mechanic as he diagnoses my car’s problems. So those are a few of the good paying jobs that will continue into the future but there are many others that will need to be identified because our children deserve our best efforts.
Knox: The Gulf School District is working closely with a consultant through the Triumph Gulf Coast organization to write a grant for an unmanned aircraft systems (drones) program that will produce certified students who will be able to work with Tyndall Air Force Base and a variety of industries. This transformational technology is expected to have a profound impact on the Panhandle region. Because our small high schools in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka cannot easily obtain funding for multiple vocational programs, the Triumph funding for the drone program will be an exciting new program for our students.
We already have Microsoft Specialist Certification and welding at Port St. Joe High School. Wewahitchka High School also has Microsoft Specialist Certification and a carpentry program, and they will add welding this year if funding is approved. Wewahitchka High School recently began an agriscience program in response to the needs of new companies in the area. Triumph funding can be instrumental in firmly establishing that program and permitting it to be self-sustaining. Similarly, Port St. Joe High School would benefit from Triumph resources in implementing a culinary arts program being started this year. While not a true vocational program, our excellent NJROTC program at Port St. Joe High School gives students an advantage through experience and pay grade when joining the military.
With an overwhelming aging group of Baby Boomers, I feel another needed program for career preparation would be the eventual implementation of a nursing preparation program at our high schools. This program would increase job opportunities and excellent health care support in the local medical community. Our students would provide invaluable nursing services in any community in which they settle.
Radcliff: Within the guidelines of the Triumph funding, I am in favor of seeking funding for a culinary program – I have heard this is perhaps already on the table. I also favor any funding that will help our students get the proper courses to move into the trade industry – HVAC, plumbing, welding, carpentry, etc.
3. Will you establish a policy to enable members of the community to introduce agenda items to the School Board meetings?
Hackett: If I find out there is no such policy I will write and introduce one.
Knox: There is already a policy in the Gulf County School Board Policy Manual that outlines the procedure to be used to place items on the School Board agenda.
Radcliff: There is currently a procedure where members of the community are placed on the agenda and afforded an opportunity to speak at school board meetings. However, I will seek to promote a more welcoming atmosphere when the public comes before the Board. I want to see the Board, through the leadership of the Chairman, engage with parents and other visitors as opposed to the superintendent taking the lead.
4. What efforts will you make to ensure the safety of students and staff?
Hackett: That is sadly a question that troubles everyone. My grandson was in first grade in the neighboring school district to Sandy Hook when that school was invaded. My daughter worked in the World Trade Center Complex when the planes ripped those buildings apart. Living freely without being paralyzed by fear can be challenging. I do not want our children attending schools that are armed encampments. Yet a safe learning environment is a necessity. I think that identifying what has worked in the past in other schools, workplaces, and, public places can be retrofitted for our schools. The introduction of School Social Workers into our schools will be a giant plus. They have the skills to identify troubled children, give assistance to families, and, intervene with creative solutions. They also offer forums to children to speak their truth without judgment creating safe spaces for children to “just be”. We can also harden our school campuses. I am open to all ideas and I welcome all input.
Knox: I will support the efforts of the District’s Safety Director as he works to fulfill the requirements of the Department of Education in regard to school safety. Although money has been allocated by the legislature for school safety for the 2018-2019 school year, it is not enough to do all the things that would “harden” our schools. Local charitable organizations and volunteer groups, along with local law enforcement, could be contacted to help with making our schools safer.
Radcliff: The safety of every student, teacher, and District employee is paramount. I support seeking qualified security experts to apprise the District of its options and continue efforts to harden our schools. The camera-equipped school buses is certainly a positive step for improved security extending beyond the school grounds. The District should continue to work closely with our local law enforcement to maintain a safe and secure environment to promote productive learning.
5. How will you encourage dialogue between the community and the school district?
Hackett: I will ask for it and stress how important open dialogue is to having a school system that all in the community feel they have a stake in and that belongs to everyone. When issues and needs arise they should be made known and not be a secret of a few who hold power positions. When a plan is implemented and an unintended consequences arises as a result someone needs to make everyone aware so it can be addressed. This can only happen if there is a “culture of safety” within the environment. People will not speak if they fear retribution. If a person makes a suggestion and they are accused of something nefarious or if they are disrespected they are not going to feel open to express themselves. That is a toxic environment. Therefore, I will encourage dialogue by refusing to accept a culture that does not produce a respectful, safe environment.
Knox: I would invite the community to attend School Board meetings and follow the policy for placing their agenda items on the monthly agenda. The School Board represents all of the students and families in Gulf County, and I will always make myself available if anyone would like to speak with me. I welcome any and all phone calls and will be happy to meet and discuss anything that affects our students. My home phone number is 229-6334.
I would also like the Gulf County Schools website to add a “Suggestion or Comment” box (electronic) under School Board Resources for families to ask questions, address concerns, and offer ideas.
Radcliff: The District website is user friendly and I encourage parents to acquaint themselves with it. I will work to expand communication to parents – it is your school system and the Board, Superintendent, and staff work for you – I will be available for your concerns. Good communication between parents and the school system is a vital component to an enriched educational experience and I commit to maintaining those open lines of communication.
6. What efforts will you make to ensure the students have access to mental health counseling, guidance counseling, and/or character development programs?
Hackett: As I stated previously, with the introduction of Licensed Clinical Social Workers into our schools much of these will be addressed within the school by them personally or by their ability to refer students and families to appropriate professionals. If an issue is more widespread, such “bullying”, it could be addressed by professional assembly programs that are “jump off” points that lend themselves to small group discussions that can be facilitated by our LCSW staff.
Knox: History shows us that most school shootings have been perpetrated by students or former students who are mentally unstable and/or have emotional issues. The legislature has recognized this, too, and allocated funding for mental health intervention in this year’s budget. It is my understanding the Gulf District has used this funding to hire two additional mental health counselors so that each school will have a mental health counselor on site every day. This counseling of students individually and educating students about bullying, anger management, substance abuse, and other topics, will help our district to, hopefully, curb future violence. I support the training of all personnel to identify students who may be at risk.
Radcliff: The newly required mental health training for all school board employees and a mental health counselor in each school this year will help identify students who may be at risk – providing help when needed sooner rather than later. I would encourage community involvement to promote character development – there are many retired residents in Gulf County who would gladly donate their time to mentor our young people.
7. What policies will you establish to encourage constructive discussion of current affairs among teachers and students?
Hackett: I would institute a written policy and procedure that instructs a teacher to bring her/his need to the attention of her supervisor for the purpose of identifying a creative, practical solution. The P&P will highlight that no subject brought before a teacher will be adjudged to be taboo. As example: if a child has a personal problem, the solution would most likely be a personal solution such as referral to a Social Worker. If it is a universal issue like a school active shooter situation that occurred recently in another school you might address it by doing something more universal. Eg. You might have an assembly where several students take different sides and debate the issue. This engages all students and helps in the development of Critical Thinking and Consequential Thinking. It also universalizes feelings; thus, helping children to not feel isolated in their thoughts. It also teaches listening skills rather than arguing. In other words, the Policy and Procedure would be written and the solution would be creative and situational. In the case of the school shooting the discussion and solution can be anticipatory because you will know that the issue needs to be addressed. In this case there will be several teachers in discussion with the supervisor. In order for Supervision to work you again need that “healthy culture of safety”.
Knox: I will encourage age-appropriate discussions of current events during appropriate class periods, such as social studies.
Debate classes and student government associations also provide opportunities for constructive discussion of current affairs.
Radcliff: In this age of 24 hour news, social media, and the internet it is virtually impossible to shelter children from what is very often horrific events. Sometimes these events make it to the classroom. I believe we should give our teachers the discretion, while maintaining the curriculum requirements, to address current events with students – always on an age appropriate basis.
8. Do you support or oppose removing corporal punishment as a disciplinary procedure from the Gulf County School District’s Code of Conduct?
Hackett: I oppose violence. There is much violence within our society. Domestic Violence is a major problem and leads to the breakup of many families. It also leads to many deaths. Therefore, I would rather use disciplinary situations as opportunities for learning to deal with feelings and teaching that all behaviors have consequences. Good behaviors have good consequences and negative behaviors have negative consequences. Teaching that we all make choices and can act first or think first and act second . We also model controlling anger and exhibit self control when we meet bad behavior with discussion and then an appropriate punishment. This results in teaching children positive coping skills through your modeling and Consequential Thinking because you will administer a punishment that will teach that thinking first is better. Of course, as with all learning, repetition is key and some children need more repetition experiences than others.
Knox: Corporal punishment (paddling) is only used when parents give permission or request this type of punishment for their son or daughter. I support corporal punishment as it is currently used in the District because I believe in parental choice.
Radcliff: The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines corporal punishment as punishment inflicted on a person’s body. I support the removal of corporal punishment from our District.
9. What efforts will you make to ensure our school district and community show encouragement and appreciation for our educators?
Hackett: While I know that there are individuals in every profession that would be better to leave and try another, I believe that the majority try very hard and do their very best. So I personally will treat educators with the respect they deserve. I will expect those in power to always act professionally. I will remind them that their own personal beliefs are not facts. I will not accept someone in power treating an educator disrespectfully or abusing their power. Poor morale is derived from a lack of good leadership, so I will always encourage and appreciate. Everyone needs that positive feedback. Only people with a poor self concept, need to raise themselves up by berating someone else. The community members I know have great respect for our teachers. I think if we just “...treat others as we wish to be treated” we can work out all problems and issues and still show each other kindness.
Knox: I am a believer that we need to celebrate and encourage our educators, and that includes everyone from non-instructional to teachers, to administrators. Everyone in our district has a common goal to make Gulf District Schools the best small district in the state. I would like to see more newspaper articles about successes.
We already have business partners who sponsor the District’s Back to School meeting by awarding door prizes (donated by local businesses) and providing lunch for every district employee. Also, teachers are recognized for their hard work and dedication during Teacher Appreciation Week.
I believe teacher input is critical for our schools to make them successful and would give our teachers a voice.
I support increasing teacher’s salaries for their hard work and endless number of hours spent above and beyond their work hours.
Radcliff: There are so many little ways to show our teachers how much we appreciate them. As a parent – get to know your child’s teacher. Make sure your child is prepared for class each day. A simple ‘thank you’ when you see the teacher out and about in the community, volunteer in your child’s classroom, find out the teacher’s birthday – send a card, get together with other parents and make a teacher appreciation gift basket, etc. Often it is the simplest gesture that can make someone’s day.
I support pay increases as a tangible sign from the District of its appreciation and gratitude for our teachers. Additionally, I will always encourage open dialogue between the Board and our educators. Our teachers need to know that “we’ve got their back.”
10. Why do you want to serve on the Gulf County School Board?
Hackett: I think that the children in our County deserve the very best education possible. I think that our educators deserve to be treated respectfully. We entrust our most precious children into their care. They are there to lovingly, cheerfully teach and encourage our children. We need to do our part, because I do believe “that it takes a village”. I have identified some problems that I think are barriers to offering our educators the encouragement, appreciation, and support they deserve. It is my belief that system weaknesses also effect our children’s ability to have the optimum learning experience that is most possible. We can do better. I would like to have the opportunity to try to effect some positive changes because IT IS REALLY ALL ABOUT THE KIDS!
Knox: I have a deep affection for the Gulf County School System, and I know that a sound public education is the way to enrich our students’ lives and to make this community an even better place to live. I spent most of my adult life as a teacher in this school system and want to continue doing everything I can to make the Gulf County School District the best small district in the state.
Having grandchildren in our school system makes me more determined to make Gulf District Schools the best!
Radcliff: I want to serve on the Gulf County School Board for a number of reasons. I want to see our District soar! All of our schools should be ‘A’ schools. ‘B’ and ‘C’ schools are not acceptable to me. I believe with proper leadership, a welcoming environment, a true cooperative spirit between administration and educators, more willingness for input from parents and the community, and improved student/teacher morale everyone will enjoy coming to school and to work every day.
My expertise in all aspects of business makes me boardroom ready on day one. My focus will always be on education. I will always vote for the best use of our funds knowing there is never enough money to fund everything.
Our students deserve the best possible education we can provide – I want to be a part of that experience and see that every student graduating from either Port St. Joe or Wewahitchka High School is prepared for their chosen path – attending Vo-Tech school, college, or becoming the next local entrepreneur.