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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 1 month ago

Candidate Q&A: Orange County School Board chair

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In a Q&A with the Observer, Teresa Jacobs answered questions about her plans and priorities for the role, with Demensio Barton and Carl Brewer not responding to multiple attempts seeking participation.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

Before the Aug. 23 primary, the Observer will be publishing Q&As featuring candidates in key races that will appear on ballots in West Orange and Southwest Orange.

This week, we introduce the candidates for Orange County School Board chair.

Incumbent Teresa Jacobs faces two challengers for the chair. 

Demensio Barton and Carl Brewer both will appear on the Aug. 23 ballot.

However, neither challenger responded to multiple attempts seeking participation in this Q&A. 

BIO:

Age: 65

City/town of residence: Unincorporated Orange County

Family: Husband Bruce Jacobs and children Joshua, Max, Lisa, Chase (all graduates of OCPS)

Education: Bachelor of Science in Economics from Florida State University (graduated cum laude)

Qualifications: Volunteer experience in schools and served on OCPS appointed committees. County commissioner eight years, county mayor eight years and school board chair three and a half years. 

What are the key differences between you and your opponents?

I have years of experience and knowledge both as a volunteer and elected official. I was actively involved in OCPS as an engaged parent and volunteer. I served on school advisory councils for my children’s elementary and middle schools. Before running for public office, I was appointed by superintendent Smith to chair the School Impact Fee Advisory Committee and by superintendent Blocker to serve as chair of the Olympia High School Construction Oversight Committee. As a county commissioner, I proposed and successfully championed a ballot initiative that requires coordination of residential development with school capacity to reduce school overcrowding. As mayor, in response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, I proposed and offered to fund deputies at all elementary schools (the school district already had law enforcement officers in all middle and high schools). I have served as chair of the school board since November 2019 during the most difficult period in recent history due to the pandemic and overseeing the successful transition of superintendents. 

Why should voters cast their votes for you?

I believe voters should vote for me because I have demonstrated my commitment to our students and our community and I believe I have earned their trust as a county commissioner, county mayor and now school board chair during extremely challenging times.

What are the three most pressing issues facing OCPS today, and how will you address them?

In my opinion, the three most pressing issues facing OCPS today are helping students recover -- academically and emotionally -- from the COVID slide; retaining and recruiting teachers, bus drivers and other essential staff; and expanding the number of students that are aware of and enrolled in our Career and Technical Education School/College. 

Recovering from the COVID slide

We are already hard at work addressing the COVID slide academically through our intensive summer school programs and through in-school tutoring to help students get back on track academically. To help our students deal with the emotional stress of the pandemic, one of my first initiatives as chair was to create a multidisciplinary Mental Health Commission. That commission has been essential in expanding awareness of the importance of mental health, reducing the stigma around asking for help, and knowledge of the resources available to our students and staff. 

Retaining and recruiting teachers and essential staff 

Retaining and recruiting staff requires additional funding so that we can pay these valuable employees a salary commensurate with the benefit they provide to our students and our future. Over the last two years, we have also explored ways to reduce unnecessary work and to create a more positive work environment.  

Expanding Dual Enrollment in Career and Technical Education

OCPS offers a large range of technical training and certification programs that are available to students while they are still in school. It’s called dual enrollment. Depending on the program, students can graduate with a high school diploma, a career certification, and a job in a good-paying career! We are currently in the process of “Reimagining Career and Technical Education” and revising these programs to better accommodate the schedules and interests of our students. 

The current political climate in the country has, at times, pitted teachers and parents against each other. What is your vision for how educators and parents work together? What is that balance?

Parents and teachers both play such a critical role in their children’s/student’s development and academic success. In nearly every case, both the parent and the teacher want what is best for the student. The key is understanding how important each role is and then working together as true partners in their child/student’s success.

How much access and input should a parent have in his or her child’s education at OCPS?

Parents should and do have access to the curriculum taught in their children’s classes. Parents have the right to opt their children out of certain classes such as Health Education. Parents should be able to choose the classes their children take as long as there is capacity and their children have demonstrated the required skills and knowledge for those classes. 

The Parental Rights in Education law has caused some controversy. How does OCPS incorporate this new law into its operations?

OCPS is currently in the process of issuing guidance to all teachers and administrators regarding the changes required due to the Parents Bill of Rights and HB 1467 to ensure compliance. 

In fall 2021, the book “Gender Queer” was found in the library at several OCPS schools. It later was removed. Share your view on this and on the broader subject of banned books.

Our Board first learned of “Gender Queer” when a constituent brought it to a school board meeting. Although we have a process by which parents or residents can challenge library materials, that process does not limit the authority of the superintendent to remove material from the library to ensure it complies with Florida Statutes. The preliminary determination of the superintendent is that this book did not comply because it contains pornography which is specifically prohibited by section 1006.40 of the Florida Statutes.

My position on books in the library is that we should include a wide variety of books that will appeal to our diverse student population. I believe it is important that our students be able to find books with characters they can relate to. I also believe we should and must comply with Florida law that prohibits pornography in public school libraries. 

How does OCPS continue to work toward common ground with the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association regarding teacher salary and benefits?

We must build a relationship of trust and I believe that is possible due to two important changes, a new president of CTA that I trust and believe will be honest with us and his membership, and a new negotiating team for the district that I believe will maintain an honest and professional relationship throughout all interactions with the CTA.

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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