Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County School Board Chair candidate Robert Prater.
What is the single biggest challenge facing OCPS?
Paying our employees and teachers the national average would be a great challenge to overcome. Teachers are becoming increasingly discouraged because of the current state of education. Many, like myself, are now attempting to make changes from within the system. Teachers all over this county, state and nation are now running for political office. As a school system, we’re not giving students the opportunities to be who they are — or to become who/what they want to be. What we are doing is developing another generation of test-takers.
What is the best way for the district to address school safety?
As a school district, we have put some safety measures in place, but we can do more. This is why I feel it is essential to place a safety committee that can bring to the board the entire district’s concerns. I want to put a call center in place that can be used for multipurpose situations — safety being one of them. We have installed millions of dollars of surveillance cameras, and we need to make sure we have enough personnel watching all our schools and who is coming onto the property.
How should OCPS handle the issue of school overcrowding?
The same way hospitals handle growth — add permanent wings to schools, not unsafe portables. Each school only needs one principal, just like we have one superintendent. For example, existing elementary schools are on 15 acres of land, the maximum student count is 830. I recommend moving that up to 1,250 and adding one assistant principal. This is much more cost-effective than building a whole new school at the cost of about $20 million.
How would you improve communication between the School Board and Orange County?
I would recommend that each School Board member go out to their district once a month and meet with their parents and school personnel. Listening is our first step then bringing back those topics to the board so that together we can brainstorm to see what solutions we can come up with. Additionally, newsletters, e-mails, website, Facebook pages, Orange Connect, planners, flyers, marquee notices, PTA/SAC meetings and the constant push of these tools will keep us all as a district connected.
Why are you running for Orange County School Board chair?
Since starting my educational career in 2008, I have had the privilege to work not only in direct contact with all levels of our OCPS employee family but also with our students and their parents. I branched out getting to know and work directly with the community and the businesses within and heard their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Then I began serving on various district committees and saw how my views as a teacher and community advocate positively impacted some of the decisions recommended by those committees.
What do you want to accomplish as School Board chair?
Improve school safety policy; vocational programs; building traditional vocational high-school alternatives; teacher evaluation policy; student discipline policies; school time changes; and after-school programs. No one School Board member can change anything; it takes five, and it is best to have a consensus when developing new policies.