Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County School Board District 4 candidate Dayna Gaut.
Family: Married; parent and new grandmother
Education: Bachelor’s degree in organizational communication, Rollins College; master’s degree in education, Florida Southern College; doctoral candidate in educational leadership, Florida Southern College
Qualifications: State-certified elementary school teacher; former paramedic/firefighter; certifications in emergency management
Why do you want you to represent District 4 on the OCPS School Board?
While I’m formally trained to be in command of a national disaster, I want to serve you on the School Board. Many of you have seen me at community meetings — taking notes, poring over maps, standing up for your children and having discussions well after our government officials have left the parking lot. I believe we have to do better. Our current educational system needs vast improvement. The School Board is very important, (because it sets) the policies and standards for the school district. (It directs) the superintendent to carry out these expectations and are accountable to the citizens, parents and students. I envision a much more participatory School Board. We will be facing a very tough few years ahead. The best way to get through this is by working together side by side.
Why are you the best candidate?
I’ve been a paramedic/firefighter, active mom, teacher and am currently an educational researcher finishing my doctorate. I’ve had (more than) 15 years of community-sports team-mom experience. I started as an involved parent serving on PTAs, SACs, Relay for Life teams, as well as volunteered in classrooms and even became a substitute teacher for my daughter’s elementary school — while being a subcontractor for the U.S. E.P.A. Headquarters Community Involvement and Outreach Center. I am the only state-certified teacher who has actually worked in an OCPS classroom in this race. While having sat on both the parent side (and) the teacher side of various committees and (being) driven to speak to legislative committees throughout the years is important, it is no longer enough to handle the issues we will be facing in the next three years. This is a health, educational, economic and societal crisis we face. We must have educational experts with the formal educational degrees. I’ve spent years learning the critical knowledge of public policy, legislation, finance and pedagogy schools operate under educational legislative requirements; I understand these and have studied them. I know how government bloats when taxes are plentiful. We will be facing a dramatic tax shortage; we need a School Board member who understands the minute details of education. It is imperative to have the educational knowledge to cut excess departments downtown without impacting our students and teachers at the school level.
What would be your priorities, if elected?
We need the safest path possible through COVID-19. Since March, I have been studying schools around the world. We currently do not have enough data to establish best practices. As more countries go back to school, we are learning more about this virus and children. We need guidance from doctors, but we also have to do our own homework. The stakes are too high to be swayed by political distractions and false arguments when lives are at stake. I will provide solutions for overcrowding, over-testing (and) overworked teachers and improve student social, emotional and mental well-being. I believe a waiver for the state test will ease anxiety and free up needed money this year. I speak with parents and teachers daily about educational issues and have already begun to develop additional partnerships with nonprofits for additional counseling, which will be needed after each outbreak.
How do you balance the varying needs of parents and students, and teachers’ concerns regarding COVID-19 and reopening schools?
Parents have the choice to choose which type of educational model works best for their child and their family situation. Students with learning disabilities and special needs must receive their legally mandated accommodations. That being said, teachers and school staff have a right to a safe workplace. … To properly balance, you must stand on a firm foundation. I believe first, do no harm.
What has to happen for you to feel comfortable with reopening schools for face-to-face instruction?
Nobody is comfortable. I find the current OCPS plan lacking, (because) it takes unacceptable shortcuts. I want CDC compliance and a hotline to report non-compliance that is recorded for public record. This hotline shall be available for students, teachers, principals, parents, staff and custodians to request immediate compliance. It is the district’s responsibility to provide cleaning supplies — no more out-of-pocket expense for principals, teachers and parents. Every year, several schools are forced to clean with water only because the district says cleaning supplies are not available. A budget of $4.9 billion and our children can’t have soap to wash their hands! Additionally, the school ventilation systems need to be cleaned. More custodians must be hired as the current plan has zero. I do not want teachers and students responsible for and/or liable for sanitizing schools. These items are easily added to the plan. Only then can I be less uncomfortable about opening face-to-face instruction.
Some teachers say Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent $500 million bill to raise teachers’ salaries favors new teachers rather than rewards veteran educators. What is your position regarding this bill and its implementation?
The bill does favor newer teachers at the expense of veteran teachers. I prefer a percentage raise by salary step to be fair to all teachers. When the money is sent, it will be important to see how the Department of Education defines dispersement. When I worked as a paramedic, all county departments, fire departments and ambulance companies worked together throughout the state as partners, hand-in-glove with legislators and the Department of Emergency Services under the Department of Health who promulgates the rules. I never understood why educators don’t do the same; I will work with everybody for the sake of our students and teachers.
What are the education challenges unique to West Orange County, and how would you address those as a member of the School Board?
The growth in Horizon West, Winter Garden, Windermere and Ocoee has not been handled well over the past 20 years. Finally, Dr. Phillips High School will get a relief school. The proposed plan to use the new high school in Horizon West as both a middle school and high school — grades six to 12 — for a few years is unacceptable and so unpopular it was pulled from the agenda but will come back in the fall. Windermere High has (more than) 4,000 students. With so many parents opting for online, this will help ease this drastic lapse in leadership. Another issue unique to West Orange is our Brazilian students who attend school for part of the year. Brazil does not offer free public education. Parents can live here, have their child attend free school and go home for about the same price. As a former English Language Learner teacher, I love multilingual children and would encourage more dual-language educational programs for all children. As a School Board member, we must be cognizant of the additional resources that our temporary students need and make sure all students are served.