The two candidates for chair and three candidates for District 1 spoke with local teachers and parents about the issues facing education in Orange County.
Winter Park parents were able to meet candidates for two Orange County School Board seats during a PTSA meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13, at Winter Park High School.
Candidates for chair and District 1 were given five minutes to speak, before participating in a short Q&A session.
The first candidates up were Orlando residents Robert Prater and Nancy Robbinson, who are vying for School Board chair. Apopka resident Matthew Fitzpatrick, who entered the race Jan. 12, did not attend the event. They were followed by Orlando resident Angie Gallo, and Winter Park residents Terry Rooth and Heather Traynham, who are running for the District 1 seat.
CANDIDATES FOR CHAIR
Prater, who started off his career in education as a first-and second-grade teacher, said he entered the race for chair to help better the Orange County Public Schools system, particularly the way it evaluates students.
“Part of that evaluation system is it’s demoralizing,” Prater said. “The bottom line is, it’s not working.”
The hope for Prater is to fix problems such as these as well as build teacher morale.
“Teachers are the lowest paid in the nation with a four-year degree — and you know this going in,” Prater said. “So my goal is to change the culture.”
Robbinson’s background in education has led to her current role as the representative for District 6 — which includes Maitland — for the last 10 years.
Although Robbinson said the board had made great strides during her time, there is always room for improvements.
“We already have voluntary pre-K in a lot of our schools, and in particular, our high-needs neighborhoods, but I’d like to expand that and make sure we offer it to more students at a younger age,” Robbinson said. “I’d love to be able to bring some of the 3-year olds in in some of our high-needs neighborhoods.”
There is also the hope her nomination would help continue the momentum she has built during her time on the board.
DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
As the Florida PT legislative chair, Gallo has spent the last 14 years as an advocate and member of the PTA.
During her five-minute speech, Gallo said that she was focusing on three specific issues — expanding pre-K, helping promote career technical education and expanding dual enrollment.
“We need to do a better job informing parents what CTE is — what’s available, what’s out there,” Gallo said. “Right now in America, our children are $1.3 trillion in debt. … Our children need to know that those who want to go to college, that’s awesome, but there are alternatives.”
As a lawyer, Rooth currently works at the University of Central Florida as an assistant general counsel to student legal services. His main focus is to address the issue of undervalued and underpaid teachers.
“A lot of it is the state, but it’s also the board and its priorities,” he said. “If the board starts valuing teachers more, and that could easily start with an increase in salary, we can slow down this exodus of teachers leaving and also pull in teachers from surrounding counties.”
Traynham is a mother of two, a local business owner and community partner to 65 different schools throughout Orange County.
As a Winter Park resident, Traynham entered the race as a resident who cares about the school system and its success.
“We need someone who understands the scope of working with this large urban district and numerous schools each and every day,” Traynham said.
Along with the want to expand pre-K, Traynham said the biggest issue holding back schools is the achievement gap.
“There are four ways that you solve the achievement gap — student attendance, teacher attendance, discipline and ninth-grade retention,” Traynham said. “If you really want to make the biggest impact in our schools, you close that achievement gap.”
Elections for the OCPS school board will be held Aug. 28.