City/town: Winter Garden
Family: Married to wife, Darlene, for 24 years; three children
Education: Graduate of University of Florida and University of South Florida
Qualifications: Credentialed college professor and classroom teacher, veteran U.S. Naval officer and commissioned public health service officer
Of the three School Board seats on the primary ballot, this was the only one that was headed to a runoff. In your mind, what does that mean about District 4 and its voters?
The results speak for themselves that over 16,000 voters have some serious reservations about the future of Orange County Public Schools under my opponent.
What are the key differences between you and your opponent?
Let’s list them: No. 1, I’m a parent of three currently enrolled students, while my opponent hasn’t had a child in school for nearly a decade. No. 2, I’m a spouse of a veteran Orange County Public Schools teacher. Any board member can correspond with teachers at a professional level, but when you’re married to one, you see how they’re impacted by the School Board’s decisions. The School Board’s decisions make a major impact on the life of every single OCPS teacher. No. 3, I am an educator myself and have spent years in the classroom, in front of students. No. 4, I am a public-health disease professional that has practiced this profession for over 27 years on the front lines while defending our troops in foreign wars as a U.S Naval officer.
I am in the same boat as the families of students and teachers across Orange County who are deeply concerned about the future of school safety from a variety of threats. Many times, we have seen the School Board make decisions that we question whether there is the interest of parents, teachers and students instead of special interest. With the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we have seen firsthand the issues that arise when we don’t put the safety and well-being of our children first.
Why should District 4 constituents cast their votes for you?
Voters should elect me if they want to ensure that their representative on the School Board makes decisions that are backed by science. This is critically important moving forward in this pandemic so that we can get back to educating our children. In our district, we had both Olympia High and West Orange High shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks among those student populations. My opponent was directly involved by voting to open our schools without properly training and equipping the staff with the resources to protect our students, teachers and faculty from threats they shouldn’t be facing. As their representative on the board, I’ve been trained in epidemiology, public gealth and was chosen to train at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases long before biological weapons became a household word. I have children and a spouse actively attending Orange County Public Schools, so they will have someone who will share their voice every time to represent this community on the board.
In District 4, growth will continue to be an issue, and new schools typically open at or near capacity — and are then overcrowded within just a few years. Is there any possibility in changing this dynamic? If so, what is that?
My opponent, who has held this position for years, saw the unsustainable growth, yet she offered no comprehensive plan to stop school overcrowding. We have a fleeting number of new schools that have been built or are in the process of being built and have exceeded maximum capacity before the doors even open. A prime example is Windermere High, which opened just three-and-one-half years ago but has over 4,000 students. Summerlake Elementary – and the new high school on Seidel Road that has not even opened – have portables. The pipeline for new schools is so backlogged that we don’t have the resources available for our students, and that is just wrong. I have a wife and kids enrolled in OCPS schools, and I hear how the crowded campus setting impacts their daily life. I know that we have to make sure that we are planning with smart growth and making decisions that benefit the students and teachers in the classroom. We can’t build at breakneck speed without having proper planning in place for the education of our children.
During the pandemic, some families have opted for private, charter or virtual options for their students. How should the district respond to trend to encourage families to keep their children in OCPS schools?
As a Black American father, I know and have experienced, firsthand the challenges that students face and also (believe in) empowering parents to make the best choice in educating their children. We must have multiple options for parents to educate their children, whether it’s face-to-face, LaunchEd or a hybrid of both. When we’re not following an action plan or procedure that should have been in place, you get the chaos that we’ve been witnessing. I applaud the faculty and staff across Orange County that have done their absolute best to provide our children with an education under these trying times, but I will be there to be a voice for the teachers, the parents and, ultimately, the students to make sure they have the best resources possible and weather through the remainder of this pandemic.
If you had a magic wand, what three issues would you change immediately at OCPS?
No. 1, that decisions are made with student and teacher safety as a top priority. No. 2, begin projects with an “end” in mind. Let’s stop being reactive and be more proactive. Lastly, we need to keep proactively looking at the best use of OCPS property countywide and reducing the need for portables.
If elected, how will you ensure transparency and open communication with your District 4 constituents?
I’m married to an OCPS teacher and the father of three students enrolled in OCPS schools, so I understand the importance of clear and timely communication from leadership. I’ll make sure my lines of communication always remain open. I can tell you I’ve dealt with some of the frustrations firsthand. For example, on one occasion, when a constituent emailed the current District 4 board member in July, she received an impersonal “away on vacation” automatic response that has been left on from March. Teachers and students deserve a School Board who are actively engaged and involved with the very people they represent and not afraid of leading during a crisis.