Windermere High School parents attended a successful discussion with Dr. Maria Vazquez, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, Tuesday, Jan. 31.
As part of her 100-day entry plan, Vazquez set a goal that included traveling around the district hosting 22 meetings with employees and 22 meetings with parents and community members.
Windermere High was the 21st school the superintendent visited.
“We’ve been asking the same three questions,” Vazquez said. “We’ve been asking what’s going well, what’s not going well and … how we are doing with communication.”
Parents were asked to engage in a conversation that focused on the three questions using a platform called ThoughtExchange, where they were able to provide their thoughts and opinions. Vazquez read the top comments and discussed them with the parents while answering questions and expanding on requested information.
“At the end of the 100 days, we will combine everything to be able to see what are those top responses,” she said. “We are starting to see some patterns, this is the 21st (meeting), but we are starting to see some differences — some new answers based on communities, based on areas, based on parents or administrators — so it’s been interesting to see the commonalities and similarities but also to see those things that are unique.”
The first question was “Name one thing that is going well and we should continue it.”
Wolverine parents listed the football stadium moving to campus, communication, extracurricular programs and crossing guards.
When asked the second question — “What is one thing that needs immediate attention and can be improved or changed?” — parents were vocal about some recent concerns.
One concern was teacher retention; a parent asked if teacher turnover could be reduced.
“That’s an issue; I’m sure you know it’s a national crisis with education,” Vazquez said. “Part of that is related to salary, but we are very hopeful that we are going to be able to provide raises for all of our employees this upcoming year.”
The lack of bus drivers and the low income they earn also was one of the topics discussed.
“Buses is an issue because we don’t have more drivers,” Vazquez said. “I’m going to be perfectly transparent: That’s probably not going to change in the next year or so. We do have a pilot that we are starting in March with iPads on our buses. It’s a pilot that’s going to start in the Pine Hills complex. If that goes well then that pilot will go in all of our buses next year and it will at least let parents track where the bus is.
“We actually have the best package of any of our neighboring districts — we train them for free, there is a signing bonus, we have the highest rate,” Vazquez said. “However, they come, get their signing bonus, we train them, and then after a couple of weeks they leave us.”
One of the comments also shared was the need to have better-prepared teachers for advanced and more rigorous programs.
“When we look at the shortage of teachers, the greatest vacancies are in the area of exceptional (education),” Vazquez said. “Not only do we have a teacher shortage, but the greatest area is with teachers that teach children with disabilities.”
Better internet and Wi-Fi were mentioned, as well as better accessibility to counselors. One parent said there is a need for more approachable counselors, as well as better communication between the counselors and students. She said one of her sons had never visited his counselor’s office until his junior year of high school because he didn’t know who his counselor was.
“That should not happen,” Vazquez said.
A Windermere High student who was present at the meeting shared his experience with his counselor. He said during the transfer process from an out-of-state school, despite sending his transcripts to his counselor, these were not entered into the system until his second semester — so he had to spend a semester taking classes that were below his academic level.
“I feel like the counselors as a whole should be informed about what should happen and give students more flexibility about the courses that they can choose,” the student said.
At the end of the meeting, Vazquez expressed her appreciation with the parents who were present.
“I want to say thank you for coming out,” she said. “Some of you had so many things with your families that you took time out to come and meet me and share your thoughts with me. It really means a lot, and it also means how supportive you are of OCPS, and I want you to continue to be supportive.
“We are going to continue with town halls, probably not 22 in 100 days, but we are going to continue this forum and continue to reach out and connect with you,” Vazquez said.