Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County School Board District 7 candidate Melissa Byrd.
Why do you want you to represent District 7 on the OCPS school board?
As a parent, I navigated District 7 schools with my children for more than a decade and share the frustrations expressed to me by parents repeatedly. As an educator, I was heartbroken when teachers told me I should not go back into the classroom because of the environment. I made the decision to work to improve our schools by using my unique perspective and skills.
Frankly, our schools in District 7 need to be better. Fewer than 10 percent of our district schools are A-rated, but 30 percent of schools districtwide are. We owe our children and our community better.
What distinguishes you from the other candidates?
I have an extensive amount of time as a parent in OCPS at multiple schools – more than a decade. I have taught in nearly all District 7 schools – spending time in 24 of the district’s 26 schools – and plan to continue to substitute to ensure I experience our classrooms regularly. I have strong community ties throughout the region as a business owner with my husband, building the relationships with community leaders to create partnerships to benefit our children. Finally, this position will be my fulltime job to have a strong presence in the schools and community.
What would your priorities be, if elected?
First, improve the classroom environment, pushing for the proper enforcement to change disruptive and dangerous behaviors, giving our kids a productive and safe learning environment.
Second, increase communication and transparency with regular community meetings, a designated and anonymous phone line for teachers, a community advisory council and regular home visits with families.
Third, bring more educational opportunities to District 7, such as innovative magnets and vocational schools. Finally, advocate for our teachers. We lose teachers at an alarming rate and morale is low. We must work together on solutions to fix the problems that are plaguing our teachers.
What are three challenges district 7 schools are currently facing, and how would you address them?
Our classrooms are often out of control. We must enforce the code of conduct and utilize our increased mental health funding to build safe learning environments.
Our district must expand diverse and innovative educational opportunities. I help create partnerships with business and community groups for programs like an arts magnet, an aerospace and aviation magnet, a K-8 school and more trade schools.
There is a breakdown in communication between OCPS and various communities. In addition to those listed above, I will create a unique abilities council for parents to be a resource and advocate for unique abilities students.
What measures should the district take in its goal to retain high-quality teachers?
The first step is to improve the working environment for our teachers. One of the biggest issues for teachers is the evaluation system currently being used. It is belittling to our professionals and difficult to navigate. They must have more autonomy over what and how they teach. Finally, they want to have someone listen to their concerns and acting. Until we start treating our teachers with the respect they deserve we will continue to see good teachers quit or retire early. This is a problem that cannot wait to be solved.
What is your overall opinion on standardized testing, and should students’ test scores impact teacher evaluations?
I’ve dried the tears of my children during testing season as so many parents have. It’s horrible the stress we put on these children, particularly in elementary school. While some tests are state-mandated, some are put forth by OCPS and need to end immediately. Student test scores should never impact the evaluations or pay of our teachers. Too many factors can affect how a student tests on one day to allow that score to affect something as important as a teacher’s wages.
What are your thoughts on the recent drastic cuts in legislative funding to arts education/organizations?
The funding crisis from Tallahassee is unacceptable. OCPS must do a better job of advocating at the state level for our funding. As the fourth largest school district in Florida, we should be one of the loudest voices in Tallahassee leading this charge. I look forward to adding my voice and influence to this fight. I also believe OCPS can be better stewards of our tax dollars. Every dollar we spend should only be spent if helps to educate our students. As a school board member, I will call for a forensic audit to find waste and unnecessary spending.