by Tina Certain, Alachua County
School Board Member, District 1
As a concerned school board member, I am writing to express my deep concern and frustration.
I ran for Alachua County School Board because I have a passion for ensuring that all district students receive a quality education and graduate from high school well prepared for college or career. Although many students excel in our public school system, way too many are being left far behind, and the disparities between these groups are some of the worst in the state.
I observed virtually no progress year after year in how our district was effectively confronting many long-standing issues, and the very serious, disruptive impact of the pandemic on our students’ well-being and academic progress has made things much worse. I am acutely aware that it’s very difficult to turn this large barge of school district as systems are firmly entrenched to maintain the status quo, but in my opinion, this is not a time for “business as usual.”
I do acknowledge that our district has experienced way too much turnover in superintendents, but there are many reasons for that.
Drs. Owen Roberts and Carlee Simon, both “outsiders,” had considerable vision and attempted to make many innovative changes to a type of system that is generally threatened by rapid change. Both experienced backlash and removal.
The default in both situations was to put in place individuals who were long-time district employees and more “comfortable” choices, and that was reassuring to many. However, the old expression that “if you keep doing things the way you always have, you will always get what you’ve always gotten,” is particularly relevant.
I have shared my concerns about the leadership of our superintendent in my written evaluation of him and in our board meetings. The evaluations from the other board members have supported my concerns.
It is important that we prioritize the success of our students by holding district leadership accountable, especially the head of the organization.
The Tuesday May 2 board meeting held a tenor that excused the superintendent from leadership concerns but placed his administrators as the responsible party. A repeated statement was “staff are collecting paychecks and serving as placeholders.” I knew this was going to impact staff morale. How could it not?
We cannot afford to lose talented staff members. Three days after the board meeting addressing the superintendent’s evaluation and contract, I was notified of our first administrative resignation. I am saddened by the departure of Alex Rella, our long-time Chief of Finance.
Mr. Rella was integral in leading his finance team in navigating the complexity of school funding in Florida and overseeing the spending of massive federal dollars associated with the ESSER grant. His departure is a huge loss for our district and will undoubtedly have a significant impact on our ability to manage our finances effectively.
This week, another extremely valuable administrator, the Director of Grants, Acquisitions, and Special Project Development, resigned. Losing two key staff members in education finance and the delayed hiring of an internal auditor could have long-term devastating impact.
My fellow board members and I are aware that other key staff members are also considering leaving the district, and this is deeply concerning. It is important that we take action to address these issues and create a positive and supportive environment for our staff.
We need to prioritize the success of our students by ensuring that we have strong and experienced staff members in place to support them. It is also extremely important for the superintendent to understand his role and his responsibility to staff to protect their work and support their efforts. The tone of Tuesday’s meeting indicated the superintendent is not willing to take the responsibility for staff morale, a disappointment to say the least.
As a board member of the SBAC who has been elected to lead change and improve student outcomes for students in our district, I am passionate about attracting and supporting strong and experienced staff members. I fear that if the district retains an “interim” superintendent for another full year, we will not only lose more key staff members, but will also continue to encounter difficulties in recruiting highly qualified individuals for key positions.
Mr. Shane Andrew, the interim superintendent, stated publicly that he felt that the goals for an “in the meantime” interim superintendent are different than for a permanent one.
We have not had a district attorney since January, and the internal auditor position was not filled for many months either.
Although many observers emphasized the need for calm and a stable situation for the district, this board was not elected to maintain the status quo.
Mary and Ron Nutter, longtime educational advocates, stated the following: “This is the time for the Board to exercise its leadership responsibility and spend the time, effort and imagination to generate an educational achievement path for the schools in Alachua County. We would suggest that at least the following be addressed: how do we raise the achievement levels for ALL students, what are measurable steps to solve the overcrowding issues, what is an action plan for redistricting and teacher shortage?”
Will retaining an interim superintendent for another full year accomplish these worthy goals? What vision, innovation and progress to those goals have there been since Mr. Andrew became interim superintendent in March 2022, over 14 months ago? In fact, the crucial process of strategic planning was actually halted once Dr. Simon was removed, when Mr. Andrew took over last spring. The school board can develop policy, but is only responsible for the hiring of two positions, the Superintendent and Board Attorney. Thus, the board is dependent on the superintendent and the administrative team to effectively carry out the board’s collective vision and policies.
Lastly, we have serious work to do and a serious education deficit that needs to be addressed. We should not feel comfortable, we should feel a sense of urgency to address the issues at hand. Therefore, I believe that a search for permanent superintendent should be begun now, as I do not believe that the board and superintendent are well aligned in terms of vision and a sense of urgency.
I am committed to listening to your concerns and working with you to make sure that our school district is a place where all students can thrive. We must hold our superintendent accountable for his actions and inactions and we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to support our staff members and improve outcomes for our students. You can share your feedback and concerns during regular school board meetings, which are held the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6pm at the District office, 620 E University Ave. You can also email the Board at email@example.com.