On a sunny afternoon at the Florida State College at Jacksonville South Campus Nick Harding is sitting on a bench outside.
Harding is a student at FSCJ. It's his first semester of college...and he’s also just filed candidacy to run for the Duval County School Board.
“I just graduated from Duval County Public Schools, and it’s kind of messy,” Harding said. “And I feel like Duval County could do a lot better. Students could get a better education. Taxpayers could get a lot more value for their money.”
Harding graduated from Wolfson High School this year. He was student council president, and now he’s eyeing the Duval County School Board District 7 seat being vacated by Jason Fischer, who’s running for the state House.
Four of the seven Duval County School Board seats will be up for grabs next year.
In 2012, Fischer was the youngest person to score a Duval school board seat at the age of 29. If elected, Harding would beat that by a decade.
He says knows people might write him off because he’s so young.
“That’s a possibility,” he said. “But I believe I have some serious ideas, and if they agree with those ideas, then they should take me seriously.”
Harding says there’s a lot he’d like to change about how schools are running, particularly when it comes to a new Common Core-style curriculum.
“I believe teachers teach a lot better if they have the freedom to choose what they want to teach, how they want to teach it,” Harding said. “And the district isn’t allowing them to do that.”
He remembers one of his math teachers who wouldn’t always stay on track.
“He stopped and said, ‘OK, if you’re not getting it, I’m not going to keep going,’ so he continued teaching at our pace,” Harding said. “I feel like the district doesn’t give them the freedom to do that without facing some kind of disciplinary action or repercussions.”
He says ideally he’d want the district completely locally funded.
“We’ll have more freedom to choose what we want in our curriculum because we won’t have to accept the conditions that come with federal and state funding,” he said.
Harding acknowledges his own views may have to be set aside to enforce district policies. For instance, he took to Facebook recently to lay out several of what he called “unpopular opinions.” His post called the LGB movement an “abomination” and "transsexual" people “mentally ill.”
But Duval Schools’ anti-discrimination policy protects sexual orientation and gender identity.
“If the issue is something that deeply affects me and my values, I’m either going to vote either for or against it based on how it relates to my values,” Harding said, “or if I feel that I’m unable to remain objective I’ll abstain from voting.”
And he says he’d represent the Southside area of Jacksonville well.
“It’s a very conservative district, and they’re really against Common Core education and I share that too,” Harding said. “So I believe that’s where we could really see eye to eye.”
Harding says now he’s focused on fundraising. In order to have his name printed on next year’s ballot, he’ll have to raise nearly $2,000. He says he thinks canvassing door-to-door is his best bet.