All five of the candidates running for Duval County’s District 2 School Board seat participated in a forum Wednesday evening hosted by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund downtown.
The district encompasses the Beaches area. District 2 board member Scott Shine isn’t running for reelection.
In alphabetical order, the District 2 candidates appearing on the August primary ballot are Elizabeth Anderson, Casey Ayers, Shannon Beckham, Sam Hall and Nick Howland.
Elizabeth Andersen is a former Duval County English teacher who changed careers to become a therapist. She opened a practice specializing in children and families and said she works with kids in schools.
Casey Ayers has degrees in finance and business. He has experience working with tech startups, some businesses he started himself. More recently he’s been producing online training courses for companies.
Shannon Beckham is a former Duval County special education teacher in middle and elementary schools. She volunteers in schools tutoring students and is currently a PTA president.
Sam Hall is a retired scientist and strong supporter of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) curricula. He’s the former chair of the Bridge of Northeast Florida program serving “at-risk” youth and serves on the Neighborhood Accountability Review Board giving children the option of civil citations.
Nick Howland is a Navy veteran and Jacksonville businessman who is also a father to two Duval County students. He has the endorsement of the political arm of the Jax Chamber.
Below are a sampling of questions the candidates answered at Wednesday’s forum. Responses have been edited for brevity.
- What are the biggest challenges facing Duval schools?
Andersen: Enrollment, retention and student engagement. “When our student enrollment is down, we don’t have enough students and we’re not able to get money into our schools. When we’re not able to get the money into our schools, then we can’t hire the teachers we need.” She said teachers need a pay increase.
Ayers: Duval isn’t adequately preparing students for life after graduation. “We tell our students that college is the only potential pathway to success. We don’t tell them what the cost of that college will be, the return on investment.” He said they need to know about alternative paths they could be interested in.
Beckham: Complying with state mandates. Example: A recent school safety law requiring schools have armed guards or sworn officers. “Duval County estimated that it would be over $10 million to put a resource officer in every elementary school and we were given over $3 million. That to me is unacceptable.”
Hall: Safety and budget. “It has to be child-centric and teacher-centric. We have to focus on children. We have to provide the resources for them.” He said that could mean finding new revenue streams.
Howland: Improved governance. “It’s critical that we establish good governance on this board and have a good relationship with the new superintendent Dr. Diana Greene in order to realize her goals.” He said those goals should be increasing teacher pay and making schools safer.
- Position on charter schools? Does District 2 need more of them?
Andersen: Charters were created to offer innovation to be brought to traditional schools. “That’s the problem I’m having right now with some of the charter schools in our area.” She said while some are doing a great job she’s been in charters with unstructured environments and teachers who aren’t certified properly.
Ayers: In an ideal world charters would work as beta testing facility, “where academic research can be done and best practices can be brought back into the school system.” Said too often that's not what’s happening. Proposes magnet or career specialty program in all secondary schools to compete with charters.
Beckham: Doesn’t think more are needed in District 2. With a background in special education, understand parents want choices. “They are looking for the best spot for their child.” She said District 2 already has great school options including magnet programs.
Hall: Charters position parents to have a choice. “What I’d like to see is that our traditional public schools will be the better choice." He said magnet competition has raised the bar in Duval.
Howland: After great teachers, great school options are main drivers of student achievement. “By options I don’t mean charters,” he said, but rather innovative programs, magnets and vocational programs. He said charters could play a role, for example by replacing an under performing school if there’s regulation and strong oversight of it. But said he’s against “privatization.”
- How do we recruit and retain quality, career teachers? What about minority teachers?
Andersen: Be cautious about spending money on organizations that recruit for district. Said district should recruit teachers itself, “by giving them the appropriate supports and the appropriate professional development and the training they need to do their job well.” Says teachers need cultural diversity training.
Ayers: Compensation is first. “We also need to make sure that they have adequate materials and access to up-to-date technology and textbooks within their classrooms." To diversify population the district could look at creative compensation methods like supplementing student loans.
Beckham: Teachers are frustrated and not given resources timely. “If I have a child who’s depressed and needs mental health counseling, it should not take them six months to get them in to see a guidance counselor.” Said raising salaires is a priority but it might not be an option right away.
Hall: Supports using resources like Teach For America to recruit teachers in hard-to-staff schools. He said the district should change the image of teachers. “Some people are thinking they aren’t appreciated.” Said teacher makeup should reflect diversity in community.
Howland: Compensation. Hopes new Superintendent Greene can implement similar teacher salary increases as she did her her former county. Diverse makeup of teachers is critical.
- Position on controversial three-part education Amendment 8 set to appear on November ballots? Candidates were asked specifically about the “state operator” portion.
Read about Amendment 8 here.
Andersen: Opposed. “People from probably not Jacksonville are going to decide where charter schools are going to go and what the needs of this community are.” Said it takes away local representation.
Ayers: Opposed. On a philosophical basis violates the principles of federalism and home rule. School board “gives a direct line of authority and accountability between voters in our district and their children’s education.”
Beckham: Opposed: State operator portion is taxation without representation. Without that oversight you have no accountability at all.
Hall: Opposed: Amendment is convoluted with the three portions. Said the state operator portion creates a parallel governance body to the school board. “I don’t think that’s the best use of resources.” Voters need to read it carefully.
Howland: Undecided. Stuck on the state operator portion. “I want to look through every decision such as this as ‘What is best for our kids?’” He said the district doesn’t do a great job of monitoring and providing oversight to charters, and if the state can do a better job “then great.” Said most states have other school authorizing entities.
The District 2 seat is one of three up for grabs in the August election. The others are District 4, which covers the Eastside and much of the Northside, and District 6, which covers much of the Westside and Jacksonville’s urban core.
In Duval, any candidate who gets at least 50 percent plus one vote in the August primary wins the race. If that doesn’t happen, the top two candidates will move on to a runoff in November.