District 3 school board candidate Paula T. Barton, 62, of Macclenny is retired and a former superintendent of schools in Baker County. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of North Florida.
District 3 school board candidate DeAnna Rewis-McDuffie, 43, of Macclenny is the general manager of Cable Junction Zip Line Adventures, a park under development in Sanderson. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Phoenix.
What personal qualities make you uniquely qualified for the office you’re seeking?
P. Barton: I have a proven record of making decisions based on the best interests of children. My most precious personal assets are my five grandchildren. They will receive their education in the Baker County public school system. I will personally work to ensure that they and all other children receive a quality education. My 34 years of continuous service to the Baker County School System is evidence of my personal commitment and dedication to education. I have integrity and have demonstrated my ability to provide ethical leadership and encourage family and community involvement throughout the Baker County School System. I know how to listen to people and how to work together with them to provide a quality education for children.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I have one daughter, Sydni, who will be entering Keller Intermediate School this fall. As Sydni’s mother and a concerned parent who has been volunteering in her classrooms since kindergarten, I want to take my interest in helping the children in her classroom and expand it to making a difference in the lives of school children in our district. I will listen to all parental concerns as if they were my own.
Another quality I will bring to the office is my loyalty. I am fiercely loyal to our community and I am proud to be a product of the Baker County school system. I believe in the power of education because I know what it has done for me. I believe we have schools with teachers that prepared me not only for college but also to be a small business owner. I want to give back to our schools by serving our students, parents, and employees. I will act and make decisions as fairly as possible always keeping in mind what is best for our students and community.
Last, I am dependable and have a work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents and grandparents. I will attend all meetings and workshops. I will listen and consider all sides of an issue. I am willing to tweak a system we already have in place or try something new. As a school board member I will work for every child as if he or she was my own.
What will be your top three priorities in office and how do you plan to pursue them if elected?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: Safety is always a top priority for every parent, employee or community member where its schools are concerned and I am no different than any other mother. Safety is first. With that in mind, I would like to arrange bringing in guest speakers to each school throughout the year that would address issues that are currently plaguing schools across our nation such as bullying, texting and driving, the dangers of drugs/alcohol and teen depression just to name a few. I am dedicated to making sure we have defibulators on site at every school event and sports practice fields to insure the safety of our student athletes and fans. I will also partner with the Orange Park Medical Center to bring in healthcare professionals who will teach one man rescue CPR training to every high school junior and senior for one never knows when he or she may be able to help another person or perhaps save a life. I will pursue these plans by going through the proper school district channels.
Communication is my next priority in our school district. First and foremost is the communication between our homes and our schools. Because our children’s well being and education is so important, the lines of communication between those who spend the most time with them is vital—parents and teachers must be engaged in an ongoing conversation about their students, not just a phone call or note when there is a problem. With the idea of communication being vital, it also applies within our schools. The lines of communication must be open between our teachers and staff and their administrators. A faculty and staff that understands the administration’s policies and expectations will work together for the greater good of our children. A faculty and staff that feel appreciated for the work they do or that they are heard when a problem arises, will give their best when educating our children.
Mentoring is my third top priority. A child cannot have enough positive role models. The variety of experiences a mentor brings to the table can inspire a young mind to explore avenues they once thought to be unattainable. Furthermore, a child can realize they have self worth and can be of value to others.
P. Barton: 1. Increased state funding. I will work diligently to lobby the legislature in Tallahassee to increase funding for public education. I will encourage the elimination of unfunded state mandates. I will actively work to pursue state grants that provide additional funding to our district. 2. Develop a strategic district plan. I will cooperate with the superintendent, school board members and employees to develop and implement a five year strategic district plan. The plan would address increased academic achievement, educational facilities, student population growth, student needs (educational, health, nutritional, enrichment/athletic opportunities), school safety and adequate funding. 3. Safe and drug free schools. I will support an increased safety and drug free schools plan of action. I will encourage and support school board policies that enforce safe and drug-free schools. I will support the continuation of cooperatively working with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office in providing School Resource Officers at schools. I will support the continuation of deputies living on school properties and providing security for district facilities.
How many school board meetings have you attended in the last year and what have you learned from them?
P. Barton: I began regularly attending school board meetings in September 2013 following the resignation of the former school board member. I have attended a total of 23 school board meetings and public workshops. While attending the meetings, I have learned the school board and superintendent have a positive working relationship and efficiently carry out the business of education as required by Florida statutes.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I have attended approximately 13 meetings in the last year. I have seen the way the board works as far as policy and procedure is concerned. I have seen there is not much community input with very few citizens questioning or listening to the board’s discussions. I wish more people would attend the meetings because there is so much good about our schools and the meetings often highlight our students and outstanding programs in our district. We need more parent and community involvement.
If elected, what would you work to change about the school district?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: Communication is key in any business or organization. As a school board member I would work on communication in all levels of our district—most especially from our schools to our homes. More family involvement is essential. Parent nights are common in elementary school but need to be continued in middle and high school. I am interested in expanding our open houses so they are several times a year and essentially are evening programs hosted by our middle school and high school guidance departments which would inform/educate parents and guardians about grade point averages, credit hours, scholarship opportunities and requirements for colleges. If we can inform/educate our middle schoolers about graduation and college requirements, then we should have better prepared high school graduates.
Another issue is funding technology. Our students live in a technology-driven world, so our school system should provide them with the opportunities to use the same type of technologies employers will expect. Students who are college bound also need to be tech savvy especially where research is concerned. Preparing our students to successfully compete in the 21st century for the best careers involves 21st century technology so working on district bandwidth capabilities as well as incorporating better web-based research and e-texts should be part of the school board’s focus.
With a rise in the number of charter schools, our public schools have suffered a loss in building funds. Our small, rural district has relied on state funding to build our last two schools. Without these funds we can’t afford the much-needed repairs or renovations without dipping into our general fund. There are always needs at each of our campuses. The board has to find a way to continue to fund repairs or new building projects without “breaking the bank.” I would like to research all the options.
As a member of the school board I would also work to improve our student and teacher morale. When I was a student in our school system I was proud to be a Wildcat. Often times I hear teenagers dissatisfied with school. Our school age years should be some of the happiest ones. With all the high stakes test accountability, our students and teachers have stress filled months preparing for and taking tests. Our teachers need to feel appreciated and valued for the job they do and our students need to have days where they are learning for the pure joy of the experiences — not because it is the focus of a standardized test.
P. Barton: I would work to strategically change the Pre-K/Kindergarten through 5th grade configuration. Currently, the grade configuration is the Pre K/Kindergarten Center, 1st through 3rd grades (Macclenny Elementary School and Westside Elementary School), and 4th through 5th grades (Keller Intermediate School). In order for a new grade configuration consisting of Pre-K through 5th grade to occur, a new elementary school is needed. When the timing is right, I would cooperatively work to secure state special facilities funding to construct a new elementary school. The newly constructed elementary school, as well as, Macclenny Elementary School and Westside Elementary School would be grades Pre-K through 5th grade.
If elected, what would you work to maintain or enhance about the school district?
P. Barton: I would work to encourage and support increased family and community involvement in our school system.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I believe maintaining our student mentoring programs is essential. So many of our students need a positive role model in their lives. This program, which is at every school in some form, could be even more diversified to include more students and a wide variety of mentors. I would like to see pastors and public servants involved as well as retired teachers and business professionals or members of our Lions, Rotary and Woman’s Clubs who could positively mentor our students.
Currently our system offers credit recovery at BCHS for struggling students and I am interested in suggesting a peer tutoring program for our students who want or need extra help in certain subjects. The peer tutors could be BCHS honor students who are trying to earn the community service hours necessary for a Bright Futures scholarship. Students helping students would seem like a win-win situation.
I would like to see a stronger emphasis placed on our current partnership with Gateway Community College to promote the certificate and technology programs available to our students. We are a blue collar community with limited jobs, expanding our programs for non college bound students could enhance their chances at getting jobs in our ever changing workforce field.
Would you support moving open houses to the evening rather than the current daytime schedule, and why or why not?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I would support moving open houses to the evening to make them more convenient for our working parents.
P. Barton: Open Houses through the years have been held during the day and at night. The schools have scheduled the Open Houses that historically have been at the best attended times. It is a challenge to accommodate everyone’s schedule. I will support the leaderships’ schedule recommendations for Open Houses.
What is your position on charter schools in Florida?
P. Barton: My position on charter schools as it pertains to our school district at the present time is opposition. Currently, our district has not received any application requests for a charter school. My opposition is based on funding. Charter schools are funded by the state and would decrease the funding allocated to our school district.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: Given the information I have on charter schools, I am not in favor of them because they take away funding from our public school systems. Since the Baker County School District is a public one and we have no charter schools in our county, why would a school board member be in favor of charter schools?
What is your position on standardized testing in Florida?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: Personally, I don’t like it because of the undue stress it seems to put on our children and teachers, but I recognize it’s necessary to track student growth. There needs to be a measure of growth and accountability. However, testing seems to have gotten out of hand because of the focus on school grades. All of that means pressure on our children and our teachers.
P. Barton: I am in total opposition to high stakes testing in Florida (FCAT). I believe in assessing a child’s knowledge and educational accountability. I support a system of fair state assessment without the pressure that is created for children, teachers, staff, and educational leaders. Our state could save millions of dollars by eliminating the high stakes standardized tests.
What is your position on prayer in public schools?
P. Barton: I totally support prayer throughout our school district. The Lord continues to direct and protect our school system.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I am absolutely in favor of student led prayer in our public schools. We have enjoyed that privilege in our county for as long as I can remember. I would not change that.
What prompted you to run for school board?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: I am a concerned parent who wants to be actively involved. I have a goal to make positive changes in our schools and inspire others to do their best. I care about our county and its young people.
P. Barton: The former District 3 school board member publicly announced his resignation in August 2013. I received a lot of encouragement and support to seek the vacant seat. Following lots of prayer and thought, I made a decision to put my 34 years of educational experience to work for the children of Baker County.
If elected, how would you expand athletic opportunities for students in Baker County?
P. Barton: I would consider the expansion of athletic opportunities for students after student input was received. I believe the expansion of student athletic opportunities should be based on student interests and a careful cost analysis of the athletic programs implementation.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: As previously stated, there is a need for more academic counseling for our student athletes from middle school to high school. I will help in initiation of such counseling. I will also research the feasibility of a soccer program. Last, I would like to make sure we have adequate uniforms and up to date equipment for all extracurricular programs.
If elected, how would you raise the academic performance of students in Baker County?
D. Rewis-McDuffie: Enhanced technology for our students should raise academic performance. I would also help develop the peer tutoring program at BCHS where our college bound students would earn Bright Future community service hours while helping other students excel. The enhanced academic counseling at BCMS and BCHS should improve student performance. If a student knows the level of expectation then most will work to achieve it.
P. Barton: The current academic statistical performance of individual students needs to be continually analyzed by educators. Programs and plans that have been proven to increase academic performance should be implemented. Schools in surrounding counties that have comparable student demographics and have increased student academic performance should continue to be visited. The successful schools academic best practices should be evaluated and implemented in our district as deemed beneficial to our students’ academic performance.
What is your position on school uniforms?
P. Barton: My position, currently, is in opposition to school uniforms. I am open to listening to students and parents regarding the school uniforms issue.
D. Rewis-McDuffie: School uniforms have their place although I don’t believe we are currently considering them in our district. Perhaps they could solve two problems: school dress code issues and bullying a student for the way he or she dresses. Another point to consider is they are much more economical for parents. Three or four pairs of khaki pants or skirts and four or five golf or buttoned down shirts certainly wouldn’t cost as much as other clothing items we parents buy for our children. They also could easily be passed down to other siblings.