When Positively Osceola reached out to me about sharing more about who I am and why I’m running for Osceola School Board, District 4, I thought back to what I first shared when filing for this seat in September. So, let me start there…
“If you were to tell 21 year old, fresh out of college, first-year teacher Heather that more than 15 years later she’d be announcing her run for a seat on the School Board, she would not believe you.
“Over the last number of years, I’ve learned that, “Never say never,” is probably the most accurate phrase to sum up my life. While my Aunt Becky told me years ago she wanted me to run for office, I honestly never thought it was something I would do.
“However, my love for our community, our school district, AND education has shown me that my heart truly is in our schools, with our students and teachers and staff.
“I want to serve my community by placing professionalism and integrity as a priority on the dais again and champion priorities that focus on students (the true purpose for wanting to provide a quality education system) and move the needle on ensuring our district becomes an A district in this state.”
What you don’t learn about me from that is that I’m a lifelong resident of Kissimmee; a product of our school district, attending Mill Creek Elementary, Denn John Middle, and graduating from Osceola High; and a former educator–I taught for 9 years at Pleasant Hill Elementary after graduating college from the University of South Florida.
Today, I’m a mother of three students in our schools and a local business owner. Before opening my own marketing business almost a year and a half ago, I had worked in the Community Relations Department for the Osceola School District, sharing the message of the hard work and great accomplishments being made by students, teachers, and staff in Osceola County.
It was not long after leaving this position that I realized I had a desire to stay connected with the school district and its efforts. I truly BELIEVE in the work being done in Osceola County. I decided the best way I could continue to foster quality public education for the current generation and the generations to come was through serving my community as a School Board Member.
In addition to the work I do as a mom, wife, and business owner, I feel it’s important to be a contributing member of our community. Over the years I have been an OASIS Volunteer, Take Stock in Children Mentor, Graduate of Leadership Osceola, served on the Board of Directors for the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber and Downtown Kissimmee Area Council Chamber, Member of the St. Cloud Chamber, Vice President of Communications for the Sunshine State School Public Relations Association (SUNSPRA), Advisory Committee Member for Addition Financial, Advisory Committee Member for Osceola Technical College Digital Design Program, Steering Committee Member for USF Muma College of Business Digital Marketing, Committee Member for Nemours/American Girl Fundraiser, and March of Dimes Ambassador Family.
Positively Osceola asked me to share my position on a number of issues facing public education and our school district today. Here we go…
Teacher and Professional Support Staff Pay
As a former teacher and professional support staff in our district, I know firsthand the hard work and dedication our entire staff provide our students and schools. Ensuring our staff are paid accordingly for the work they provide is important in keeping a quality workforce who feel valued and supported. The recent increase to the minimum wage for district employees to $15.00 an hour was a win in allowing the district to be competitive in the current employment landscape.
At the time COVID-19 shut down our state and our schools, I was working at the district office in Community Relations and worked alongside district Leadership throughout Spring Break 2020 to create our plan for digital learning. Decisions had to be made swiftly and our entire team rose to the occasion. Later, when crafting a plan for return to in-person learning for Fall 2020, our school district was commended by the Department of Education for our thorough work in creating our “Ready. Set. Start Smart.” plan. Throughout the pandemic, I watched Dr. Pace make decisions guided by our local healthcare professionals and in the best interest of our students and staff. I believe our district adequately navigated the challenges we faced.
With Osceola County being one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Florida, our district has had to think ten steps ahead when planning for school growth. The district worked hard to get the half-cent sales tax passed nearly six years ago and since then has put those dollars to work on comprehensive school renovations, maintaining district facilities, reducing the number of portable classrooms, and paying for security and technology upgrades. Ensuring these funds continue to boost our district budget should remain a priority.
As a product of the Osceola School District, and a former teacher in our district, the Future Teachers Academy is one that excites me most in attracting teachers to the profession and our schools. This program has great potential for preparing our own students as future educators in our schools through amazing partnerships with Valencia College and the University of Central Florida and is one I would personally like to focus my efforts on as a School Board Member.
Technology Needs in Schools
In moving to a “one-to-one” device district last school year, our district made great strides in meeting our students’ needs when it comes to accessing technology at home. The district has an amazing team of instructional technology support staff (the Green Shirts for those who are familiar) who work tirelessly to ensure our teachers are at the cutting edge of classroom technology. Continuing to support the needs of this team will directly benefit our students and teachers.
Increasing Performance in Schools
The district’s current strategic plan focuses on ensuring high-quality, equitable, standards-based instruction. Unfortunately, for some, the word equity is looked upon negatively. Equity isn’t about making things easier for our subgroups, but ensuring each and every student in our district has what he or she needs to be successful. As a parent of a child with a learning disability, I understand first-hand that some students need additional resources to achieve success and reach their goals. I want to work to ensure these students, and all students, graduate from our district ready to contribute to our community.
School Resource Officers on Campus
The safety of students and staff is currently a top priority and should remain one. I want to continue to support and build on our partnerships with our local law enforcement agencies to ensure we have SROs on every district-managed campus. Our district has done a good job securing our campuses with monitored cameras, fences, secure lobbies, etc., but we can’t take our eyes off this important work.
Critical Race Theory
I know Critical Race Theory is a hot button topic right now. The Osceola School Board covers Critical Race Theory in their School Board Rules and works to follow all guidelines set forth by the state and the Florida Department of Education. With the addition of the “Request Curriculum Review” to the district website, I feel like the district is making strides towards ensuring these rules are followed and all curriculum is appropriate for our students. As a former educator, I took my job teaching our students very seriously and I will work as a School Board Member to ensure our teachers do the same and that our district is always looking for ways to improve.
The biggest question I get these days is, “Are you sure you really want to do this?” I know this is because of how controversial advocating for quality public education has become. What should be a non-partisan effort by all members of our community has become divisive and has taken its focus off what education is all about… the students. At the end of the day, I’ve realized one thing. My answer is yes. Paying it forward in the community that built me is the least I can do and for me, it starts with focusing on our students and staff.