Terry CastilloWho you are – a bit of you, your family, your past, and how it has brought you to where you are now.

In 2018, I was a first-time candidate who believed our school district would benefit from a fresh perspective. While I had been politically active as a voter and volunteer, running for office was not in my sphere then. So, I ran a grassroots campaign, and my opponent out-raised me 6 to 1. While some consider my win a “lucky” break, my sun-damaged skin and worn-out shoes say otherwise.

Three years into my first term, I am proud of my work on behalf of our community. I have taken my role as an education advocate very seriously by advocating for federal and state policy changes. As part of my work with the Florida School Board Association’s Federal Advocacy subcommittee, Vice-Chair for the Legislative Subcommittee, and Board of Directors, I have fought for:

– Funding and support for mental health

– An accountability system based on the new B.E.S.T. standards with the involvement of school board members and other education stakeholders.

– An increase in the Base Student Allocation by over 3%.

– Support for a Grow-your-Own Teacher program( which Osceola County School District has already implemented)

Since my election to the school board, I have led efforts to:

– Establish S.D.O.C. as a One to One District

– Implement a reporting system for sexual harassment( I was honored to lead this effort along with the advice of students and alumni)

– Implemented a Cyber Security training program for staff

– Increased all employee’s pay to at least $15.00 an hour

There is still work to ensure that our students revolutionize the twenty-first-century job market through innovation, strategy, intellect, and compassionate leadership.

Past accomplishments – some information about your education, work experiences, volunteer situations, causes you have joined, and memberships to clubs and organizations you have been a part of

In 2021, I reached a long-time goal of obtaining my Master’s In Business Administration. My education in business, coupled with my decades of experience in Learning and Development and Talent Management, often inform my decisions and strategy on the school board. In addition to this work, I participate in the following:
– Chair of the Audit Board-School District of Osceola
– Chair of Community Service and Career Enhancement -Crummer Business School at Rollins( 2019-2021)
– Board of Directors-Florida School Board Association
– Legislative Vice-Chair-Florida School Board Association
– Federal Subcommittee- Florida School Board Association
– Board of Directors-Mercy Foundation
– Chair of Four Corners Charter School
– Member of the Greater Orlando Organization Development Network

Some of my awards and accomplishments include:

– Tomorrow’s Leaders-Today Young Professionals of Osceola- 2020

– Citizen of the Year- A Hero for Kids 2021

– Congressional Recognition for my work with Mercy Foundation Congressman Darren Soto – 2021

Why are you running – what motivated you to run for the school board? Why do you think you can make a difference by being on the board?

The last two years were filled with division and vitriol. These times have given rise to larger-than-life personalities who promise to burn down the status quo and rebuild the system in their image. But we do not need personality cult leaders- we need pragmatic, professional, and compassionate leaders who will unite our community. I know that I can continue to make a difference because I am willing to set aside my ego and work tirelessly to ensure we protect and elevate our students. While some leaders retreated to silos and fault lines and capitalized on our society’s fear and vulnerability during the COVID-19 pandemic, I chose to reach out to our community, even when it was uncomfortable to find common ground. I make a difference as a school board member because I am willing to do the hard work without seeking credit. Our students need advocates, not politicians. They need leaders who fight for their dreams with greater vigor than a quote in the newspaper. Our teachers deserve leaders who are willing to learn while they lead. Our community deserves servant leaders eager to roll up their sleeves and collaborate with the people doing the work instead of bashing, disrespecting, and dismissing them. Above all else, especially in the School District of Osceola, we must have experienced members with a clear vision of what Osceola County can be in the coming years. We are a young county with limitless potential, and our leaders should lead us to prosperity.

What your positions are on the following:

* Teacher and professional support staff pay

K-12 educators have been under a pressure cooker for decades in the United States. As a result, many would-be teachers and paraprofessionals have left or decided not to enter the profession. As a Talent management professional, I have experienced the negative impact that a weak workforce can do on an industry. If we value the education of our children, we must take steps to improve the pay of education professionals permanently, and we should ensure that their working conditions are optimal. The education industry is not only competing with other school districts for talent but also with the private sector. This unique situation puts additional pressure on those in leadership. We must have greater flexibility in managing our LOCAL budget to make permanent and impactful decisions about our talent management. Furthermore, local school boards should have greater flexibility in providing a total compensation package that gives teachers greater autonomy to do their passionate work, greater access to professional development, and a more effective method for employees to further their education.

* C.R.T.

Osceola County is not teaching Critical Race Theory. C.R.T. is a nonissue created by forces outside our county coordinating to create chaos in all public education forums to divide our community and cause distrust into public entities. It is clear this is the purpose when one see that the litmus test for what is considered CRT continues to move into the social and emotional learning space. It saddens me to think that providing an equitable education is considered wrong. I am also saddened to see good people in our community used as pawns for the nefarious plans of a few people who wish to disrupt harmony. When I speak to my constituents one on one, they seldom bring this topic up. Instead, they are concerned with how we will continue to improve our educational landscape.

* COVID-19 management

I remember the first school board meeting we had during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an emergency meeting held via WebEx in the early morning. That is when I knew that we were in a crisis. At the pandemic’s start, the entire board ensured that we made the best decisions based on a strategy that yielded the best possible outcome for students. The School District of Osceola was one of the first districts to establish its COVID Learning plan, “Ready, Set, Start Smart.” As part of our commitment to doing what is best for our community, we implemented three learning modalities: Face to Face, Digital Learning, and Online Learning. We established these based on community input. Between March and June of 2020, we distributed over 17,000 laptops and established 1,200 hotspots around the county as part of our duty to provide equitable access to education. And when it was time to return to face-to-face learning full time, I advocated for access to testing and vaccines in our school. Dr. Pace and her team correctly predicted that the stress of going to school during the pandemic would cause a loss of learning gains. The school board authorized emergency tutoring support to help students catch up to mitigate this. During this time, the infection rate in our schools consistently was at less than one percent. We established meal drop-off locations for families who relied on school meals for their children, and we created a back-to-school task force to help us make educated decisions. While we faced many challenges during this time, I am proud that our teachers, students, and parents stayed focused on what was best for kids and kept things moving.

* Addressing school growth – facilities

As one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, Osceola County is nowhere near its growth capacity. As a school district, our job is to educate all students in our county. One of the biggest challenges we face with reaching this goal is overcrowded schools. Overcrowded schools are the result of various factors. First, we must follow the Florida Department of Education (D.O.E.) formula known as Capital Outlay Full-Time Equivalent (C.O.F.T.E.). School districts must show that more seats are required in the next five years AND that the current seats are being used to the maximum extent possible. This formula, coupled with the fierce competition for land in our county, makes it challenging to stay ahead of school capacity.

It may be time to rethink the school building process. Our state is growing each day, and if we plan to stay competitive, we must make it easier for school districts to keep up with the demand. I plan to make this one of my legislative priorities this year. We need new solutions to this issue.

* Attracting more teachers

As education advocates, we must advocate for sustainable and fair expectations for teachers. But unfortunately, politicians often use teachers to elevate or pass their agendas more than any other public sector professional. I am the granddaughter of a teacher and someone who has spent time in the classroom. So I know that teachers need respect for their profession and the autonomy to unleash their talents in the school.

* Technology needs in schools – will we be prepared if another “pandemic-level” event occurs again – God forbid!

Osceola County is privileged enough to be a one-to-one district, which means that each student has accessed a personal device, and I am very proud of that. However, we still have a few areas we can improve. First, we must have a more stable and equitable internet infrastructure that can provide access to digital learning to students regardless of where in our county they live.

Next, we must help our teachers and students leverage the technology we have provided. In speaking with parents and teachers alike, we are not using the technology to its fullest potential. They must receive proper training to minimize time spent troubleshooting software to spend more time teaching and learning. This will be especially important if we find ourselves amid another pandemic situation.

Last, we must ensure that the technology is fully protected. As someone who has worked on Cybersecurity strategy, I understand that the ‘bad’ guys are especially poised to exploit the reliance on digital learning to wreak havoc. I know that our I.T. team has been working on strategies for safety, but the first line of defense in cybersecurity is education. Therefore, we must embed cyber security education in our strategic plan.

* Increasing school performance – increasing graduation rate, post-high school education participation – trade schools – education pipelines – etc.

As a mom, a former K12 educator, and a learning and development professional, I am acutely aware that the formula for student achievement has several variables. In my opinion, the most significant factors include environment, parent involvement, and student motivation. We can control the environment variable and influence parent involvement as a school board. We can create an equitable learning environment by reducing the barriers to learning whenever we can. We can influence parent involvement by creating avenues and opportunities for families to participate in the learning journey. According to several studies, including “Lessons from family-strengthening interventions: learning from evidence-based practice,” parent engagement positively impacts student achievement and, by extension, student motivation.

We can leverage technology to increase parent involvement opportunities and communication. Providing these things does not mean that there is an expectation that every student will perform the same. What it means is that we provide access to all students.

* S.R.O.’s in schools

If I had to choose whether to have S.R.O.’s or any other kind of security officer in our schools, I will, as I have in the past, choose S.R.O.’s. In addition to keeping students safe, they can be essential mentors to our youth while helping our schools identify potential security risks before they happen.

* Additional comments and goals you

It has been a privilege to serve as a school board member thus far. During the first two years of my tenure, I served as part of what has been called one of the most effective school boards in Florida. And while the second half of my first term was marred by internal turmoil, I strive to remain focused on what is best for our students and our community. My goals for the next four years include:

• Elevating our school district to an A.
• Continue to close the achievement gap so that ALL our students can be competitive and successful.
• Create a positive work environment that attracts the best talent in Florida
• Work with our business partners to create an impactful education pipeline based on evidence of future community needs
• Improve our adult learning pipelines to help elevate the financial prospects for our entire community

I cannot wait to continue our journey together, Osceola County.