School board debate brings issues into spotlight
By Tiffanie Reynolds
Candidates tackled some of the school district’s biggest issues during the Osceola County School Board debate on Aug. 14.
With the exception of Barbara Horn for school board Seat 4, who declined to debate, candidates for seats 1, 4 and 5 answered questions at the Valencia College Osceola campus about issues such as the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, accommodating students with special needs and addressing homeless students.
Misplacement of students in ESL and better accommodating students with special needs became two of the hottest topics of debate. With ESL, district 5 candidate Wade Davis and district 1 candidate Leah Carius suggested better exit exams were in order, as well as giving students already fluent in English an easier way out of the program.
“It’s a little harder to get out of the system once you’re put into it. When my children began kindergarten, I put on the original form that there is sometimes German spoken in our home, with my husband being German, and they were immediately signed up to be in ESL. I had to explain to them that they don’t know German,” said Carius.
In terms of the district better addressing students with special needs, the answers all came down to funding. District 4 candidate Clarence Thacker said the district should look at federal money in the budget that supports special needs education and use it as effectively as possible in the district. District 1 candidate Jay Wheeler said that sequestration hurt much of the district’s efforts in special needs education. He wanted to combine the money available now with the district’s focus on technology to create a better classroom environment.
“A lot of these students that we thought were not teachable, with new technologies, all of a sudden these students are flourishing like they never have before. One of the things we need to do is make sure we provide technology rich classrooms that can bring out what they are really capable of,” said Wheeler.
In the School Board district 5 race, which is between Ricky Booth, Wade Davis, Linda Oliverio and Lynn Dower, other issues such as teacher retainment and better addressing the roles of high school guidance counselors were discussed. With teacher retainment, the candidates were split between increasing pay for teachers and giving them a louder voice in the school district. But, for guidance counselors, the responses were for more training and delegating their responsibilities better so counselors can have a better focus on students.
“They want to be treated like professionals, and I think we need to give them our support. As a media specialist, I see new teachers come in frustrated, defeated, and I think we need to underpin them and provide that support throughout especially the first five years,” said Dower on teacher retainment.
Voters will be able to vote for candidates in their district during primary elections on Tuesday, Aug. 26, or during early voting, which ends on Saturday.
District 1 spans from the west Osceola County line to North Thacker Avenue and Pleasant Hill Road, District 4 spans from North Thacker Avenue to Lakeshore Boulevard and District 5 spans from Canoe Creek Road to Keepers Road in St. Cloud.