Q&A with Teresa Castillo: Fresh face for future of education

Teresa “Terry” Castillo is the most recently elected official to the Osceola County School Board. She defeated her opponent, Shel Hart, in the August primaries, and will now assume her district 1 seat. She replaces Jay Wheeler, who held the seat for 16 years.

We sat down with Castillo to discuss education, gender and the future of Osceola County schools.

Osceola News-Gazette: The education field has traditionally been dominated by women, yet you are the only female on the School Board. What are some of your thoughts about female leadership in education and bringing diversity to the board?

Terry Castillo: I know that I will certainly bring a very different perspective to the School Board, not only because I am a woman, but because my life experiences are so vastly different from that of the gentlemen I serve with. I am a single mother of color, and while I will be wearing this lens as a member of the board, I am also bringing with me working knowledge of the education field, my experience as an indebted college graduate and my experience as a first-generation American. This awareness of the challenges that our graduates and parents face is really what will set me apart from my colleagues.

ONG: Your predecessor served in his position for 16 years. What positive new changes and perspectives do you hope to bring to the position?

Castillo: Sixteen years is a very long time to serve. To put it into perspective, I was just two years out of high school when Mr. Wheeler began his term. One thing that I am going to bring to my position is a focus on the strength of our district’s diversity. While visiting with neighbors from across the district, I was able to experience first-hand how distinct each neighborhood is. I would like to leverage these differences to strengthen our educational landscape.

ONG: What is the most interesting new thing you’ve learned or experienced since you joined the School Board?

Castillo: Since being elected 10 weeks ago, I have not stopped learning. Most recently, I was able to participate in the STEM lab bus tour. As an advocate for STEM education, I experienced the innovative curriculum offered by Mr. Luciano and the Special Programs team.

I was unaware that this is the only program of its kind in the country. Think about the importance of that.

Our school district is at the cutting edge of innovation and this is certainly something to be celebrated.

ONG: What seems to be the most rewarding aspect of serving?

Castillo: Osceola County has been very kind to me. Whatever success I’ve had professionally is a direct cause of the teachers and administrators in our school district.

From Mrs. Vazquez calling me over the summer to ask me why I was not enrolled in her college-level English class to Ms. Hinson who allowed me to develop my leadership skills as president of the Thespian Club, I owe a lot to this community. Now that I am able to be an effective leader, I am paying it forward. Protecting public education as a way to ensure more Osceola County students have the opportunity to do great things is the most rewarding aspect of this role.

ONG: Why do you think you won the race and what were some of your first thoughts after winning?

Castillo: I won because the community was behind me.

I personally knocked on thousands of doors in our district and ran a very engaging race. I had hundreds of one-on-one genuine conversations with my district 1 neighbors. This is also how I intend to interact with the community for the next four years. I spent election night alone at home drenched in sweat and rainwater. It was a tough day. When my campaign manager informed me that I won, my first thought was: Vindication. My spirit was tested that day and I felt vindicated.

ONG: What is one goal or initiative you would like to tackle as a board member before the school year ends?

Castillo: As I learn the ins and outs of my new role, one thing that is always on my mind is how we can improve the work conditions of our teachers. There are things out of our control with respect to how we conduct the business of the school board. Still, there are things within our control.

Finding a more effective way of measuring success as well as rewarding the expertise of our teachers in a more equitable manner is at the top of my list.