The Manatee County school district is moving in new directions in 2013.
On Jan. 14, the forensic audit report was presented with the work papers' detail now available; a public question-and-answer session is scheduled for Feb. 21. Also informing us will be the hopefully soon-to-be-released external audit. In March Florida's auditor general arrives for the three-year examination of operational and financial practices.
As a result of the problems identified to date, Superintendent David Gayler has directed many improved practices. Please make no mistake: Continuing to make the same "mistakes" is not acceptable. "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."
We learn and focus on solutions by learning, as we expect our students to learn. And NOT repeating mistakes.
Another important solution is a new superintendent. On Feb. 11-12, there will be open, fully recorded interviews of the six candidates. On Feb. 20, the school board votes.
The talent pool of applicants is impressive, on paper and in references. Once the new superintendet starts work (and there will be a mountain of it), that does not mean our job is over. We will support him or her, and work in concert to improve morale, student performance and restore the community's trust.
All meetings are taped, advertised and open to the public; reporters will be present. There will be no behind-closed-door secret discussions. This is the public's business, and we will do it in public view.
Another important talent pool is the Citizens Advisory Committee of 24, aided by Dr. Wayne Blanton from the Florida School Board Assoction. This group elected Dr. Richard Conard, long-time district volunteer, as chair; and Dr. William Vogel, retired superintendent, as vice chair.
The committee includes Pat Barber, Alex Chavez, Anissia Davis, Peggy Delegato, Lynette Edwards, Jayne Giroux, Jane Grace, Richard Greene, Brenda Harvey, John Horne, Moody Johnson, Dennis Maley, Michael Mears, Bruce Mohr, Hal Nelson, Terry Osbourne, Linda Schaich, Byron Shinn, Doug Wagner, Greg Owens, Rosie Wiley and Debra Woithe.
All their meetings are open to the public, audiotaped, with minutes kept, according to Florida's Sunshine Law. This group, from very diverse backkgrounds, came together to produce our most important solution: vetting the best qualified staff leader. Their discipline, respect for each other's opinions, persistent and vigous discussions were impressive, and I am very grateful to them. I hope that each member will continue to work on other solutions.
Another talent pool is our students. We have the 250 award winners the recent Lockheed Martin Science and Technology Fair. Their and our futures will be better because of their work in medicine, engineering, the environment, science and communications. An impressive group, thanks to their teachers, parents and their own commitment to learning, dreaming and achieving.
A surprise came from a meeting with students at Southeast High School who asked how they could be involved. How did we overlook their voices? I quickly invited them to the superintendent candidate interviews (if their principal and parents give permission), and to give us their suggestions on Feb. 20 when we meet to vote.
This talent pool cannot be ignored. Students are the most important stakeholders in all!
We have a talented pool of staff, whom I am told are afraid to speak up and have been "beaten down." Morale in the district is very low. Before dawn they head out to work, drive the buses, clean the schools, educate and take care of our children. We did not hear from staff at the same volume and numbers as did State College of Florida during that school's presidential search. SCF is now a better organization, focusing on a 30-year vision!
We, too, need to hear staff voices. Please speak up!
We know there are many changes and improvements to be made as we implement a revitalized vision of the Manatee school district and create a world-class learning environment. The 2013 budget process will require a collaborative, determined, disciplined team committed to students and learning. This will provide the real test of competence and confidence.
As board chair, I expect better results, different behaviors and embracing change. And that the adults will learn from their mistakes as we expect the students to.
Mark these dates -- Feb. 11-12, 20-21 -- and mark my words: We can and will do better; our students deserve no less!!
Karen Carpenter, is chairwoman of the Manatee County school board.