Manatee County School District leaders address internal challenges

acastillo@bradenton.comApril 17, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Leaders from the Manatee County School District addressed a litany of difficult challenges at "A Community Conversation" public forum Wednesday night.

Panel members appearing at the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota included Manatee County Schools Superintendent Rick Mills, Manatee County School Board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Diana Greene and Deputy Superintendent for Operations Don Hall.

SCF President Carol Probstfeld kicked off the event televised by Manatee Educational Television. Questions were emailed prior

to the event. No questions were taken live from the audience.

One issue submitted by Kathy Mikol involved whether district administrative computer systems were current.

"The systems, as you've already heard tonight, are systems that are not appropriate for a 21st century school district -- or any 21st century organization," said Hall. "It's very difficult to get good data in a timely manner from the systems to help shape decision-making as an organization."

Hall said technology has changed a lot in 15 years -- the same amount of time the district has used JD Edwards software. The ability to communicate with other more up-to-date systems is now "very limited," he said. Another challenge is finding people who can manage the older systems.

Forum co-host Chris Wille, opinion page editor of the Bradenton Herald, asked Greene about challenges she faces, including developing adequate teacher certification to properly staff the Exceptional Student Education program.

Greene said nearly 100 teachers are not certified to teach the program, which serves students with learning disabilities and other special needs.

"We have to get that turned around within the next three to four months," she said.

Greene said the district is working with its Human Resources Department to identify individuals who can earn certification.

"Research says that we actually only use about 10 percent of our brain. Well, I am here to say that Manatee County has definitely increased my brainpower capacity because we have had to go deep into the recesses of our brain matter to try to solve the issues that we are dealing with today," Greene said.

Michael Becks, 69, said he attended the forum as a concerned citizen who has closely followed the district for four years. He said he is encouraged.

"I thought they were very comprehensive," said the retired businessman. "The transition from what we had to where we are now is the difference between night and day. There are plans to do things whereas before it was a mishmash."

Amaris Castillo, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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