2 down, 2 to go in electing Duval County School Board members

Suzanne Jenkins, Ashley Smith Juarez contend for District 3 seat

Published On: Oct 12 2012 04:54:04 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 12 2012 09:44:33 PM EDT
Susanne Jenkins - Ashley Smith Juarez

Not only will a new superintendent be at the helm of Duval County schools in January, four of the seven members of the School Board will also be new to the job.

In the August primary, voters selected Cheryl Grymes and Constance Hall, but two other School Board races went to runoffs and will appear on the General Election ballot.

The closest race may be in District 3 -- which represents San Marco, Lakewood, San Jose and much of the Southside. Suzanne Jenkins and Ashley Smith Juarez were separated by only 3 percentage points in the primary.

Jenkins, a mother of three, is a self-described "fighter" who has previously served on Jacksonville City Council. She started an organization dedicated to community planning and believes she is ready to help run the school system in the town where she was born and raised.

"The time I have spent -- 20-plus years in the school system, volunteering from room mother, to PTA president, to School Advisory Council vice chair to dealing with these issues -- gives me a really intimate working knowledge of what needs to be done," Jenkins said.

Smith Juarez is a teacher turned businesswoman who says she's ready to strategize.

"It has been tough, and we have worked really hard," Smith Juarez said.

She owns and operates a San Marco restaurant with her husband, but holds a degree in education and started her career in the classroom.

"(I) really care deeply about this community; I grew up here," Smith Juarez said. "I want to raise a family here and I want to have a public education system that we can be proud of, that attracts people to the city and is something that we tout as a success."

Both candidates are focused on students, each planning to reshape the county's struggling schools.

"I am that fresh new voice," Smith Juarez said. "I'm creative, I'm on the cutting edge and I want to make sure that we're doing those things in Duval County."

"I really want this, I want to launch us, and I feel the current board has built the foundation for that to happen and now we can really go," Jenkins said.

The second School Board race on the ballot is District 7, which covers Riverside south to the county line, as well as Mandarin. Channel 4 is collecting interviews and information about the candidates -- CSX engineer Jason Fischer and CEO of Communities in Schools Jon Heymann -- for a full profile next week.