Clay Co. superintendent wants Tallahassee 'advocate'

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - Superintendent Charlie Van Zant and the Clay County School Board will hold a special meeting Monday afternoon to discuss hiring an full-time "education advocate" in Tallahassee.

"In these tough economic times, it is vital that we prioritize spending and make sure we are wisely investing the resources entrusted to us by the citizens of Clay County," Van Zant said in a statement released Wednesday. "Most recognize the reality in advocating for certain state policies. The chances of success are much greater if an organization hires an expert, who can help navigate the often tricky waters of state policy by fighting on behalf of our citizens, parents, students, teachers and support employees."

Van Zant said he has been working closely with Clay County's legislative delegation, including Sen. Rob Bradley and Reps. Travis Cummings and Charles Van Zant Sr., "who have been incredibly accessible and passionate about education."  But Van Zant noted there are 160 members of the Legislature.

"A full-time advocate would be able to stay actively engaged on our issues and support our delegation in carrying important legislation forward," Van Zant said. "The advocate would work on a number of issues but the most immediate priority would be to ensure we have the resources necessary to sustain the Florida Youth Challenge Academy.... an alternative high school at Camp Blanding for teenagers, throughout Florida, who are at-risk of not graduating."

Since it was established in 2001, more than 3,000 young men and women have graduated from the program, which is a joint partnership between the school district, the Florida National Guard and the Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Children and Families and the Department of Education.

"FLYCA, located right here in Clay County, is the #1 program of its kind in the nation, but without additional state dollars and a policy change through new legislation... we could lose this unique one-of-a-kind program that has turned around numerous lives," said Van Zant.

Additional dollars would also help implement a highly successful high school model that would expand Clay County's college and career academies.

Van Zant said he had already spoken with several individuals and firms interested in being "Clay County's voice" in Tallahassee, including:

  • Patsy Eccles, who provides the same type of education advocacy for the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB).
  • Kurt Kelly, who is a former Marion County School Board member and a former member of the Florida House. Mr. Kelly served on committees in the Florida Legislature that made the types of appropriations and policy decisions Clay County is seeking.
  • Gray Robinson, Attorneys at Law, who have a track record of advocacy in Tallahassee.

Van Zant says several North Florida counties use these type of services include, inclugin Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Duval, St Johns, Levy, Nassau, Putnam, Union, Dixie, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton and Lafayette.