Alachua County School Board, District 3

This race is nonpartisan, open to all voters

Two candidates are seeking this office. The race will appear on the August ballot open to all voters in the district.

News4Jax sent a questionnaire to each candidate asking about their background and their views on several issues. Scroll down to read the responses of those seeking your vote -- in their own words.

Note: Responses are sorted alphabetically and are presented exactly as submitted, with no editing by News4Jax staff.

  CANDIDATES

Ray Holt

Occupation: Rancher/Facility Management

Age: 51

Your family: I have been married to my lovely wife, Nanette for 25 years and we have three children.

Education: Masters in Public Administration

Political experience: Jacksonville City Councilmember 2007 - 2015

What do you see as the top three issues you’ll likely face while holding this office?

  1. It all starts with academics. Right now, fewer than half of our children are reading and doing math at grade level. We need to supercharge our after school and summer tutoring programs and provide the children who are struggling with the focus that they need. We have the funding, it’s just a matter of prioritizing the classroom over the board room.
  2. Second, we have a significant problem with our transportation department. Hundreds of children have been left at school bus stops this year for an hour or more because our transportation department is dysfunctional. That’s putting our children at significant safety risk and they certainly can’t learn if they miss their first class. Parents are furious with our transportation department and for good reason. We need to turn that around, and that might mean finding a contracted provider that is better equipped and one that we can hold financially responsible if they fail to do an excellent job.
  3. Finally, our schools are not being taken care of. Almost all of our schools have air conditioning problems, many have leaking roofs or plumbing problems. Hawthorne Middle/High school, Eastside High, Lake Forest elementary, just to name a few, have significant infrastructure problems that have been ignored for far too long! We can’t afford the status quo any longer. We need leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions, not just talk.

With input from our most loyal viewers, News4Jax asked each candidate additional questions to help voters determine which most agrees with their viewers:

“Parental rights” has recently become a law in Florida and a political buzzword. What does that concept mean to you and how would it affect your decisions on the school board?

  • Parents have a right to know everything their children are being taught. I am an advocate of putting class lesson plans and materials on the school website. That isn’t being done in our schools now. Parents will be much better equipped to help their children stay on track if all the study materials are easily accessible.

How would you balance new state laws and guidelines restricting how history, gender identity and civics can be taught in public school classrooms with the need to educate children in a complex 21st Century society?

  • Our teaching materials are determined by the state Department of Education. But I am a huge advocate of free speech and open discussion of history and civics, the good, the bad and the ugly. I think sex education is the responsibility of parents. No one knows a child, and what is appropriate for him or her as well as that child’s parents.

Outline your ideas to address teacher shortages and morale.

  • We are having a huge problem right now recruiting and retaining teachers in Alachua County. The first reason is a poor work environment. We have a significant behavior problem that has been brought on by administrative policies. We need to support our teachers in their classroom discipline decisions. That’s just not happening right now! Secondly, A lot of our teachers are leaving the classroom to move into administration or another career path after about five years because our salary schedule is not rewarding them for their experience and excellence. We want our best teachers to stay in the classroom their whole career! We need to boost salaries for those teachers who have been excellent and have years of experience, or those teachers who are taking on difficult challenges. I am an advocate of increasing salaries in order to accomplish those goals.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

  • I am a business owner Who has experience in accounting, facilities management, and personnel. But also, I have worked in local government for nearly 20 years. I have experience in public budgeting which is significantly different from budgeting for a private business. I also have experience in public employee union negotiations, and land use planning. These are important skills and experiences for a school board member. We need to examine our budget priorities, we will be negotiating salary and benefit packages with the ACEA, and we will be rezoning our school boundaries to solve our school overcrowding problem. I am the only candidate that has all those needed skills.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

  • The two most important things for learning to occur are high quality teachers and a safe and effective learning environment. I would like to have improved those two areas through aggressive recruiting of the best and brightest teachers and changing administrative policies that create the very best classroom learning environment. At the end of four years my goal is to see at least a 20% jump in reading and math scores, across the board.

Campaign website: rayholtforschoolboard.com

Campaign’s social media site(s): Facebook


Sarah Rockwell

Occupation: Freelance editor

Age: 40

Your family: My husband of 17 years, Alex Rockwell, is a software engineer. Our son, Devin, is 12 and starting 7th grade. Our daughter Charlotte is 8 and starting 3rd grade. We also have a dog and 3 cats.

Education: I have bachelor’s master’s and doctoral degrees in special education from the University of Florida.

Political experience: I am an educator, not a politician. This is my first time running for office.

What do you see as the top three issues you’ll likely face while holding this office?

  • The primary function of schools is to educate our children, and my number one goal is to improve academic outcomes for all students and close our achievement gaps. We are also facing record teacher and staff shortages, so improving salaries and creating a more positive work environment where teachers and staff feel respected and supported are another major goal. Finally, our district has several large projects coming up including rezoning, hiring a new permanent superintendent, and spending the remaining ESSER funds. These all require transparency and meaningful collaboration with the community, so improving community engagement is another important goal.

With input from our most loyal viewers, News4Jax asked each candidate additional questions to help voters determine which most agrees with their viewers:

“Parental rights” has recently become a law in Florida and a political buzzword. What does that concept mean to you and how would it affect your decisions on the school board?

I believe that most of the dialog around “parents rights” is based in misinformation and fear. The concerns I have heard and read are not based in the reality of what I have experienced as an elementary school teacher or as a parent of two school-aged children. This misinformation is also creating an environment of distrust for teachers, who are some of the most selfless, caring, and highly-trained professionals. I believe that this is contributing to high rates of attrition and teacher shortages.

Parents have always had the right to make decisions for their own children. Our curricular materials are all developed by subject-area experts, vetted by state and county level textbook adoption committees, and available online for parents to peruse. If a parent has an objection to a particular topic, they can request an alternate assignment for their child. If a parent objects to certain books, they can ask the teacher and media specialist not to let their child read or borrow those books. This has always been an option for parents.

Now, parents seem to want their choices for their child to be applied to all children. I do not think that one parent’s choices for their own child should impact what other children are able to read or learn. When the choices of certain parents are imposed upon all children, we no longer have parental choice or freedom. The choices that guide general instruction should be made by subject-matter and curriculum experts.

I trust subject matter experts to write quality curricula. I trust our textbook adoption committees to choose the best available curricula for our schools. I trust our teachers to implement curricula, guide instruction, and facilitate discussions with their students. I trust parents to communicate and collaborate with their children’s teachers to make sure their children’s needs and their family’s values are accommodated.

As a school board member I will support policies that allow parents to be the final decision makers for their own children. I will oppose policies that impose the values of one child’s parents on other children. I will also oppose policies that strip teachers of their ability to do the jobs for which they are highly trained.

How would you balance new state laws and guidelines restricting how history, gender identity and civics can be taught in public school classrooms with the need to educate children in a complex 21st Century society?

These new laws were created to sow fear and division. They address problems that have never existed in our public schools and are worded so vaguely that it is unclear how they should be implemented.

As a former elementary school teacher, I can guarantee that nobody is teaching inappropriate or explicit content to young children. Nobody is teaching children to be ashamed of themselves or their background. Teachers are trying to create classrooms that are safe and welcoming to all students and families. They are trying to make sure our elementary school students can read, write, and do basic arithmetic. They are trying to make sure students have instruction that covers the state standards and state adopted curricula. They are trying to prepare students for colleges and universities o workforce development. They are busy doing their job, and I think they should be allowed to continue teaching as they always have without interference.

As an educator, I trust my fellow teachers. I trust them to teach. I trust them to be the experts in curriculum, pedagogy, and child development. I trust them to guide instruction and discussions in developmentally appropriate ways for their students. I trust them to collaborate with parents and provide alternate assignments when requested.

I believe that recent legislation will have far-reaching consequences that make our schools less welcoming and safe and make Florida’s education less competitive with other states. I am concerned about potential loss of AP, IB, and Cambridge courses that will put students at a distinct disadvantage when applying for colleges. I am concerned with increases in bullying and teasing that schools will be unable to adequately address due to this legislation. I am concerned that some of these state laws conflict with federal statutes and could jeopardize funding or accreditation for our public.

As a school board member, I will do my best to protect teachers and students while following applicable laws.

Outline your ideas to address teacher shortages and morale.

We need to raise salaries and fully fund those salary increases at all levels. Currently, mandatory minimum salaries for beginning teachers with no funding for raises for experienced teachers has led to large scale wage compression. Ten year veterans are often making about the same amount as a first year teacher. This is unacceptable. The state needs to fund raises for all teachers. Florida currently ranks 49th in education funding. This is shameful.

We need to treat educators with the respect they are due as professionals. Vilifying teachers in order to pass unnecessary and divisive legislation does not create a supportive work environment. Stripping teachers of their autonomy to do the job for which they are highly trained does not create a supportive work environment. Refusing to protect the physical health and safety of teachers does not create a supportive work environment.

Our teachers have expressed increasing frustration with student behavior over the last two years. We need to address the underlying problems leading to increases in student discipline issues. Our students and families are struggling. We need to increase mental health supports, social supports, and academic supports to prevent behavior problems. We also need to respond promptly and consistently with agreed-upon consequences to aggressive or dangerous behaviors.

Finally, allowing untrained and unqualified individuals to enter classrooms without even a college degree is not a good solution to the teacher shortage. It undermines the professionalism of our highly-trained educators, decreases the qualify of instruction our students receive, and can create a risk to our children’s health and safety. Florida now has a lower bar for temporary teacher certification than for teaching preschool through Head Start. This is unacceptable.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

  • As a former teacher and a parent of two school-aged children, I have firsthand understanding of the challenges facing our schools from both perspectives. I also have expertise in Exceptional Student Education, an area in which our district has struggled. I will bring this knowledge to help our district improve services in this area.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

  • I would like to be remembered as someone who brought equity to our school district by improving underperforming schools, closing our achievement gaps, creating transparency and meaningful community input, and balancing enrollment across school campuses without dramatic busing.

Campaign website: drsarahforschools.com/

Campaign’s social media site(s): Facebook.com/drsarahforschools