Three of the four candidates vying to represent Duval’s District 2 on the School Board agreed they would grade Duval Schools a B or B-minus, but they disagreed Thursday night on several other points about the district during a public debate held by local groups.
Scott Shine, Sam Hall and Shannon Russell took part in the debate.
The fourth candidate, Theresa Graham, did not attend.
The candidates vowed to strengthen community ties to the school district, including encouraging more involvement from businesses and government leaders. They also said they believe recent changes in the district’s code of conduct were a “good start,” but more needs to be done to differentiate between bullies and perpetrators and they approved recent moves to increase investments and performance pay for teachers in challenging schools.
But there were disagreements among the candidates on some issues, such as how far magnets, career academies and school choice should go in the district.
Russell said she is concerned that magnet schools have added to population imbalances among schools.
Shine and Hall said they’d like more magnets and school choices. They said they supported the principal changes Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has made since taking over, but Russell noted that the shifts he made during the middle of the last school year were a big disruption to those schools.
When asked what they would do to “repair the reputation” of the School Board, Hall said the district needs to market its gems, such as its District 2 schools. Russell said the district needs to toot its horn, while Shine said the district should educate
Realtors about its schools and cultivate better relationships with journalists.
Shine has by far the biggest campaign war chest at $58,429, which includes $32,000 he lent his campaign. He recently announced the endorsement of the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
He has the financial support of several of the richest community donors in the region. Shine is a real estate investor in the West Beaches area and has served on the city of Jacksonville Ethics Commission. He is a second-term member of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission and was an executive at Bank of America, the Nemours Children’s Clinic and Barnett Banks.
He has said he will increase public speaking opportunities at School Board committee meetings, where most discussion and debate occurs instead of at regular board meetings. He also said he’ll seek to make testing that identifies learning disabilities more available, to help students sooner.
Russell is the only District 2 candidate who teaches in public schools. The 18-year teacher at Sandalwood High is also on the board of directors of Duval Teachers United and is the head union representative for her school.
She has said she’ll work to protect student learning and instruction time, which has been reduced by testing, and she’ll ensure equal access to resources for all schools regardless of neighborhood or letter grade.
Hall served as chairman of the board for The Bridge of Northeast Florida and has been on United Way’s board for 22 years. With a biology degree, he has been supervisor of Water Pollution Control, leader of a research team on air pollution control with Hitachi Zozen of Japan and worked with Merck Pharmaceuticals and Anheuser-Busch.
Hall, who recently retired, said he’ll be able to devote full time to the School Board. He has said he’ll focus on an effective school budget, quality teachers and principals and a strong strategic partnership with city government.
Graham is the only candidate among the four who is still a student. Although she holds a doctorate in psychology, she is pursuing a major in criminology and sociology at Florida State University. She is a Realtor and business owner and is president of North Florida Right to Life.
Graham has said she’ll support school choice, a strong program for children with disabilities and programs that target student dropouts.
Voters will make their choices in the Aug. 26 primary and the general election Nov 4.
If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, then the top two vote-getters face off in the general election.
The forum was sponsored by a coalition of community groups led by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
All the organizations have signed a pledge to not support or endorse a candidate.
A second forum, on the District 4 School Board race, will be held Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Ribault High, pitting incumbent Paula Wright against Darryl Willie, a Teach for America leader.
A third School Board seat up for vote is Board Chairwoman Becki Couch’s. She is unopposed.
For more information about the candidates and their response to questionnaires click on these links:
Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083