Focus on Students’ Mental Health
The mental health of students is one of the most important issues we face as a society. We must integrate education with mental health, and I am uniquely qualified to guide our public schools in this area.
Thankfully, our state Legislature has mandated that each student in grades 6-12 receive five hours of mental health-related curriculum. The state also has funded this requirement. This is a great start, but it’s not enough. We must make this a priority for all students.
I will advocate for additional comprehensive mental health education and counseling for every student, from kindergarten through grade 12. Half of mental illness begins before age 14. That’s why it’s so critical that our children understand the signs of mental illness and ask for help — for themselves, and for their peers.
Students receiving the counseling and support that they need will be also academically stronger.
We also must confront bullying by adding rigorous curriculum on the subject, and by training our teachers better on how to deal with this issue.
Ensure We Safely Re-Open Our Schools
We must ensure both the physical and emotional safety of our students and teachers when school re-open. We must ensure that our teachers have adequate personal protection equipment. We must follow science-driven protocols for sanitation, hygiene, and physical distancing. We must also focus on helping our students and teachers adjust emotionally to being back in school. This will require us to focus on identifying and helping students, as well as teachers, re-acclimate to their learning environments.
Make Schools Safe and Nurturing
Recent tragedies have shown that our children and teachers face grave dangers. We have responded by stationing accredited police officers at every school, and by physically “hardening” campuses to make them less vulnerable to attacks.
There also are some who favor arming our teachers, and conducting “active shooter” drills. We should be prepared, but I strenuously oppose both of these ideas. Allowing teachers to carry firearms is a recipe for disaster, and conducting repeated drills only heightens students’ anxiety levels.
Instead, we must create a comprehensive risk assessment program to evaluate troubled students before they become a danger to their classmates, to themselves, and to our community.
We must boost funding for counseling services and ensure that every school has the trained personnel and resources necessary to identify and guide troubled students toward professional help.
Support Special Needs Students
We must ensure that “exceptional student education” (ESE) students which include those who are gifted and with special needs, can learn and grow along with their peers. They must have access to the most appropriate education in order to learn and grow along with their peers.
We absolutely must meet and exceed the federal requirements that ensure the right of every student with disabilities to have a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
What’s more, research shows that all students can learn from those with different abilities. Having a more diverse educational environment also leads to learning empathy and collaboration — important skills that will help our students turn into successful adults.
Provide More Education Options
There is a real need in some areas for new schools, increased capacity at existing schools, and more magnet and other advanced academic programs. Certain areas, for example, have seen steady population increases — yet our public schools have not kept up with capacity and educational programming.
We must recognize that for-profit and private charter schools are eager to fill this void.
I will be your advocate to obtain the resources needed to offer all parents, regardless of where they live, the best possible educational options in high-performing public schools.
Pay and Respect Our Teachers More
We absolutely must pay our talented, hard-working teachers more. This includes both new teachers and veteran educators.
The very future of our public schools, and society at large, rests on the foundation of attracting and retaining highly-qualified teachers to help educate the next generation. Yet far too many educational professionals have fled our community for better pay and a lower cost of living.
Tallahassee, meanwhile, continues to make the situation even worse by short changing our students and our communities. The state used to provide most of the funding for public schools. But it has gradually shifted this tax burden onto local school districts.
We also must break the stranglehold that standardized testing has on our teachers and students. We must stop “teaching to the test,” and stop treating our educators like commissioned sales people whose careers and compensation are so dependent on testing.