KPIC 4 | By Lenny Cohen | March 8, 2023
STUART, Fla. (TND) — One school district’s struggle to find a new superintendent could be a sign of the times in Florida.
Dr. John Millay announced his resignation from the top spot in Martin County after two years, effective at the end of June, but it could take longer to replace him.
Tuesday night, board members and other school officials discussed the situation at another workshop, and WPEC learned that they were considering an internal hire as the easiest option.
Andrea Messina, from the Florida School Boards Association, explained finding the right applicant from outside the county is harder this year as seven other Florida school districts are also looking for new superintendents. That’s a significant number than average years.
The job of superintendent is not what it used to be,” Messina said. “I’m having a lot more difficult time right now getting people from out of state to consider coming to Florida. They feel like things are in a little bit of uncertainty in Florida and they just want to let things settle before they move their family and take a risk.
Education in Florida has been in a state of transition since Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis took office four years ago.
The governor has sought to insinuate himself in the education process in the state at almost every level – along with right-wing parents and education advocacy groups – starting with elections. In fact, this past November, all six school board candidates endorsed by DeSantis won their races.
But his work to reshape the educatiobn system in the state goes beyond that.
Trustees of the New College of Florida – many of which DeSantis apppointed – recently voted to abolish the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion program. Critics called that a politically-motivated way to silence voices.
For high school students, the state is looking to a college admissions testing company popular with private religious colleges and universities, considered an “alternative” to the ACT and The College Board’s SAT.
DeSantis made national news when he rejected an advanced placement (AP) African American studies course from The College Board, saying it pushes a political agenda.
The so-called “Stop Woke” act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in colleges also made headlines.
He took the role of college sports judge by declaring one swimmer the “rightful winner” of the 2022 NCAA Division I women’s 500-yard freestyle event, despite a transgender woman winning the title.
In the legislature, he’s pushing for a so-called Teacher’s Bill of Rights. One of its goals would be to “fight against school union haggling.” Union membership is voluntary in Florida.
DeSantis spoke about making school board elections partisan by encouraging candidates to oversee education to be open about their political party affiliations.
He required public universities to “conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution,” motivated by the conservative belief higher education institutions favor liberal ideology.
Unfortunately, now the norm is really, these are more intellectually repressive environments,” DeSantis said last April.
On the subject of scrutiny of professors, a leaked copy of a bill called for hiring at state schools to be handled by university boards of trustees. Many of those boards have members who are DeSantis political appointees and allies. That bill has not been introduced.
He did sign a bill concerning tenured professions. It lets the Board of Governors adopt a regulation “requiring each tenured state university faculty member to undergo a comprehensive post-tenure review every five years.”
He also signed a bill to force schools to periodically change accreditors.
“It’s all about trying to make these institutions more in line with what the state’s priorities are, and quite frankly the priorities of parents throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
The role that these accreditation agencies play, I don’t even know where they come from,” he added. “I mean, they are effectively self-anointed. They have an inordinate amount of power to shape what is going on at these universities.
Perhaps DeSantis’ educational reforms are best known through and emobided by the Parental Rights in Education, the so-called “don’t say gay” law restricting teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.
From the classroom to the library, there are book bans going on to ensure educational content is age-appropriate, at least with parent groups and education officials the conservative appointed.
Back in Martin County, media specialists have been hard at work.
Just this week, WPEC reported the district removed 92 books from shelves, though it’s unclear if that refers to 92 different titles or multiple copies of the same book.
All books formally challenged by members of the community must be reviewed by media specialists, and a media specialist can be any adult who wants to go through the training.
I know how I was raised, and I’m from a Christian background, and some things go against my belief,” parent Kenisha Williams said. “So I don’t want my kids exposed to that stuff. That’s not what we believe in.
The law was created to let parents have more of a say in what information their child has access to, but parents don’t have unanimous viewpoints and teachers have to tread very carefully between their wishes and new laws signed annually.
All of this perhaps goes to what Messina said about out of state educators seeing uncertainty and risk in the sunshine state.