Members of the Bradford County community will vote on Nov. 8 for who they want running their counties school board.
According to Florida Department of Education’s Division of Accountability, the Bradford County School District currently ranks 59th out of the 67 counties in Florida. This ranking is based on a point system developed by the state; points are calculated based on performance in the schools curriculum and improvement. Bradford accumulated 515 points. In comparison, St. John’s county, the highest ranked county in the state, earned 751 points.
Chad Farnsworth, 39, has lived in Starke for almost all of his life. He went to Bradford High School before attending Santa Fe College where he received his Associate in Arts degree. From there, Farnsworth went to the University of Florida where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Telecommunication, and then went on to earn a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of North Florida.
Farnsworth, a nonpartisan, decided to run for a second term as superintendent because of a perceived lack of leadership continuity within the school district. He said there has not been a two-term superintendent in Bradford County for more than 30 years.
“If there was a time that we ever needed stability, it was now,” Farnsworth said.
As for the low test scores among the students in his county, he said the county’s difficulty with finding teachers has been a part of the problem.
Farnsworth said he is focused on recruiting teachers from other counties with experience who want to be a part of the change in Bradford. He said he’s also hoping within a few years, there will be more students going into the field of teaching from Bradford County because they will be more likely to settle down in the county.
“I’m trying to urge home-growing some of these teachers,” he said.
Farnsworth hopes with another term as superintendent, the school district can also achieve what he said he’s been pushing for since he was first elected: the improvement of school facilities.
Two elementary schools Bradford County can only hold about 120 to 150 students, which is not the best for the county’s economy, Farnsworth said. Another elementary school, which holds about 550 students, has been worn down and is falling apart. Farnsworth said he’s currently working with the state to get funding for a $40 million facility to combine the three elementary schools.
“We’ve neglected a lot of our facility issues here for so long in Bradford County that now we’ve got to adapt and change, or we’re not going to be able to keep up,” Farnsworth said. “We’re not going to be able to get the quality teachers because our schools are not suitable.”
Stacey Creighton, 46, was born and raised in Lawtey, Florida, before moving away and returning in 2000. She went to Bradford High School before attending Santa Fe College where she earned her Associates in Arts Degree. She then transferred to University of Florida where she graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in Law. In 2006, Creighton was elected to the Bradford County School Board and is currently serving her third elected term for District 2. She has also been a member of the Florida Bar for 20 years and is currently the president of the Women’s Club of Starke.
Creighton, a Republican, said she announced her campaign for Bradford County Superintendent in January after she saw lack of success within her school district.
“I’ve just watched us deteriorate at such a fast rate over the last 4 years,” she said.
Creighton said the deterioration she is referring to is how Bradford County continues underperform in terms of rank amongst other counties in Florida tested in. The decline of standardized test scores across schools in the county, she said, is the biggest issue facing her school district.
“We have to prepare them,” she said. “I don’t think we’re doing that.”
She said several factors contribute to Bradford County’s rank of 57. A few of those reasons being: a high teacher turn-over rate, a rate she said that can be anywhere from 2 to 3 teachers throughout the year; a lack of communication between the schools and students’ parents; and limitations in the current school curriculum that prevents students from getting the exposure they need. Creighton said that she plans to improve the school district by working to mend the relationship between the school board and its teachers and by researching what has made counties that surround Bradford successful.
“I look in neighboring districts with demographics just like ours, and they’re successful,” Creighton said. “I believe that if we can duplicate what works over there with our kids, we can be just as successful.”
Teddy Key, 63, has lived in Bradford County for 40 years. He graduated from University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in police administration before earning a master’s degree from Florida State University in criminology with a minor in junior college instruction. He is currently working on his dissertation on the effects of inmate tutors in order to earn his Doctor of Education degree from the University of North Florida.
Key, a Democrat, is currently employed by the Florida Department of Corrections where he has served as a supervisor. He also spent about 20 years teaching as an adjunct professor for Gateway Community College’s law enforcement program.
Key said the lack of success in the current school system is one of the reasons he decided to enter the race for superintendent. He said that he feels Bradford County has gotten used to the low test scores and that needs to change.
“I have eight grandchildren, and I have more coming,” Key said. “If we don’t change the system now, I’m leaving a C system for them, and I’m not prepared to do that.”
To improve student test scores, he said he wants the school system to provide tutoring labs for not only the students of Bradford, but also their parents in order to help them help their kids.
“How belittling is it to a parent to be able say, ‘I can’t help my child with their six grade math?’,” Key said. “We need parents that are able to help their kids at home because we need that help at home.”
Key said he feels he will be a successful superintendent because “sometimes it takes an outsider to come in and make some changes.” He said he is not a politician but a concerned resident of Bradford County that wants improvement.
“I think I’m different because I have a different attitude,” Key said. “I have an attitude about listening to people and trying to make this work. I have a team work approach. This is not me against the school, it’s me and the school system against these Cs, and we’ll beat them.”
Where they stand on…
Creighton said that she does not have a problem with Florida’s open government laws, but Key answered yes when asked if Florida’s open government laws make government less efficient.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” Key said. “You have to have government in the sunshine because of past abuses. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot, and now we’re wearing the bandage.”
Farnsworth doesn’t have a problem with open government and said the county operation is wide open to the public.
“There are no with us secrets us,” Farnsworth said. “Even if there are, the (state) auditor general spends so much time in school districts – I mean, there are no secrets.”
Common Core and standardized testing
All candidates agreed that standardized testing was necessary, but they did not agree that standardized testing was completely effective.
Key said with standardized tests, it’s impossible to format the test to meet every students’ individual testing needs.
“It is a necessary evil, Key said, “but it doesn’t need to hinge funding, promotions, graduations because then you’re holding kids back for a standardized test that has weaknesses.”
Creighton is not a fan of Common Core, as a parent who has tried to do homework with her kids, she said. However, she said Florida has adopted Common Core standards for their tests so its important that the school district get students ready.
“We have to meet these standards; we have to be competitive. The ACT and SAT are going to reflect those standards, too,” Creighton said. “Our kids have got to do well, so we have got to teach them so that they can be successful.”
Like the other candidates, Farnsworth said he believes standardized testing is necessary to test accountability within the school districts. However, he said he he is not a fan of the current system.
“I think we do overassess,” Farnsworth said. “There has to got to be simpler ways to access what our kids our learning.”
As for Common Core, he said he feels it is a different way of thinking and solving issues. However, he thinks the problem with it is that Common Core gets wrapped up in political talk and people thinking its about the content that is taught instead of a different approach to teaching.
Creighton believes that although the current students at Bradford High School were provided with laptops, there still needs to be improvement in the connectivity at home.
She said Bradford is a poorer county, so having internet at home is a privilege that some students don’t have.
Key said that Bradford County needs to work on petitioning for grants for poorer students in the community who need help connecting to the Web because the laptops don’t help the students become electronically literate without internet.
Farnsworth said there is “light in the horizon,” when talking about the level of broadband connectivity speed throughout community. Like Key, Farnsworth wants to start focusing on getting the students Internet connectivity outside the schools.
All candidates said they believe that teachers should be compensated more.
Key said that because teachers are paid so little, he said a high school senior could be taught a trade and be paid more than their high school teacher.
“These teachers are the ones teaching our children to go on and make society better, and what’s we think of them? It’s a shame,” Key said. It’s a good thing they don’t do it for the money or they’d all leave.”
Some teachers do leave, according to Creighton. She said teachers want to feel respected, and there have been teachers in Bradford County who have left the school district and take pay cuts in order to be happier at another school. She said it will take the school board mending its relationship with between it and its teachers in order to stop this from happening.
Farnsworth said the funding in the state compared to other states is lacking and the lack of funding needs to be addressed at by state officials to avoid a state-wide shortage of teachers.
“You can blame a superintendent, you can blame administrators, you can blame all kind off different things on the teacher turn over and people not coming into the profession, but in reality, it’s not an appealing profession because of the poor compensation,” he said.
Farnsworth said Florida legislators need to do something proactive to provide an incentive to get people teaching again because if not, the lack of teachers in Florida will become a huge issue facing public education.