In an effort to help you make informed decisions during the General Election, ABC Action News has reached out to dozens of candidates running for office. The following statements have been submitted to ABC Action News by the candidate. Every candidate was given the same set of questions. These are their responses in his/her own words.
Name: Henry Washington
Office: Hillsborough County Schoolboard Member for District 5
My college career was aided by a football scholarship from Kentucky State University. My professional career as an educator was in parallel with my continued service in the U. S. Army Reserve and the Florida National Guard. I served in various maintenance, signal, and engineering units - eventually retiring from military service as a 1stSergeant after 22 years. Later, I earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. I moved from the classroom to school administration as an Assistant Principal at McLane Junior High School, Chamberlain High School, and Brandon High School. I returned to Chamberlain High School when I was appointed as principal. For five years, I was recognized as Principal of the Year. Once again I returned to my roots when I was appointed as the first principal of the new Middleton High School. Continued challenges awaited me when I began a 12 years period; first as an Area Director and finally as an Area Superintendent. My educational career finally ended upon my retirement from this school system after 42 years.
Why should voters vote for you?
Voters should vote for me because I have what it takes to make a difference in both District 5 and the school district at large. I have 42 years of experience in this system, beginning my career as a teacher assistant and moving through the ranks to Area Superintendent. My experience gives me insight into school leadership, budgeting and finance, employee relations and teacher support and retention. For many years, the schools is district 5 have been underperforming. In fact, 22 of the 27 transformation schools are located in District 5. This is unacceptable. I plan to hold the superintendent accountable while partnering with him and the community to realize lasting change in District 5.
If elected, what are your top priorities?
- Equity in Education
Differing from the concept of equality where all students would receive the exact same support as they are educated, equity dictates that we make judgements about the needs of students as individuals and give those students what they need to ensure their success. Different students require different things to ensure their success. The inequity that has been a part of the school district and overall community has given rise to such issues as the school to prison pipeline and inconsistent disciplining practices for students of color. These discipline practices have led to suspensions and expulsions being overused for those same students. Comparatively, students of color are overrepresented in our ESE programs. The gap in achievement between students of color and their non-white counterparts is significant and persists from grades K-12 across all subjects. All of these issues represent the huge disparities that exist in our district for students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. These issues must be rectified because students deserve to be educated in a building that they can be proud of and receive the very best education possible regardless of their zip code.
- Teacher Quality
A report on teacher quality and student outcomes by the Rand Institute shows a long-term positive correlation between increased teacher pay and increased student performance. We must find the money to pay our teachers competitive salaries. Too often we find teachers that must work multiple jobs to meet their financial obligations. This is unacceptable. Our teachers will be at their best when we give them our best. In order recruit and retain the best teachers to our district, our teachers must be treated as trusted professionals. To show our support, we must offer them job conditions that will set them up for success. These things may include providing teachers: A fair evaluation system, opportunities for advancement that are not limited to leaving the classroom, meaningful professional development, a seat at the table for developing policies and procedures, classrooms where fair and consistent discipline practices are utilized across the district and protected time for planning.
- School Funding Fiscal Accountability
School districts cannot operate effectively without proper funding. Florida per pupil spending is $9,075 compared to the national annual average of 12,000 per students. As a member of the school board, I will put pressure on Tallahassee to appropriately fund our schools. Each function of the school district is tied to funding and student achievement cannot be realized without the appropriate resources. Additionally, the school district needs to be a good steward of the funds that it has. I will hold the superintendent and my fellow board members accountable for prioritizing our initiatives, reducing waste and ensuring that are resources directly impact our students.
What are three key messages of your campaign?
- Equity in Education
- Engaged with the Community
- Experience that Matters
What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?
I am personally passionate about a number of issues in public policy. The most immediate deals with our national, state and local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will not be able to jump start our economy without an appropriate response to this deadly virus. That means a national mask mandate. Experts assert that mask wearing will possibly be more effective than a vaccine and 100K lives could be saved by January if EVERYONE wears masks. I will fight to keep masks in our schools and community and continue to educate our citizenry on social distancing, appropriate hygiene and rapid responses to possible COVID-19 exposure. Additionally, I am passionate about policy related to human rights and non-discrimination. In a nutshell, each person, regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or gender identity have the right to be protected in and out of the workplace. Such policies as those that protect equal pay for women and other minorities don't need to be stripped, but strengthened. I am lastly committed to the family - and the beauty of families is that they are so diverse. Families need the protection to work jobs where they will be paid a wage that allows them to support their families and access to strong pre-K programs that support early literacy, thereby strengthening the family as a unit.
As it relates to the role you are seeking, how has that governmental body handled the Covid-19 pandemic? What would you do differently/the same in handling both the public health risk and the economic recovery?
Our national and state response to Covid-19 has been inadequate. Our national and state leaders have not listened to science as they have made decisions about mask wearing and business and school opening. These decisions have delayed the restart to our economy and resulted in the loss of life that did not have to occur. If I had been given the opportunity to weigh into those decisions, I would have listened to our scientists and experts. Following the shutdown, a national mask mandate should have been enforced. Other countries who did this now have little to no community spread and far fewer deaths per capita. I would have also timed our re-opening according to the phased COVID-19 guidelines recommended by our state and national response teams. We reopened much earlier than those recommendations dictated. This misstep has likely prolonged economic recovery because citizens do not feel safe nor do they have access to the designer healthcare options that have been provided to our president and other government officials who have been recently infected.
In the role you are seeking, what will you do to address issues of racism and inequality?
It has been long known that students of color are overrepresented when it comes to discipline referral incidents, school suspensions and expulsions. Additionally, students of color fall victim to what is termed as the school to prison pipeline, the direct relationship between strict school policies and the disproportionate imprisonment of students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. Solutions to addressing this important issue include positive behavior systems and restorative practices as district-wide initiatives. Also, teachers must be trained in culturally relevant pedagogy and receive support with uncovering their hidden bias. Equity means not treating students exactly the same but giving them the individualized support they need to be successful. The truth is students from underrepresented and underserved need our support overcoming the systems that have thrust them to the outskirts of society and heighten their marginalization. Responding to their behavior positively through rewards that enhance their intrinsic motivation is paramount to reducing negative behavior incidents. Also, when students make mistakes, they need the opportunity to correct their wrongs and move forward through restorative practices. Lastly, teacher make the difference. Teachers must forge relationships with these students, support them and advocate for them in a way that will ensure their success. We can conquer this issue, remove the barriers that underrepresented students face and place them on a path for success.
What motivates you to run for public office?
I am running for office because it is time for a change! We can no longer stand by and accept non-performing schools as the only option for our students. Each and every student in our district deserves to have an equitable education. I will be an accountability partner, working with our superintendent to make that happen. I will ensure that the schools get the resources they need. I will fight to have the best teachers and leaders in our schools and also fight for them to be paid salaries that they deserve. I will fight in Tallahassee to make the state adequately fund our schools. I will engage the community and we will all work together to make a difference.