As a lifelong Franklin County resident and avid supporter of our youth, I am extremely disheartened in how one candidate for the superintendent of schools race has chosen a platform centralized around political rhetoric versus substantive educational ideas. It is unfortunate that Mr. Steve Lanier’s campaign objectives are seemingly based on unseating the incumbent to satisfy a faction of citizens that are more concerned with the self-serving desire to control the school district, rather on what truly is best for our children. Since Mr. Lanier entered the race for this position, he and some of his supporters have tried to, at the least, confuse Franklin County voters with the following claims of his campaign.
His campaign says, “The Franklin County School has continued to fall in the state rankings as we are now ranked number 62 out of 67 school districts in Florida, our lowest ever.” The Truth is this statement is from a website called SchoolDigger.com, which is a service of Claarware, LLC, which is created and owned by Pete Claar. It is a one-person software development shop, founded in 2006 by Pete Claar. He lives in Lake Forest Park, Washington. This is an internet company ranking created by Pete Claar. This unofficial ranking calculation highlights the dangers of judging a school with an intended agenda. The official Florida Department of Education’s standings are based on percentage points earned through state standardized assessments.
His campaign says, “We lost 118 students since 2018 to other surrounding schools.” The Truth is in 2016-17 and 2017-18 the preschool program was located on the Franklin County School campus in Eastpoint. During the 2017-18 school year a review of the Franklin County School campus capacity and classroom needs determined the preschool program would be moved to the district office campus in Eastpoint (the former Brown Elementary site). As a result of this move the student enrollment for Franklin County School no longer includes the preschool enrollment numbers. Franklin County School student enrollment is, as of Oct. 9, 2020, as follows: 2018-19: 865; 2019-20: 848; 2020-21: 836.
Either Mr. Lanier was unaware of this change or did not realize that this shift of the preschool students is no longer included in the Franklin County School enrollment or is just intentionally misleading the voters. Yes, since the inception of school choice, there have been a small number of students transfer, but out of the four that I personally know of who went to Port St. Joe last year, three are back at Franklin this year. Misleading information for voters at best, a purposeful falsehood at worst.
His campaign says, “Our School Grade has been a “C”, while other surrounding school districts consistently grade out higher as an “A” or “B” School.” Is he talking about the overall school district grade, or an individual school grade? The Florida Department of Education releases data each year on school district grades, as well as individual school grades. The Franklin County school district grades and Gulf district school grades are as follows:
2016 - Franklin “C” (9 percentage points away from a B) / Gulf “B”
2017 – Franklin “C” (7 percentage points away from a B) / Gulf “B”
2018 – Franklin “C” (3 percentage points away from a B) / Gulf “B”
2019 – Franklin “C” (7 percentage points away from a B) / Gulf “C”
To bring a school or district to a “B” or “A” it will take every single school employee, parent, and student to be a part of the team with that goal in mind. I think the hiring of the current turnaround principal is a great start in that direction. There had to be changes made to get on this path for the Franklin County School District. Improving the school district grade can be accomplished but it is going to take everyone, not just the Superintendent.
In the 2019-20 school year, 95.3 percent of Franklin County students qualified for free or reduced lunch, and in Gulf County, 58 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch. This is a 37.3 percentage point difference. The most critical concern should be helping our students to reach proficiency and end the generational poverty most of our students face, and not solely on school district grades or rankings. Our students are more than a test score. This has been and will remain the priority of our current superintendent, who is working with our school board to implement strategies to support our students and staff.
Mr. Lanier has not given any information on his website or in any candidate responses that outlines his plans to support our students and teachers. His only course of action has been to attack the current superintendent.
Our current superintendent has devoted her entire 19-year career to serving the students and families of Franklin County. She is invested and committed to giving all our student’s options for college and careers. She has proven that commitment through implementing a nursing program, a welding program, a business program, and an aviation program. She and her team have also secured $2.3 million in Triumph funds for further enhancements of career and technical education. Traci loves our kids, our community, and will always put their best interest at the heart of all decision making.
While voters must decide for themselves what candidate to support and vote for, I just wanted to give some clarification of some of the facts. I would like to encourage you all to do your own research, know the candidates and what they stand for before marking your ballot. The future of our children’s education depends on it.
Vote -Vote-Vote your conscience!
Janice Martina Hicks
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Letters: 'Our students are more than a test score'