The Flagler County School District is trying to produce students who can think creatively, work collaboratively and use technology to do it, School District Assistant Superintendent Jacob Oliva said at a Tuesday night State of Education address.
“There was a time when we would say that if students were proficient in the core subject areas — reading, writing and arithmetic — no matter what path they chose, they’d be successful,” Oliva said.
But that’s no longer the case, he said to about 80 audience members at the Flagler Auditorium in Bunnell. Now, students need much more: digital skills, global awareness, economic literacy and creative thinking. And in a world brimming with immediately available information, students need to be able to evaluate the material they see on the news or read on the Internet.
Oliva gave an example: Students go online and find the following quote: “'You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.’ — Abraham Lincoln.” Too many respond, Oliva said, by saying, “Oh, I didn’t know he said that.”
And as low-wage entry level jobs disappear and are replaced by technology, Oliva said, the workforce needs fewer cashiers and more people to fix the self-checkout machines that have replaced them.
The district is preparing students for those roles through programs like i3 Technical Institute at Flagler Palm Coast High School, Oliva said, and plans to roll out new flagship programs at area elementary schools in coming years.
The new flagship programs will focus on robotics, marine science, medicine, technology and other fields that require higher-level thinking and prepare students for high school, college and careers.
“If our students are showing up to high school and they’re not thinking about their future and being on their way to college and career readiness, we’re behind,” Oliva said.
Superintendent Janet Valentine said the district’s state and national rankings show that it’s moving forward.
The Flagler School District ranks 11th out of 67 school districts in the state on standardized test results, she said. Matanzas High School is ranked in the top 7% nationwide.
Part of the reason for those gains, she said, is the quality of the district’s instructional staff: 98% are ranked as “highly qualified.”
The district is also trying to hire more minorities, she said, and 18% of new hires are minorities.
The district is also considering creating a “teacher cadet” program for high school students who want to become teachers, Oliva said, and targeting minority students for the program and guaranteeing them jobs if they return to Flagler County after college to teach.
Search for a superintendent
In a question-and-answer session after district leaders’ speeches, audience members challenged the district on its search for a superintendent to replace Janet Valentine, who will retire after the end of the school year.
The board elected not to hire a search firm for a national search to replace Valentine, and Oliva is widely seen as the board’s favorite to succeed her.
“I believe we need to go outside for a superintendent,” the Rev. Sims Jones said during the question-and-answer session. “We need something new, something different,” he said. “We need a selection, not the next person in line.”
Another community member said the district could well have the most qualified candidate already, but would never know for sure unless they can do a comparison with candidates from outside the system.
School Board Chairman Andy Dance said the district actually has planned ahead — by lining up Oliva to succeed Valentine.
“If you identify the proper people and put them in a position to succeed, that’s not a lack of planning,” he said.
Dance said that although the board hasn’t hired a search firm, it will advertise the open position widely to attract candidates.
“We’re going to advertise. We have no idea who will apply,” he said. “It's not a decision to be taken lightly by any of us. It’s the single most important decision the board will make, and we take it very seriously.”