Schools have an enormous impact on our entire community whether you currently have children in school or not. You cannot have a strong community without strong schools. Our public schools are turning out tomorrow's leaders. If we do a good job, those youth go on to be productive members of our community and add to the quality of life for all of us in a positive way. Great schools also help us attract businesses to our community as we rebound from many years of economic struggle in north Brevard. Not only do business leaders want great schools for their employees' children but they want to know that we can provide the workforce of the future. While we face many challenges in education today, below are a few of the issues I believe are most critical to success moving forward.
Competitive Wages and Compression
The state's investment in minimum teacher salaries and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for other educational professionals has created a major wage compression issue that will result in the loss of many of our best and brightest employees in Brevard Public Schools. In many instances, employees who have been in the district for ten plus years are only making a few cents more per hour than entry level employees. State funding has not allowed the flexibility to address this compression issue. Additionally, current legislation requires that for every dollar given to veteran teachers, seventy-five cents must be given to teachers making the minimum salary, prohibiting us from effectively addressing wage compression. These veteran employees can and are leaving for much more money in the private sector, exacerbating the workforce shortage issues and robbing our students of high quality educators and other professionals. We must identify ways to address this issue throughout our system.
Career and Technical Education
Brevard County has a robust Career and Technical Education program that includes over 45 industry certification programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, and internship opportunities for students. Over 50% of our graduates each year graduate with an industry certification. We must continue to build on the success of those programs ensuring offerings align with jobs available in our community today and those anticipated to be in our community tomorrow. Additionally, we must continue to work with organizations in our community to expand internship and apprenticeship opportunities so students graduate with certifications as well as experience that make them the most marketable high school graduates in today's competitive environment. We must also break down the stigma of career and technical education training. Whether students want to work their way through post-secondary education or they plan to go directly into full-time employment, Career and Technical Education can benefit every student and make them more prepared for the challenges they will face beyond high school.
Mental Health Support
We have lost far too many children in our community to suicide and many more are at risk. While many societal factors contribute to this crisis, faculty and staff members in schools are in a unique position to be able to identify warning signs and connect families with the resources they need to keep our children safe. We must eliminate stigmas, provide proactive supports in schools and work with community partners to provide professional mental health support to students. Additionally, we must free guidance counselors from paper work and testing so they have time to support children, provide social workers to address the myriad of family challenges our families are dealing with, and expand our mentoring programs through community partnerships. My husband and I are both mentors at our schools and it truly does make a difference but we need more community leaders to get involved and we need more businesses to incentivize mentoring.
While the most recent progress monitoring data shows significant gains for our students during this most recent school year, school closures, increases in virtual learning, and the stress of the past few years have taken a toll on learning progress overall. Appropriate supports must be in place to continue to support success and close gaps so that our students can graduate on time prepared to be productive citizens. Mentoring programs, additional academic opportunities, supporting the mental and physical health of students, and providing accelerated learning opportunities are critical to
Social Emotional Support
Children in Brevard are facing monumental challenges in their home life. We have 2,000 homeless children in our schools, over half of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, there are 1,300 children in foster care in Brevard, and there were over 10,000 calls to DCF for maltreatment last year. All of these life challenges interfere with a child's ability to focus on education. Often this causes disruptions in the classroom, making the teacher's job much harder and derailing the learning process for all students. We must increase our social/emotional support for students by adding more social workers in schools to connect families with resources, providing teachers time to build relationships, and encouraging mentoring in our community.
Equal Access to Programs for All Children
All children can succeed if given the correct supports and challenges to do so. Children must have access to programs and educational environments that challenge them to achieve their personal best regardless of family income or geography. I am especially proud of my efforts to get South Lake Elementary reopened as the first STEAM school in north Brevard as well as my efforts to bring AVID programs to Madison Middle School and Astronaut High School. This is a start but I will continue to advocate for as many opportunities for the children of our community as I can to ensure that north Brevard students have access to programs that meet their individual needs. We must not only provide adequate support for struggling students but we must ensure that our average students are challenged to grow while also providing enrichment opportunities for our high performing students that allow them to be challenged and achieve their highest potential as well.