Monday, July 23, 2012

Ex-Navy flier understands, enjoys his school work

By John L. Guerra

The good news about School Board member Duncan Matthewson's retirement is the rich slate of passionate and qualified candidates fighting for the District 3 (Big Pine) seat. I liked each District 3 candidate at Finnegan's Wake bar last Thursday evening and I believe each is competent and would give the job his best. This is good news for voters, because voters usually must choose from a field of uninspired candidates who are hoping to supplement their incomes with the $30,000 (or so) the seat pays. Nothing wrong with liking that money, but the Monroe County School District is at a crucial point in its transition from a political patronage organization to a lean and professionally run school system.
Whoever gets the board seat in that district must be an extraordinary person. The job requires strong preparation before every meeting. Learning the budget and proposed spending amendments thoroughly; understanding all changes in state education requirements; inspecting proposed construction and service contracts for problems--board members must master an endless stream of information by meeting time. By the way, that doesn't include spending time away from home in the evenings talking to parents, teachers, and students. Attending night games--the list goes on.

Schools still in transition

Your vote will have power because the board is in uncharted territory. The School Board is the proud, new boss of a school superintendent who draws his power not from political patronage or the polls. He need only keep the board happy. All five members best-case, but at least three of them.
Nor is the new superintendent a governor-appointed napkin holder. I write this not as an affront to outgoing Superintendent Jesus Jara, who worked hard fulfilling the governor's mandate that he run the school system, but to make the point that the school board is now the boss.
Now that Superintendent Mark Porter from Minnesota must answer to them, the five board members have more power than ever before--certainly it has more say than it did before the Acevedos opened their family credit card account at the First Bank of Trumbo Road.
It is this new reality--that five board members must act with one voice when managing poor Mr. Porter--that I suggest voters pick a candidate with a clear understanding of what ails the school system. That someone should be familiar with board politics; understand the recent history of the school system; attend board meetings regularly, and speak with common sense.

I'm going to suggest voters take a good look at Ed Davidson, best-known to the community in the Middle Keys as Capt. Ed. If there is a fifth Beatle, then Davidson is the sixth School Board member. The dive captain and decorated Navy fighter pilot has attended more than 200 board meetings and Audit and Finance Committee meetings and participates in board debate via the public comment period at each meeting. He doesn't just gripe, though. He offers solutions and in some cases, the board has taken his suggestions.
I like the guy because he has that attitude that one must finish what one starts; that a hard day's work means something; and that when something is a bad idea, it's a bad idea to implement it. He has the endorsement (and a $200 contribution) from Ocean Reef PAC Inc., which represents homeowners in the Ocean Reef community.

Sorry, John Welsh

I hope my friend John Welsh, the sharp former principal of Key West High School and accomplished runner (he just took part in a marathon run along the Great Wall) will pardon me for what to him must sound like betrayal. I am not saying Davidson is what Welsh isn't. Both are men of courage and commitment.
At roughly the same time Davidson hit enemy targets from his F-4 Phantom over the North Vietnamese capital, Welsh was on the jungle floor engaging in what one can euphemistically call "up-close-and-personal conflict resolution" with the enemies of South Vietnam.
I don't want to mislead the reader, however. Welsh is gentle, kind, compassionate and much-beloved by many students, teachers and parents.
Welsh also is a veteran of the school district, having served as a teacher and administrator in the county schools for decades. Welsh also knows what it takes to run the largest public school in the Keys and has had to implement state school mandates from requirements for physical education teachers to student-teacher ratios. He has seen many changes in his years in the district, including the imposition of the No Child Left Behind regime and shifting attitudes of parents, teachers, and students. I doubt there's anything that could surprise John Welsh in a school.
But I make Welsh my second choice behind Davidson. Experience running a school does not always translate into an effective School Board member. If that were true, Board Member Ron Martin would be a change agent on the board. He isn't though he does offer sage advice at times.
To get the District 3 seat, Davidson has for years studied the issues to prepare himself for the each board meeting. He followed teacher union/district negotiations, learned student-teacher classroom ratios, and other issues the board debated.
Was he always auditioning for a spot on the board? I would have to say yes. He has spoken at nearly every meeting and has actively worked for the election of individual board members. I believe his hard work before meetings indicates that he'll tackle this board seat and make it his own quickly. He'll do what he says he'll do: help the district change into an effective, mean, lean fighting machine.
That's why I believe he should get that Big Pine seat.

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