• Charles I. Guarria

Candidates for Volusia County School Board District 3


On August 3, Steve Parker moderated a debate between the three candidates vying for the open district three seat on the Volusia County School Board; Jessica Thomson, Justin Kennedy and Kim Short. The debate was broadcast live on the Facebook page What's Happening in Port Orange Live. Twenty days later, none of the three were able to garner the needed 51% in the primary to win the seat. Ms. Thompson and Mr. Kennedy received the most votes pitting them in a November run-off.

What follows is the raw transcript of that debate minus Ms. Short's replies. Each question begins with a Q. making it easy to pick and choose only those questions that appeal to you by hitting Ctrl F and searching Q.


Volusia County School Board District Three includes the following towns, Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach, Oak Hill, Samsula, and some of Port Orange. A map of the county is provided.


Steve Parker (Moderator) Tell us a little about yourself.


Justin Kennedy

Hi, I'm also running for school board district three, Volusia County. Lifelong Volusia County resident. My family moved here in 1955. Grew up in Edgewater went to Edgewater public school, New Smyrna Beach High School, actually Chisholm center it was a seventh grade center. I graduated New Smyrna Beach High School in 1988. Then when to Radford University in southwest Virginia. Made my way back to Florida, where I got into our family business. And sometime in the mid 90s. I started my own business which I still run today went into the contracting business. Back in 2006, I got involved with city politics in the city of Edgewater. I was appointed to the planning and zoning board where I serve for number of years. It's a good place to start when you're serving in government roles. Planning has always gotten its of interesting dilemmas. So I've learned a lot there. From there. I've been on to be elected to the City Council in Edgewater. After I ran my term there, I ran for county council unsuccessfully. But in the meantime, I too have raised my kids here and Volusia County. I've actually have five kids. My three oldest, boys, all three just recently graduated the University of Florida. I still have one at Daytona State. He's actually moving tomorrow to Southwest where he's gonna go to Florida Gulf Coast University. And I still have one in high school, just dropped her off at New Smyrna Beach High School today for an orientation, schedule pick up, that kind of stuff.. So I'm still a very active parent been driving the parent pickup for about 20 years now. So it's always a lot of fun. My wife is also a teacher and has been for off and on for throughout our 27 year marriage. Took a little time off to raise our kids but for the last 12 years or so she's been a teacher at Chisolm Elementary and served various roles in the district. So I have an interesting perspective in that not only as a citizen as a previous council member, but also I'm married to a teacher so I see a lot of the day to day stuff. Of course having all the kids in the school for various grade levels over the years. It makes you very involved. Going through the years for the kids I've coached t-ball, I've done flag football, I have served as the PTA president (at) New Smyrna Beach Middle School, of course I'm on Chisholm PTL for all the years my boys and daughter were there as elementary school students. So I have a very well rounded background in public service and very well rooted in the community. For the last 27 years, I've I've operated my landscaping business here in Central Florida. And that's what I continue to do today.


Jessica Thompson

So I'm Jesse Thompson. And like these other (candidates) I'm running for Volusia County School Board district three, I was born and raised in Volusia County, as was my husband. We are both products of the Volusia County school system so I know where it has been and to where it has gone now. I graduated from Taylor High School, went to Santa Fe College, graduated and then was accepted into the business program at USF. About that time the great recession hit and my parents gave me the option either go do real world stuff or continue on but you will be paying for it. And so I made that decision right then and there that I would go do real world. And in that time I worked in hospitality, which I think is an industry every single person should do at least a year in. I mean it teaches you to be humble and to treat others with respect. And then I went on I managed a surf shop which is still in business here in Daytona Beach, loved it had a great time with a lot of different people. I'll learn how to manage that business as well as hire people and give evaluations, which I think is very important especially now on our school board and what we are seeing. I'm running because I have two kids in the school system. They'll both starting at Burns this fall. Charlie's at Coronado beach for two years and we had a great experience my husband went to that school and we loved everything about it. I was a PTA president served on the Student Advisory Council, the district Advisory Council. I was on the committee to interview principals for that school as well as a teacher of the year committee. So I believe that my opinion is very respected in our community for those reasons and I like to build bridges, not burning bridges. And I think that's very important after everything went through with COVID which was so divisive. So I love our community. I love being from Volusia County, and I want our kids to also love Volusia County and stay here and that's why I'm running.


Q. Do you think that the superintendent, the school board attorney should be evaluated on an annual basis? If so, what would be your top three performance indicators for them both to be evaluated on?


Justin Kennedy

Absolutely, I think, honestly, I think Kim gave a very good coherent answer. There's not much. That's probably the only right answer to that question. And in terms of metrics, what we're looking for learning games is certainly one but there's probably a whole list of things. The attorney doesn't necessarily have to do with learning gains so his performance and what he's expected to do and and, of course, there's always new things that pop up. So you can evaluate on things, you know, past issues, if the attorney has performed well or not. But absolutely.


Jessica Thompson

Yes, absolutely. I think that the superintendent and school board attorney should be evaluated. And I'll take a step further. I think our last superintendent, we saw such a long string of no evaluation, there would have been different circumstances for that, but I think we should look at it. You know, we evaluate our students every semester why not do these evaluations every semester as well, and look at all of our needs and compare where we are. Same with the attorney, obviously has different criteria that he needs to meet but we need everyone to be on the same page to understand why if we do have to fire someone, it wasn't just a spur of the moment decision. There were different evaluations that led to that.


Q. What policies would you initiate to improve student achievement?


Justin Kennedy

Okay, that's a good question. The county and the state they already have a number of policies in place to measure and to decide on whether treatment goals are set and if they're being met. This year, we have a whole new round of no longer FSA but other other testing metrics that let us know where the kids are. And so I think taking that data from the previous year, where they're strong and whether or not that's where the focus would be. Every year generates a whole new class of students as they enter in kindergarten. And as our community changes demographically, socioeconomically those those things change. And so, one, I think we need to make sure we have a nimble policy. That's going to require teachers and staff being trained for any of the new types of learning techniques, testing measures, if they change it on the fly, and they don't get the teachers and staffs in enough time to learn the new processes. And new curriculum or what not, that can be problematic. And if it there's a curve for nothing to learn how to do that and what the actual program is, and that can that can get you behind the eight ball because you're trying to measure this stuff every year. And your staff is a year or so behind in learning how to do it. So my policy would be to make sure that our training matches the goals and the programs that we're using to get that success and achievement.


Jessica Thompson

So, student achievement, I think it's linked pretty heavily to our teachers achievement. I spoke to many teachers recently and they think that the biggest thing missing right now is respect. And I think our students, you know, they feel that and so to improve student achievement, make them feel, like they are actually doing something. What I mean by that is every single student learns differently. Every single education system is different. So making sure that students are recognized, whether it is academics, whether it is music, whether it is sports, and making sure that they feel appreciated for those accomplishments, because a lot of times, especially the middle school level, students really need to feel heard and appreciated. I think we work on appreciating our teachers and creating this community fostering this community of respect and caring that we're really going to see our students shine to their full potential.



Q. Is there a policy or practice not currently in place in Volusia County schools that you plan to introduce an advocate for? If so, explain.


Jessica Thompson

Currently a practice that, this is going back to teachers, because they've been a focuus of mine,, recently. A practice in place is for them to be able to air their grievances without feeling like they are going to get punished for it. A lot of teachers are boots on the ground. And there's a lot of really amazing teachers out there. And so, I believe that on the school board, you should be a voice for them and you should be able to listen to them without (them) feeling that they're going to get punished. So I think we definitely need to put a policy and practice in place that school board member will go to all these schools and visit all these schools on a routine basis. You know, we all campaign constantly, leading up to this election and it's so many people get in that seat and then it's alright. You know, they don't go out and they don't visit and they don't really listen to the people and I think that's extremely important, especially now. Fostering this whole sense of community is paramount.


Justin Kennedy

I'd like to build a little bit on what Jesse said, because I've kind of been focused on that with my campaign. My being a teacher, I think you have lots of friends who've grown up here, their teachers and staff members. I think I'd go a little further. The idea that I have would actually create an office of retention and recruitment for the staff and teachers. And I don't know how it will be built probably with appointees from throughout the district from different areas. But this office would then have the ability to take comments or complaints or or whatever it is really the constructive input is what we really want. The complaints are, just open up social media, but the constructive criticism, from a retention standpoint, we lose a lot of good teachers based on the way they're treated or the way they're perceived the issues are or the real issues and in the county. And we have invested in these teachers. Let's say you have a teacher that's been there for several years or even longer, and then they just leave. Well shoot I know my business if I have someone whose been with me a couple of years I don't want them to just leave. So I'm going to triage and I'm gonna say hey, what's up? Why are you leaving? I want to know and maybe we can make those changes. But I think if we approach it from that perspective and keep it, make them understand that it is anonymous or more effective a lot of them are afraid to speak up they're afraid to lose their job or even worse, they're afraid to get blackballed and they're not allowed to move up the system. So I think I would probably advocate strongly for that. That organization to exist.


Q. The recent statement to increase starting teacher salary to $47. 5 a year has created a major pay compression issue with most of our experience with tenured teachers. Do you see this as an urgent issue to be resolved? If so, and how would you propose fixing this problem and where would the funding come from to do so?


Justin Kennedy

I don't think any of us would disagree that this is an urgent issue. It's most urgent to those teachers that are living in today's world where the cost of living is super high. So it's right and I think they're two different things. The state raise the minimum teacher salary, I think that's a great step we want that that was a good thing. So now we have a compression issue with the veteran teachers are looking for a similar increase from pay. Where do we find that money is complicated. And of course we can bring in an outside firm and take a look at that. That's not a bad idea. There's an expense to that. But, you know, if we don't have the district personnel to do it, then expensive may be justified. But I think it's a real problem. And I think it creates additional problems and that the veteran teachers feel unappreciated, and they will look elsewhere for jobs. And again, we'll go back to my last statement that's just costing us money. And even more importantly, from the district's perspective is that it's eroding morale. Our teachers are our product , there are manufacturers so to speak, they're making our students better and they're the ones teaching the material so we can talk about student achievement, we can talk about all this stuff, but the teachers are where the heart beats and if they're not happy, they're not made (to feel) appreciated and and they can't afford to live in Volusia County, and there's at home, there at work teaching and worried about paying their mortgage next month or paying for their kids braces or all the other stuff that all us families deal with, they're not going to be effective. So finding that money is going to be very important.


Jessica Thompson

(Looking at Mr. Kennedy) Once again, you're right. You hit the nail on the head. None of us are going to say this is a bad thing. We all know that our teachers are underpaid if you had kids at home during COVID You really know that teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. I agree that we are very top heavy here in the district and the classroom is where the magic really does happen with students. That's where the learning takes place. And so you need to evaluate the expense for the district see if there were different positions that can be combined so we're not paying to many people. I was looking through all the different programs that we have, different offices and it's humorous to think were missing teachers, we don't have teachers in the classroom, and you have teachers who feel underappreciated, and so I believe that it's, you know, get this money from the top and bring back the Steps program. So many teachers started here in Volusia County thinking that's how it was going to go and that's how their career was going to be and then it got cut and now you have so many wondering why am I making almost the same amount of someone who just came in, and we do need to preserve those teachers because they're the ones that raise this next generation of teachers and teach them how to do all the things that teachers do outside the teaching. So I believe we look at it, bring it from the top down and just really make our teachers feel appreciated..


Q. Safety in our schools is a major concern across our nation, how would you currently grade the Volusia County school safety measures and practices and what if anything, do you think we should be doing differently that is not currently being done?


Justin Kennedy

Another another issue that I'm sure that all of us will agree on that the safety is paramount. You know, fortunately we haven't had in Volusia County, major incidents. Some of our facilities are older, some of them are newer, and some of the newer facilities are designed very well. They have more of a single point entry. Some of the older ones, not so much. They've been retrofitted and try but it does happen where people can get on campus and create problems. Not what you see nationally, but there is a small part of me that believes if someone wants to get in and do that stuff their going to find a way. There are solutions down the road that could happen on the state, national level perhaps but I think the school board is doing a pretty good job with it. They recently implemented a safety department and then the head of security. I know my wife as one of the safety people in their school, they have drills and protocol that's that's gone through. I think probably having a more mandated practice of it would be helpful. They go through it a couple of times a year and then it's gets put on the back burner to other top of the

line issues. and they're all top of the line issues. So I think probably drilling for that. But the other safety part of it that I think is an issue that's that doesn't really relate to outside interference. It's bullying and it's having our kids and teachers safe from internal issues. And the bullying does go back to some of the children that do have issues mentally, that can strike back out in the community have the tragedies that we've seen.


Jessica Thompson

Safety, we all have kids in school. I'm sure we all think about it every single day, the safety of our schools, and I've been endorsed by our sheriff Mike Chitwood, and we've talked about this at length, what can we do to protect our schools? It's like Justin said, there's some schools the playgrounds, are only on the other side of the chain link fence. If there's someone who's determined to get there, sadly, there's crazy people are out there. Right now, the Sheriff's Department does live action drills over the summer. Five schools every summer where they come in they bring their squad, they bring the local police department, and they do the live action throughout. So if something terrible were to happen in our schools, what would it look like and how would we implement to rescue people and being successful in that mission? And I think that's great. I think live action drills are paramount because our schools are all different. So it's not like where you can go in every single elementary school is the same, the layout, where this classroom is, they're different. In these live action drills. I think it would be great if through the breaks that we can do and make sure every single school every single year is done with these live action drills so that they know what they're going into, and they're not going in blindfolded. I've talked to Sheriff Chitwood about cameras and all of our schools and Volusia County was third on the list from the state to get cameras in all of our schools that could be accessed in case of an emergency. So they know what was happening in the hallways. I agree we need to keep our students and school safe. And I would just add that bullying is also something that needs to be addressed in our schools because that raises the violence.


Q. Posted on the Volusia County Schools website is a strategic plan for 2020 through 2023 . Goal four states, ensure resources and operational processes are strategically aligned. Do you think that this goal has been effectively achieved? Explain why or why not.


Jessica Thompson

The school's always come out with the strategic plan And I think it's important that we all try to line up with them. And I think that the intent is there that we can do. Through the school year things get thrown off. And that's very important to address and that's something that's very important that we need to keep in the back of our minds to make our schools effective. Because on paper strategic plans look amazing and they look great, but if they're not executed properly, or even at all, then that's why you see our shortcomings. I think another important issue that we really need to touch base on our strategic plan is a bigger focus on bullying, I really do. It's a safety issue. You see it translate outside of the classroom. And you see it disrupting classes and so many parents from kids that are your average children to gifted children to children in our ESC programs. They all have this number one complaint about bullying and so I think that our strategic plan really needs to focus on this and make sure that it is a top top priority in the strategic plans moving forward


Justin Kennedy

I would combine the two of these ladies answer in that a strategic plan like Jesse pointed out, we do tend to drift off it. You've got an entire school year with with many things that pop up and you can plan till your heart's content but there's always contingencies that come up every year. And so, at the board meetings a good check how's this aligns with our strategic plan, that not just a board meeting, but as a as a council member or board member, you're going to be speaking to your superintendent on a regular basis, you're going to be speaking to other people in the area that they're stakeholders in this program. And so having aligned with the strategic plan requires you to make sure your check it's just like a budget. Make sure that we're still aligned with it. But I think it does drift and you have to allow yourself a little bit of leeway. As far as allocating the resources and following the plan. I do think that in the past, for quite some time, there has been a misalignment from the superintendent's office and those at the very, very top and those down on the ground. And I think if I was sitting in the office with the new superintendent right now, my urgency with her would be to start off new and get every mid level department head down the line. Everybody on the same page as it relates to the strategic plan, and also as it relates to what she wants as a superintendent. Because people tend to blame the superintendent. You have a lot of people in between them and the teachers that that carry some responsibility


Q. Can you think of a current Volusia County School Board policy or practice that needs to end? Explain your reasoning?


Justin Kennedy

For me, the one that pops into my mind is the hiring and promoting policies. Maybe not so much new teachers and new hires because we have this grand need and so there's a there's an intake process, but as you move up the ranks move different schools and if you were to go on the county website, there's tons of job vacancies. And if you're within the system, let's say you're a teacher and been there for a number of years and you've invested in advanced degrees and you got all the credentials. You're under the impression that the job is posted and that you have a shot at it. But the reality of it is , is you could apply for that job and nobody who applied for that job gets that job. Somebody from another school gets appointed to it with half the credentials that you have. And so as a as a teacher or a staff member, I'm thinking, Gosh, that they're not they didn't even take my application or we all went through the interview, we were told the top three and then they just put somebody in that position. And so we're being told that all jobs are posted and everybody has a shot and we want to promote from within. We're being told that, only at the last hour, we're promoting people. It has to be one way or the other in most cases. Or in every case you have to at least let staff know which way it's going to be. Because I know from experience teachers put their heart and soul on these applications. They go

get advanced degrees they do all these things only to be superseded by somebody with half the credentials and that's that erodes morale tremendously.


Jesse Thompson

Right now in Volusia County, and this goes back to speaking to teachers because as a parent, I've spoken to parents about all these issues for a while. But teachers I really had to dig into and a practice that we're seeing right now in Volusia County is we are passing through our students through graduation. We're not giving them the service of the proper education that they need. We're just passing them through because teachers feel like they are not allowed to give students failing grades. And I don't believe we should be failing a truckload of students. That's not what I'm saying. But to graduate a student just to get them through the program and release them into the world without the education you need. And there are kids right now we used to hire them that don't have a signature because they didn't learn person or can't read properly. They can't do basic math, and bless these kids hearts you can't blame it all on them. You can't blame it all on the parents at some point, there's a system in place where teachers have to pass students through. I think this is a policy we need to look at it. It's great to have high graduation rates. I love it. I know that everyonein the district things it's amazing. But we really do have to evaluate the quality of student education that we're turning out into this world because it'll be better for everyone.


Q. Teachers are leaving classrooms due to the disrespect and lack of support for their jobs. How are you going to help enforce and support our teachers as classroom disruption and bullying when the principal do not support them with disciplinary action? Removal, classroom suspension, etc?


Justin Kennedy

I think that we're going back to address some of these issues already today. We need to have a strong bullying policy. And that would encompass kids behaviors in the classroom. We have seen erosion in that. I can tell you my wife comes home a number of times , a student will just tell her, I don't have to do what you say. I could have never gotten away with that in elementary school. Okay. And I know not anybody in this room. I wouldn't have wanted to. I don't speak to my parents that way, I wouldn't have spoken to a teacher that way. We need to have a strong policy. The district from the superintendent on down needs to support teachers and teachers and principals can't be afraid of taking the referrals. There's always talk about they don't want the referrals because it looks bad they get assessed on or whatnot. Heck with all that. We're going to do it because it makes better kids. When kids are held accountable for actions, that makes better students. It makes better community members. So discipline, there's a right way to do it. And I think we need to follow up with that and everybody be on the same page and bring mom dad in and take care of these issues. My daughter had an issue and it was bullying at New Smyrna Beach. Come to find out the kids parents were never even notified. They were on a plan. They had the whole process but there was a shortcoming in that the bullying child's parents weren't even notified. Why? We've been through this whole thing for days and months and weeks. So that means that has to change.


Jesse Thompson

The number one thing I've asked multiple teachers, what is the number one thing that you feel you need most in this job and it's respect that it's not just the disrespect they receive or feel they receive from their administration, but it's also the disrespect from the students and the parents and that does tie back directly to discipline. There are some troubled youths. I've talked to Sheriff Chitwood about this as well. And you see repeat offenders on this disciplinary action. But then there's also students that I've come in contact with the parents weren't notified or don't believe that their student did anything. There's no paper trail of bullying, they get to high school, they really do start bullying someone it becomes very serious. Oh, this is a one time offense. So I think you do have to have that paper trail to follow a student. And I think that we need to discipline back. Right now there's kids that can throw desks in the classroom. And I know that there are special exemptions for that and we have the lawsuit with the DOJ and that definitely affected the discipline actions that can be taken. But back when I was in school, which was that was 2006 when I graduated, but there was a school suspension. You did separate kids that couldn't behave and taking them away from their peers. Definitely makes an impact on them because if they can't sit around and get that recognition for being that tough guy or that bully than I think you definitely, affect the way they behave in the future. So we do have to take action on that.




Steve Parker (Moderator)

All right, before the next question. I'm going to interject a question to all three of you. School bullying, is a very big problem for you all agreed. . We see it every day on the news in your opinion, just your opinion. What would you do different versus first what the school doing now?


Jesse Thompson

Kim touched on this briefly. There are punishments there are consequences. It's just people have to do it. You have to hold people accountable, the administration for doing that because you can't not do it because you don't want to be a school that has this many referrals, this many suspensions. You have to do what's right for the kids and and that goes back to the same as passing through graduation. You're not doing these kids any favors by encouraging or not punishing this failing behavior. So we definitely need to stick to it.


Justin Kennedy

I have a similar experience with my daughter. I actually called the police. That's what got it solved. New Smyrna Beach Police Department came in and took care of it. And the problem was solved. But this was after months and months of, you know they have a contract the students sign. The contracts supposed to go home and mom and dad were supposed to sign it. We signed our daughter's end of it, but, it never got signed on the other end. It was because of a lack of follow through by the principal, actually, in my opinion. The guidance counselor at New Smyrna middle (school) for her and you sort of middle. They were great. But again, going back to my point, where you have, from the top down, everybody has to work together and make sure that we're following these policies. And I think bullying is a is a social issue. On one hand kids are kids and kids can be mean they can't be. That doesn't make them unusual, but as adults and trained professionals, we need to have, they need to learn from those experiences. So maybe even, at the elementary level in some way, I'm sure there's data and people that have researched this that know a lot more about it than I do. But perhaps our district should consider a policy where we do have some sort of educational situation with the youngest of the kids because by the time we get into middle school, their hormones are changing, they become different animals and having raised kids through, all the way through college. I always said about every three to six months you have a different kid. I think if you can start early with them and let them know what it feels like to be bullied and when you're bullying somebody and why bully a kid that's different than you? When you get out in the real world as an adult., we're all different and we all like different things. I think educating the young kids and having a firm congruent policy throughout the district is probably the best we can do. Short of kids being kids.


Q. For many years students have been pushed and pressured to pursue college degrees. Some think that this mindset has led to a local and national shortage in our professional trades. Do you think our schools are doing enough to introduce and promote professional trades to students? What can be done to increase student access to trade academy learning programs and bridge them into the trade fields?


Jesse Thompson

I love this question. Whoever wrote this question. I went, as I shared earlier, I went to Santa Fe College I got a degree in pre dental and to my parents dismay, I did not become a dentist. I went on to USF for business school and I knew I was doing it because that's what everyone else was doing and the recession hit so me and my friends with degrees could not get jobs. They had amassed all this debt. And so I really believe that every person is different whereas education is different. We're all made special for different things. I love that here in Volusia County we do have our CTE programs and our academies where kids have the opportunity to really get hands on experience in these different fields. I think it's also helped with job shortages that we have, because they can graduate from high school they can go on and they don't have to amass all this debt and start out life with all of this debt. It's great. I've talked to the dean of dual enrollment over at Daytona State and she and I discussed (that) we have a teacher shortage. Well, let's, bring these students in who think they want to be teachers and are getting their hands dirty in the teaching profession. Let's get them in the classroom. To do the things, the extra stuff, the filing, the stapling papers, that menial work and so they can see a classroom, see how it works, teachers will have more time to actually teach and we can help fill those gaps and then the students actually figure out that's something they want to do. So love to support it fully.


Justin Kennedy

I don't think I could answer this question in the two minutes. I want to kind of just go quickly through it. But I'll put a lot more deeper thought into this because it's something that people are talking about. I work in the trades. I've worked in the trades my whole life. And after 52 years of working in the trade. My success has been built on being self employed and being the boss and putting together business that's viable to support my family. The other opportunity I was given, when I was younger, was to go to college. I have two brothers, they went to college, they both have advanced degrees and do very, very well. A lot better than I do. I look at the public school and I look at the mission of the public school and I think, what are we supposed to be doing for our kids? We want them to graduate high school with a with a high school diploma so that they all have an equal shot at what's next. I think trade schools are great. I think that we definitely need people that are willing and able to work in the trades. But in the state of Florida historically, the trades have not paid enough to really give kids an opportunity. Unless they're like me and other business owners that can that can move up to owning the business and make enough money to support a family to own a house or own property and take a vacation once a while put a little bit away for retirement. The only opportunities really in the state of Florida are, historically have been lower wage jobs. And so from my perspective, when you talk about, guiding the kids into trade schools at a high school level, you're basically saying to them, this would be your path and the college pitch would be that. Like I said, I can't really verbalize this thought because I'm not anti trade school. I think that the trade schools are important and trades definitely are. But I think that the public school mission is to give every kid a high school diploma, to get them ready for the next step. Now if the state wants to come out and fund a big a big trade school program, then great. I think I could get behind that 110%. But I really do believe, it'd be great if the other two candidates could weigh in on this, because I think it's in our society. We lack these trade jobs Now I think there's...(at this point Mr. Kennedy did go over the allotted time as he thought had might. Steve Parker asked him to stop.)


Q. Many of our schools are overcrowded and hundreds of portable classrooms have been added to the athletic fields and open space areas to accommodate for students. This overcrowding also causes a great deal of traffic congestion in schools before or after school hours. What can be done to get more schools built in an expedited manner to accommodate regional growth, that prevent more overcrowding in our schools and how does this get funded?


Justin Kennedy

(In conversation with Steve Parker before he answered the question. )

I see the schools and some do have portables and there are a few that do have, they're the older schools like Spruce Creek High that are on the target for replacement at some point. Spruce Creek High is high on the list.


Now Justin Kennedy 's answer. Well, certainly planning does. How does you fund it? So the half cent sales tax something we've had in Volusia for a number of years, and they've renewed it. I served on the half cent sales tax committee last time, and it's a good way to fund our schools. Visitors here, pitch in when they buy stuff, so the half cent

doesn't come out of, entirely out of our pocket. So that's a creative way of doing it. The other big one is impact fees. By the end of the year, I believe the district is going to have a big review of impact fees. Dating back a number of years, after the big boom and bust of the building market, back in '08, '07, impact fees were drastically reduced. There was a lawsuit with the building association with the county and they made a settlement to were impact fees are lower. But if you've got people moving in, the only way to generate funding quickly is to increase impact fees. Imagine all your relatives from up north come live in your house. You say that's great, but you need a new wing you got to pay for it. You're welcome to stay, it's going to be on your dime. So impact fees and taxation is the only other way.


Jesse Thompson

I think we do see a lot of this and obviously not hundreds at each school but in district three where we are all running for, we have New Smyrna Beach High School and New Smyrna Beach Middle School and you have New Smyrna which is continuing to grow with Edgewater it's continuing to grow and Oak Hill it's continuing to grow and Oak Hill which is continuing grow. NASA is expanding manufacturing jobs out that way. It's great. You know, it's great to create jobs. It's great to bring new families to the area, but at the same time, we have to look at, are these families with children and where are we going to put them? On the five year plan, there's nothing for those high schools, middle schools and I think it would be great to have another high school or middle school out there to help alleviate every single child going there because it does jam up traffic to. We really do need to look at where our students are going, what students we expect to come in and then we need to reach out to our community the half-cent sales tax is a great thing, it's great for funding. We'll always need more and I think we can also utilize the blueprints. Here in Volusia County, we create new schools all the time and some of them are gorgeous and beautiful and have murals that are amazing. But there's a county in Georgia that for every single elementary school, there's a blueprint, for every single middle school there's a blueprint, for every single high school there's a blueprint, so you're not having to reinvent the wheel every single time. I think that's definitely something that we can look at to save on costs, but also reaching out into our multiple business community members and seeing how they can help. Because I know many of them want the same things that we all do, is better for our children.


Steve Parker (Moderator)

Okay, that was all of the questions, but if you guys don't mind, I have two questions that some viewers wanted to know. If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the school district right now?


Justin Kennedy

I agree with that and I would add paraprofessionals as well, where their

appropriate. If I had a magic wand, as a parent driver doing parent pick-up for the last 20 years, I'd change that traffic pattern.


Jesse Thompson

I if I had a magic wand for Volusia County Schools, I would make it so that every child could receive the education that's best for them. Because you have 18 kids in an elementary classroom, and every single one is learning at a different pace, a different rate and God bless our teachers there's just so much they need to do. So magic wand would be the teacher teaches and is able to get to every single student individually to meet their needs.


Steve Parker (Moderator)

Last question is what charity work have you done outside of running for candidate before you became a candidate? I'll clarify the question, what charities have you volunteered your time at before you decided to run?


Justin Kennedy

Back in 2009, when I was on the city council, we were on the heels of the Great Repression, and we had a comprehensive economic study done in the city of Edgewater. And one of the things we found in Edgewater was, was one of the lowest secondary degree citi in Volusia County. I just had a daughter at the time and I thought, how can we raise the awareness of this and how can we give kids from Edgewater a shot at college or in, we (Mr. Kennedy's scholarship program)

also pay for trade schools, just any type of post high school education. So I started the Edgewater City Scholarship Program, which is a unique way to get, it's all volunteer money. It's not taxpayer funded, but, on your water bill, you can make a donation, recurring. For example, 10,000 water accounts in Edgewater if everybody gave, a dollar a month that would be $10,000 a month. That would be significant. We can't get that out of people because that's 100% taxation, very difficult. But I'm proud to say since the program was started, we've raised over $70,000. When I was on the council I was heavily involved with with that . That was my idea, and pushed it through. Of course, lots of other people helped as well. So what's nice about it is it does run on its own now. We have a princess ball every year. And you always have a new group of kindergarteners and young children that go through it. So it's it's a never ending cycle of people coming through that program. In addition to that, my family we've taken in high school students that find themselves homeless and we've taken in a number over the years. We're get them to school, I bought them cars. We do that on a private level. It's not something that we advertise. But you asked so I'm telling you some of the outreach that we do. And like Kim said, anybody that hits me up for a donation for any type of school based, especially, since we've had the kids in the family, every little league, every PTA everybody, you know, always happy to help and always will be.


Jesse Thompson

I grew up in Seville, Florida, which is a very low income area and so my mom raised me, my brother, my brother's now a world class PE teacher over in DeLand. But over the summer we volunteer all our time with low income students to give them a summer camp and a real summer experiences because their parents could not be there. I love a lot of initiatives that go through that. I would love to see more of that in our low income areas. Also I'm going to give a shout, I've been helping them, since being in the campaign, we have the Oopsie Project and I know Kim has helped out as well. Absolutely amazing. I love this project so much and I reached out to her because I saw through elementary school, later elementary school middle school, high school, so many females that cannot afford these products, that we all need monthly. And I think it's an absolutely amazing initiative, and I love it and we'll continue doing that regardless of how this election goes. Also, we don't have a name but there is a large group of moms who are awesome. We raise money multiple times a year for different moms that are battling cancer and need things to keep their family going through that. We' ve done a phenomenal job. And I'm glad to be part of that as well.


Steve Parker (Moderator)

So I want to interject I don't know if you guys follow me on my page I I really believe in a strong community. Like I've tried to get a lot of events going in that sort of thing. So moving forward, if you get elected, which is I wish all three of you could be but it's got to be one winner. Moving forward, do you still see yourself going out into the community working with charities and pushing them for at the same time?


Justin Kennedy

I can tell you that when you do get elected because I have served on the council before. You will get asked to do a lot of that stuff and you'll have opportunities to really make a difference in a lot of people's lives. Just by you being there and doing something, it's just one election and one vote but somehow or another you are now the source of the people coming together. And that will happen despite whichever one of us gets elected. I will tell you guys that's what will happen. And so it's a great opportunity once you are elected, to spread that generosity and you'll find ways to do it that you never though. Just like my princess ball I would probably not done that had I not been elected.


Steve Parker (Moderator)

It's the same way with his page. Everybody wants me to help them but you only can help so much. If there's only one person to go around. Would either one of you like to answer the question? Just give a shout out to whatever organization you might want to.


Jesse Thompson

I know at the Babe James Center in New Smyrna Beach, they help kids learn how to read on a more one on one basis which is something that needs to happen in schools but obviously teachers can't go to every individual student give them that attention. And so that's something that we as candidates could no longer do while running for office. I was speaking to the woman behind that last night. And I told her no matter how this election turns out, I would love to be there because I think that a lot of kids get that confidence built from having that one on one attention. So absolutely.


Steve Parker (Moderator)

All right, so what we're gonna do now is give you guys each three minutes, talk about whatever you would like.


Jesse Thompson

I want to thank you for this opportunity. And thank everyone who tuned in to watch this. I think that vetting the candidates is super important not just on the school board level, but every state level, congressional , city level, and I love that so many people are getting involved in our elections this year. Oh, one thing we did not touch on really so much was school choice. I want to speak to that, I love school choice. I love that our parents now have the option to send our kids to other schools because I've spoken to people at the district and our Volusia County School System can no longer, do everything it needs with all the students that we have. So charter schools are a public school that help expand our whole entire family and the community. I also like to give a shout out to the Vets in Class Program, which I know Kim touched on Vets in Class. I think that'd be great to have in Volusia County Schools. There's so many different programs out there that we can really utilize to make Volusia County Schools better and I'm probably asking for everyone's vote on August 23. Unless you're early go here and you want to get on August 13 through the 20th But please, I'm asking for your vote so that we can make Volusia County Schools better all the way around.


Justin Kennedy

I'd like to say thanks to you Steve, for doing this forum. It's tough as a candidate to get your message out there in a relaxed atmosphere like we have here. And gosh, after sitting here today with these ladies I'm not sure we don't want to vote for. But we all do have a lot of common goals and it sounds like we all have a similar vision for our district. What sets us apart is how we go about achieving that. And how we work on the board to bring the community together to bring the board together to make our district a place where our teachers feel welcomed, appreciated, and that they can be the best teacher they can be so that, they can teach our students and our students can be the best students that they can be. For me, I look at my experience that dates, way back into the early 2000s. On the Edgewater Planning and Zoning Board. I started that journey, I had some issues with the city of Edgewater. That I wanted to change and so I started that journey all the way through council and I was very successful in making those changes. It's because I reach out to other people, I give them time to think about it, I'm a consensus builder, and I'm patient. I treat everybody with respect and dignity. And I think that's how things get done. And I would love to see our district grow in that arena, all the way from the superintendent all the way down to everybody at the staff. If you were to elect me on council, that's the way I would, excuse me, schoolboard . That's the way I would conduct myself, as a professional listening and patiently trying to nudge our policy towards better for everybody at all levels.



Steve Parker (Moderator)

I'm gonna encourage everybody to get out and vote. Whomever your candidate is, just go out and vote. Make your voices heard. I want to thank all three of you for coming here. This first time I ever did it. So whatever mistakes are mine, I hope to do it again. And thanks, guys.


Please like, comment, and share.


See ya soon!

(Photos: The headshots were provided by the campaign or taken from their social media.)

~30~



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