With the general election fast approaching, candidates for the Leon County superintendent recognize there are more issues that plague the school system than the challenges they’ve grown accustomed to. Three candidates: Pam Hightower, Rocky Hanna, and Keisha Washington are preparing for the possibility to serve the students, teachers, and parents within the school district.
During a virtual candidate forum on Sept. 29, Hightower and Hanna expressed their thoughts about whether or not the decision for students to return back to school should be in the hands of the district or the state. Hanna began the conversation as his current position as the incumbent superintendent already made this question a reality.
“We’ve given our parents and families choices that best fit them, and we are meeting them in that space. If they feel good about kids coming back, God bless you. Send them back to school and we’ll educate them. If you don’t, then we’ll bring the classroom to you,” Hanna said according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Hanna who serves as the current incumbent superintendent has held multiple positions in his career including a teacher, dean of students, principal, and divisional director. His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Georgia Southern University, and a master’s in educational leadership from Florida State University.
Hightower followed up with her response on returning to schools amid a pandemic as she emphasized the health of the students in her decision.
“We want our students back in school, but we don’t want to jeopardize our families, our teachers, our staff. We want them to return when it is safe to do so and we would follow the guidelines of the CDC,” Hightower said according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Hightower has had numerous positions in the public-school system holding a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education, following a doctorate in educational leadership from Florida A&M University. During her 40 years in public education, she has served as an educator, principal, and district administrator in Leon County.
Washington brings a similar sentiment as her first goal on her campaign website is to “ensure a great security and safety structure for our entire education system; staff, teachers, and students.”
Washington graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public administration and followed up with a master’s in public administration. Over the last 15 years, Washington has spent her time in the community volunteering in various ways within the school system. She served on the School and District Advisory Council and has been an avid member of the Parent-Teacher Association in a variety of locations.
Washington is vying for the superintendent position as a write-in.
Taelor Barnes, a freshman pre-nursing student from Tallahassee, feels the candidates’ plan on how to handle the coronavirus is pivotal to the election,
“A key topic that would influence the vote is definitely COVID-19 planning. A leader that not only listens but communicates well with parents is needed,” Barnes said.
With the future of the learning environment still unclear in the next couple of months, the community will be looking to their leaders for guidance during this difficult time.
Leach Coleman, a 5th-grade math and science teacher at Florida A&M University Developmental Research School, believes that if Hightower were to win the election it would serve the community as a beacon of hope that surpasses just pandemic woes.
“It’d be great for the kids to see not only a woman but a black woman in a position of power like that. A position that includes a love of education and community. Kids need to see how these positions work, and it’s our job to make sure we put the right people in them to do that work,” Coleman said.
In contrast, there is contentment in the way that things are already being run as Alicia Smith, a parent of a Leon County School District student, applauds Hanna for his work.
“I think that Rocky has done an amazing job in transitioning the district to remote learning during these hard times. It’s a difficult task, but he was able to do it with ease,” Smith said.
The general election will be held on Nov. 3. For more information about who else will be on the ballot in Leon County, visit leonvotes.gov.