Like other school districts, Orange County Schools are faced with a squeeze on resources spurred by declining state funding, aging buildings, and the rising popularity of charter schools. And you can add to that issues of equity highlighted by the debate last year over whether or not to prohibit the Confederate flag in the student dress code and fears brought on by the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Candidate Hillary Mackenzie is a leader in the Hate Free Schools Coalition, which pushed for the ultimately approved dress-code change, and an advocate for gun reform. She’s emphasizing a trauma-informed approach to working with students, restorative practices to reduce suspensions, and racial equity and de-escalation training for school resource officers. We think she’ll be a thoughtful and principled school board member.
We’re also impressed by Sarah Smylie, a former public school teacher already involved in local schools. On her candidate questionnaire, she showed a deep understanding of issues facing schools today (for example, by pointing out racial disparities in the county’s otherwise standard graduation rates) and made note of the kinds of smart, pointed questions she would ask to move toward solutions.
Similarly, Will Atherton is already involved with the school system through the PTA and seems to have done his research on the lack of diversity among teaching staff and students enrolled in academically gifted programs. We also appreciate his attention to strengthening programs that will connect students to careers.
Finally, we’re endorsing the lone incumbent in the race, Brenda Stephens. With four terms on the board already and three new members coming in, her experience will be valuable.