A weekend interview with Hernando School Board chairman John Sweeney
Over the past several months, the Hernando School Board has swirled with controversy. It battled over whether to remove its superintendent, faced a student lawsuit over admission into Nature Coast Technical High School, argued over whether to stop giving students zero grades. Board member Dianne Bonfield so disagreed with her colleagues' contract offer to interim superintendent Sonya Jackson that she stepped down rather than sign it. Into the void came John Sweeney, who takes up the board chairmanship at a distinctly volatile time. He spoke via e-mail with reporter Tony Marrero about his goals and hopes for the district.
So how does it feel to be chairman for the first time?
It’s an honor to be chairman of the Hernando County School Board.
What are your hopes and goals for the school district in the coming year?
These are just a few items, among many:
- Increase the graduation rate.
- Build on the success of our magnet schools by evaluating their unique programs, as we develop an implementation procedure for all schools.
- Continue to remove portables as they are a potential health hazard and fail to meet certain use requirements.
- Safeguard against the continued erosion of instructional time.
- Develop a pilot k-12 engineering curriculum.
- Foreign language full year in all schools.
- International Baccalaureate (IB) development
- Gifted services development.
- Continue to evaluate and improve offerings at NCT, our technical high school.
- Integrate the use of virtual courses.
- Decrease student transportation time.
What do you think is the most important issue facing the district?
To serve the individual needs of all students. One aspect of this issue is that students should not have a longer commute to school, than their parents do to work. We will be creating new attendance zones over the next couple of years, and we need to get it right.
Former superintendent Wayne Alexander left some hurt feelings and discontent among the rank and file. How would you describe morale in the district today?
The professional field of education, when compared to all other occupations, is the most essential. District personnel are highly educated, dedicated and prepared to meet challenging societal needs. In recent years, demands on the profession have rapidly increased. Testing and paperwork requirements are encroaching on instructional time. Teacher’s attend mandatory meetings and training, when they would prefer to be tutoring, communicating with parents, grading papers, and planning lessons. Our district personnel have exhibited extraordinary resolve as they endeavor to ensure that the students we present to society are educated, and prepared to become productive citizens, regardless of the path they choose following graduation. It is in this effort, and in spite of all obstacles, that I see outstanding morale throughout our district.
A new superintendent should be in place by July 1. How much confidence to you have in interim superintendent Sonya Jackson?
Sonya Jackson, our interim superintendent, has a broad educational background. She is committed to doing her best on behalf of the entire educational community, and I am confident that she will do so. I would encourage all interested, such as business partners and parents, to meet with Ms. Jackson.
What do you want to see in a new superintendent?
The new superintendent must fully understand the magnitude of the position, and the required dedication and responsibility it will entail. The position is complex, has many facets, and the new superintendent will be able to multi-task while building bridges, not dams. The new superintendent will have a strong educational background and a demonstrated track record of success.
Are you going to run for reelection? What are the considerations, pro and con, as you make up your mind?
I intend to run for reelection and will make a formal announcement at the proper time.