On May 9, 2022, the Superintendent of the School District of Indian River County District (SDIRC), Dr. David Moore, held a workshop where a C.L.I.M.A.T.E. Task Force (Convening Leaders in Maximizing Access to Education) presented recommendations to the staff of SDIRC to ensure equity and excellence in each of its schools.
The task force, made up of 15 community leaders, noted below, is overseen by Assistant Superintendent for Student Affairs, Advocacy and Access, Mr. Eric Seymour, with Mr. Johnny Thornton as the Chair and Ms. Stacey Klim as Vice Chair.
The 15 community leaders, consisting of parents, retired teachers, community members who work in the health care field, and attorneys, among others involved in the community, presented recommendations for “Academic Success” and “Communication and Engagement.”
Ms. Klim spoke on behalf of Communication and Engagement, whose objective was to “To recommend mental wellness strategies for students, staff, and faculty as part of a commitment to building a culture of support.” The 15 Task Force community leaders all recommended that “mental health” was the number one priority for the school district, not only for students, but also for staff members.
Among others, these recommendations included having mental health specialists at every school (currently each specialist serves four to five schools), develop an accurate understanding of why staff leave the district and bringing in mental health experts to offer services to educators.
By way of background, Ms. Klim indicated that the task force met with Deputy Superintendent Mr. Scott Bass and Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Planning and Support Services Ms. Pamela Dampier. “We requested a lot of data [from Ms. Dampier] to support our recommendations, as well as statewide and national data to see how we compared. From all this information we identified needs.”
Following Ms. Klim’s presentation, school board member Dr. Peggy Jones addressed the board, district staff and task force members. “Mental health was a platform for the Florida School Board Association this year…Everyone knows there is an issue. In the State of Florida, [according to a USF youth student study released last month], suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 – 14-year-olds in Florida. Mental health for students, parents and teachers is just key.”
[According to the Mental Health Foundation, who’s mission to help people understand, protect, and sustain their mental health:
20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year
50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.]
Following Dr. Jones remarks, school board member Jackie Rosario, while acknowledging the board had not reviewed the task force’s data, questioned how 15 task force members could write recommendations without surveying parents and a student body of 17,400. “Where did you get this data from parents? Was an email or survey sent out? If you only looked at academic data, how do we know there is a mental health issue?” (Emphasis added.).
She also cautioned that the district makes sure that “we as a district are not out of compliance with CS/CS/HB1557 (2002) Parental Rights in Education,” (which was co-sponsored by Representative Erin Grall and advocated for by a group known as Mom’s For Liberty.)
In response to Ms. Rosario’s need for additional data, Mr. Seymour indicated that the task force “did bring in by department individuals to speak on each and every topic, so the feedback was not only theirs, but from people from within our departments.”
Additionally, when asked if by Ms. Rosario “if anyone reached out to parents?” Mr. Seymour indicated Patricia Kawi, Ph.D., Coordinator of Parent and Community Engagement, “has data that supports the concerns of our parents. She has been involved in every school and in making as making as many [PTA] meetings as possible.”
School board member Dr. Mara Schiff responded to Ms. Rosario’s comments: “I’m going to profoundly disagree with Mrs. Rosario on a number of topics. To disregard or minimize the work of this committee completely saddens me.
To disregard or minimize the fact that mental health is one of the most serious issues, if not the most serious issues facing schools, school districts and school boards today is a disgrace to our students and our work.
The issue that politicizing or bringing in the State Statute – of course we are following Statute – of course we are following law – and to imply differently is an insult to the Board and this District.” (emphasis added)
At the conclusion of the session, Ms. Rosario addressed Dr. Schiff’s concerns: “She said I disregarded the work of the committee. If you rewind [the video] I was very clear that I did not disregard the work of the committee.
C.L.I.M.A.T.E. Task Force Members
Johnny Thornton, a retired educator of 36 years is a lifelong resident of Indian River County. He is experienced in working with children and families in the community through coaching and various organizations.
Stacey Klim is a teacher and the mother of two children, including a son who was born with a rare brain malformation. She is an advocate for the families of children with disabilities.
Valerie Brant-Wilson, a 35-year veteran of the Indian River County School District, she now serves as a Guidance Counselor.
Jeff Pickering, president and CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation, a $100 million community foundation established in 2008 that serves a coastal resort and agricultural community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Paul Lee Westcott, an attorney in Vero Beach, FL. with 34 years’ experience in Dispute Resolution, Workers’ Compensation, Civil & Human Rights, and Personal Injury.
Godfrey Gibson, President, Gifford High School Alumni and Friends Association, Inc.
Angela Guzenski, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health Association of Indian River County, FL. with extensive knowledge of psychiatry and clinical background.
Eddie Hudson, owner, Eddie Hudson Electric.
Margaret Ingram, President, The Science Institute of Discovery, Inc. a nonprofit organization that was formed to inspire minority students to become more interested and involved in the field of science.
Wendy McDaniel, MLS Compliance Director for RE/MAX, LLC.
Peggy Lockwood, parent/grandparent representative.
Jane McNulty Snead, Crisis Stabilization Manager at United Against Poverty Inc.
Michael Swan, Member at Rossway Swan Tierney Barry & Oliver, P.L. Mr. Swan has been practicing in the guardianship and mental health area since 1985 and has actively served the Florida Bar in substantive capacities at the statewide level in the development of probate and mental health law.
Freddie Woolfork, Administrator of Development & Marketing at Gifford Youth Activity Center.