Since Carlee Simon’s fast appointment to the Alachua County college superintendent job, she has captivated the district together with her sturdy and unorthodox management and unwavering stance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whereas some have praised her as a COVID-19 hero and have adopted her skilled strikes over the previous 10 months she has been in workplace, there’s extra to the superintendent than many know.
Simon wasn’t the primary selection when it got here to the choice of who must be superintendent of Alachua County Public Faculties.
In reality, every of the 5 Faculty Board members on the time had their very own selection of who they thought could be a fantastic a match for the job.
Tina Sure was the lone board member to advocate Simon, who on the time was concerned with the Alachua County Schooling Activity Pressure.
Sure mentioned she had labored with Simon on another initiatives and believed she had the talent set that was wanted to run the varsity district.
“I wished somebody exterior, exterior of the varsity district, and he or she was that. However she can be a product of Alachua County Public Faculties and educated by way of the College of Florida. She had taught and carried out issues exterior of Alachua County … so I felt she was an outsider with data and perspective,” Sure mentioned.
From assembly notes on Dec. 4 — the day Simon was voted to interim superintendent — Sure mentioned that Simon introduced a brand new voice, a brand new depth and a brand new talent set.
After being chosen as interim, Simon addressed the board, stating that she was trying ahead to working with the members and that she understood that she was not the normal particular person for the job.
“I am undoubtedly not conventional for Alachua County. Alachua County superintendents, most of them are native and I’m native, however I have been gone for fairly a while,” Simon mentioned.
A historical past of superintendents
Earlier leaders have developed within the Alachua County college system, Simon mentioned, aside from Owen Roberts — superintendent earlier than Karen Clarke — and some others.
A number of of the directors have been lecturers, and a few have been college students right here and labored their method up within the college system.
Simon’s predecessor, Clarke, was an educator in Alachua County for 29 years and served as deputy superintendent below Roberts. Roberts resigned from the superintendent place in 2016 after dropping help from the board, making room for Clarke to turn out to be the subsequent chief.
Clarke was purported to be superintendent till June 30, 2021, however was voted out by the board Nov. 30.
Simon is a product of public schooling
Simon attended Duval Elementary Faculty and Metcalfe Elementary Faculty for a yr earlier than she moved over to Howard Bishop Center Faculty.
Her dad and mom have been additionally educators within the college district.
“I’m like a product of public schooling, just about from beginning. All of my experiences by way of increased schooling, all of my experiences by way of advocacy work. I am a widow. And that had an unlimited affect on shaping me,” Simon mentioned.
Simon additionally was a trainer within the state of Florida. Her first job was educating woodshop in Hillsborough County.
“I solely did that for a yr as a result of freshman boys and energy instruments are a difficult mixture,” Simon mentioned with a small giggle.
By 2001 Simon was educating highschool arithmetic in Pasco County. In 2005 she returned to Alachua County, the place she continued to show math at P.Okay. Yonge Developmental Analysis Faculty.
Whereas working in Hillsborough County she met her late husband, Adam Escue. He was head of the lumber division at House Depot.
“Met him, completely infatuated with him. We bought married in a short time. We had our first little one eight days earlier than our first wedding ceremony anniversary,” Simon mentioned. “And he actually wasn’t a fan of college as a child. It simply did not click on for him. He did not discover a connection along with his lecturers. Nevertheless it was attention-grabbing as a result of as quickly as he grew to become a dad, he grew to become simply fascinated with youngsters and the way they be taught.”
After the beginning of their first little one Escue started attending the College of South Florida, the place he acquired his bachelor’s diploma in elementary schooling. He later grew to become an distinctive elementary college trainer.
Escue taught for 5 years earlier than the household moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in July 2010, the place Simon was a college member within the Division of Instructional Management.
Adam later developed a cough. Docs discovered a tumor the scale of a cantaloupe in his chest cavity. He died 18 months afterward July 26, 2012, from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“We had a 9-year-old (Noah), a 6-year-old (Liam) and a 3-year-old (Adyn) when he handed,” Simon mentioned.
A return to Alachua County
Simon moved again to Alachua County in 2018 together with her three sons and her new husband, Steve Simon, a widower who misplaced his spouse to most cancers.
She relates numerous what she went by way of throughout her husband’s sickness and demise to the COVID-19 pandemic. She mentioned when somebody goes by way of one thing devastating, the aim is to return out a greater one that is considerate and empathetic.
“I am hoping after we are out of this COVID state of affairs we’re a greater society,” Simon mentioned.
Her run as superintendent of Alachua County Faculties
When Simon entered her position as superintendent, she walked right into a controversial rezoning plan relating to Terwilliger Elementary Faculty (beforehand referred to as Elementary Faculty I) and the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simon felt there was an absence of transparency between the varsity district and the group relating to COVID-19. Tackling the issue, she created a COVID-19 response workforce that consisted of Prescott Cowles and Jason Stanford.
“They labored on how we communicated what we have been doing. They labored on fixing the system to ensure that them to be extra environment friendly. They actually tried to ensure that we have been speaking nicely with the colleges as nicely with the group on methods to help them,” Simon mentioned.
She additionally had the response workforce construct the COVID-19 dashboard in order that the group may see how the district was doing when it got here to containing the viral unfold.
The COVID-19 response workforce additionally organized the vaccination clinics and made positive workers had the correct PPE supplies.
Inspecting the rezoning challenge
On the request of the board, the primary huge challenge she tackled was the districtwide rezoning, which she has since postponed due not having a strategic plan developed and the sudden inflow of COVID-19 funds.
In an opinion piece Simon submitted to The Solar again in January, she wrote that the rezoning of Terwilliger Elementary Faculty would save the district round $11 million if the district bought the property as an alternative of utilizing it to revitalize the campus.
She additionally wrote that it might give the district a chance to enhance its fairness initiative by attendance zones, the applications they provide, and making certain that every pupil can have entry to a top quality schooling.
“For essentially the most half now we have below enrollment on our east aspect colleges and over enrollment on our west aspect colleges. Our colleges have variety considerations. We have now some colleges which might be 100% free and decreased lunch in predominantly Black colleges. As a faculty system we aren’t distributing our college students in an efficient technique to be essentially the most environment friendly,” Simon mentioned.
The Terwilliger challenge is now completed: A ribbon reducing ceremony involving Simon and the board members was held on July 28.
Ribbon cuttings additionally have been held for the revitalization initiatives at Howard Bishop Center Faculty on Aug. 2 and at Metcalfe Elementary Faculty on Aug. 9.
Earlier than the rezoning is revisited, Simon mentioned a strategic plan is required and that there should be group engagement within the resolution making course of.
Simon introduced her reorganization plan to the board for the primary time in Might. She later defined her plan in depth at a particular workshop on June 2.
“Once I first got here into the place, I discovered in a short time that many workers members’ titles didn’t align with the job they did,” Simon mentioned.
The non-renewal challenge led to the non-renewal of 9 directors and the creation of a petition of no confidence.
“These selections wanted to be made and it isn’t a follow that has occurred earlier than, so I feel that is most likely a giant a part of what actually upset the group was that directors do not get non-renewed. I really feel strongly that management units the tone, the management guides the ship and there have been issues that wanted to occur,” Simon mentioned.
Simon’s plan would have added 40 new proposed job descriptions. Solely 19 of the roles have been accredited at a board assembly held June 22.
COVID-19 virus surges once more
Because the 2021-22 college yr drew nearer, COVID-19 instances started to rise once more.
By Aug. 2 Simon had issued a masks mandate for workers staff, distributors and guests that might run from Aug. 3 to Sept. 17.The decision came after the district found there have been 20 staff who had contracted the virus, 80 staff in quarantine and two members of the custodial workers who had died.
Concern unfold that if instances continued to pattern upwards that there would not be sufficient individuals to function the varsity district.
Following the superintendent’s necessary masks mandate, the Faculty Board determined to implement a two-week masks mandate that might later be prolonged to eight weeks on Aug. 17 — two weeks into the varsity yr — as a result of enhance of COVID-19 instances in Alachua County and the extremely contagious delta variant.
Dad and mom may decide their youngsters out of carrying a masks by signing a masks exemption type that needed to be signed by a licensed medical skilled or a nurse practitioner.
On the state degree, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an govt order that masks must be non-obligatory and selections must be left as much as the dad and mom. Consistent with the chief order, the Florida Division of Well being and the Florida Division of Schooling issued emergency orders stating that masking ought to stay non-obligatory.
Resulting from not following orders — ACPS argues it was conserving college students secure — Simon and McNealy acquired threats from the schooling commissioner that in the event that they did not adjust to the emergency order Faculty Board members’ pay could be compromised. The FDOE has since deducted $13,429 as of Aug. 26 and plans to take the set quantity month-to-month.
Simon, pushing again in opposition to the governor and schooling commissioner with the help of the Faculty Board, acquired nationwide consideration from information retailers reminiscent of CNN. She additionally wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post stating why the district is pushing again on Florida’s masks ban.
The turmoil between Alachua County Public Faculties and the state brought on the U.S. Division of Schooling to exert its authority by stating that it helps Alachua County in its effort to maintain college students and workers secure.
The U.S. Division of Schooling additionally added that any funds which might be misplaced as a consequence of not following the state’s orders might be made up for in COVID-19 reduction funds.
On Sept. 9 the USDOE introduced a grant known as Project SAFE fund, the place funding could be offered to high school districts being penalized for implementing COVID-19 security procedures.
Group engagement a hope for the long run
When Simon was an advocate on the Alachua County process pressure being clear and having group engagement was necessary to her, particularly as a mother with three youngsters attending college within the midst of a pandemic.
“I feel that was actually my frustration again over the summer time (of 2020) was we did not know what was occurring … you are wanting my youngsters to return into the varsity and really feel secure, however I do not know what’s occurring. And I do not need to simply belief the method and probably put my youngsters in danger,” Simon mentioned.
Simon mentioned now being within the position of superintendent she is much more sympathetic to how complicated the job will be.
“Group engagement might be the toughest a part of this complete job. To let individuals know what we’re doing, be clear. After which add on prime of it this delta variant has exploded,” Simon mentioned.
Simon’s plan to launch a group engagement marketing campaign was purported to occur throughout the summer time, however as a result of surge in COVID-19 and the emergence of the delta variant, she needed to put the plan on maintain.
“I hoped we would all have these face-to-face group engagement time intervals, the place individuals may actually get collectively, get to know one another, get to know one another. After which COVID…it is difficult as a result of we’re having to know the context of the surroundings we’re in, react to that after which let everyone know what we’re doing,” Simon mentioned.
Simon is now 10 months into her job as superintendent.
“This has been essentially the most fulfilling the job I’ve ever had. It is also the toughest job I’ve ever had,” she mentioned. “However there’s one thing very profound to know that I see an issue or someone even brings an issue to my consideration and I can do one thing about it.”