"As a teacher at Colonial High School for the last twenty years, a single mother of four OCPS students, and a community advocate on issues of education and inclusive empowerment, I have seen our schools’ potential. From our recently arrived students to the teachers who work tirelessly to ensure that our youth is prepared to tackle the complex issues of the real world, I am assured that our public schools can and must be better.
That’s exactly why I decided to run to represent District 2 on the Orange County School Board. Our district deserves a School Board Member who embodies our community’s values of fairness, empowerment, and unity. With that in mind, I have put forth a common sense platform that seeks to empower our students, teachers, and staff members with the purpose of creating an exceptional local public education system."
Johanna will work to address our students' different needs. Understanding how critical it is to close the educational achievement gap, Johanna's main goal will be to level the playing field to ensure that ALL OCPS students have a shot at a successful future.
Supporting newly arrived students: After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, thousands of families have made Central Florida their home. Johanna understands our school system needs to ensure that our schools and teachers have the necessary resources to welcome, support, and embrace our new OCPS students.
Supporting Title 1 Schools: Working at the OCPS Multilingual Department gave Johanna the opportunity to visit over 75 schools in the county, where she saw how unequal our education system has become. Johanna will work together with Title 1 schools to assess their needs and provide more resources to incentivize the recruitment of high-quality teachers.
Preparing students for the real world: Johanna knows how hard it is for our students to navigate their post-secondary opportunities. She will work to expand partnerships with local colleges and universities as well as with private businesses and nonprofit organizations to broaden and improve post-secondary opportunities for all students.
TEACHERS AND STAFF
For over two decades, Johanna has worked to empower young adults inside and outside of the classroom. As a School Board member, she will work to empower our teachers and staff members so that they can continue to provide our students with a high-quality education. Johanna will work to bring respect and value back to the teaching profession.
Providing decent wages: Johanna will not only advocate for better employment benefits but also for decent wages for all OCPS employees - from the janitors and bus drivers to the teachers.
Improving teachers' working conditions: Johanna believes we have to improve teachers’ conditions by giving them more autonomy in the classroom, providing them with more respect as professionals, and ensuring their safety in their teaching environment.
Providing professional growth opportunities: OCPS should provide professional growth opportunities to its teachers and administrators, including grants for new certifications and advanced degrees in return for the promise of a certain time of service.
Recruitment and retention: Increasing wages, improving working conditions, and providing professional growth opportunities will all help us incentivize high-quality teachers to come work, and stay, at OCPS.
WELL-BEING AND SAFETY
As a teacher and mother of four, Johanna recognizes how critical it is for every student to get educated in a safe environment - free from bullying, violence, discrimination, and guns.
Increasing and improving mental health resources: As a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence, Johanna knows how hard it is for children to concentrate in school while things are falling apart at home. Thus, it is critical to address mental health issues amongst our students by increasing and improving the psychological and counseling services we provide.
Improving safety protocols and awareness: Educators and administrators must be extensively trained on how to respond appropriately to life-threatening scenarios to protect their students’ safety.
Tackling bullying: We need to work as a community to create positive and inclusive programs to tackle bullying in schools. Johanna proposes to reevaluate discipline measure, focusing on ensuring that both victims and offenders have the resources to deal with bullying.
Understanding how students' backgrounds affect their well-being: Johanna understands the need to acknowledge and respect the intersectional identities that our students bring to the classroom, focusing on how that might have an impact on their well-being.
As a Lake Nona High School mother and 20-year resident of District 2, Johanna has seen the unprecedented growth of our communities, understanding the opportunities and challenges that it presents for our schools. Johanna will prioritize pro-active planning and will work together with the County Commission to ensure that our schools are not overcrowded.
Keep our Tax-payer dollars in our District: District 2 residents pay millions in property taxes, yet some of our schools, like Sun Blaze Elementary, are overcrowded. She will work to ensure our hard-earned dollars are used to fund high-quality schools in our district, including renovations and the construction of new schools as planned.
Proactive Zoning: Johanna believes students and families benefit from attending schools near to where they live as this encourages parental engagement. She will work proactively to ensure a fair and equitable school zoning system.
Environmental Regulations: When building new schools and renovating others, OCPS should strive for environmentally friendly practices and policies, seeking to ensure sustainable communities and schools at all times.
Johanna believes that our students deserve to be evaluated by their teachers. At this point, students are so drained by testing many exams are losing their function, which is why she will work to reduce testing overload in our schools. First, end-of-course exams, which are established by OCPS, should be eliminated as they only work to create a more stressful environment for our students and teachers. These locally-mandated exams are working to deteriorate the learning process, making our schools less innovative. Secondly, we need to advocate to ensure that our students are not held behind due to their FSA scores. As established, the FSA, which is not culturally-relevant, is currently working as a filter to keep students from graduating from high school, even if they don’t want to go to college. High school graduation should be based on how much a student knows, not on how well they test. Finally, to measure learning across the state and the country, we can utilize PERT, ACT, and SAT scores, which have been recently updated.
AGAINST ARMING TEACHERS
As a teacher, Johanna is totally opposed to arming our school staff and teachers because of different reasons. First, armed staff members could easily lose control of their guns, putting other students at risk. Second, arming school staff will increase students’ anxieties and stress. Schools should provide a peaceful environment for learning to all students. Lastly, arming school staff is a costly endeavor. Johanna believes we should invest that money on schools’ infrastructure, instructional and non-instructional employee trainings and schools supplies, among others.
FUNDING FOR THE ARTS
Johanna understands the importance of a comprehensive arts education for every student in OCPS. She will work to ensure the effective implementation of the one-mill tax, seeking to fully fund art programs from elementary school to high school. She will also work to establish critical partnerships with local businesses who can assist in partially funding arts-related extracurricular activities, such as band and orchestra outings.
Having spent close to twenty-year as a teacher at Colonial High School, a Title 1 school, Johanna has seen how homelessness has detrimental effects on both the student’s academic performance and their mental and emotional health. Having taught students who have unfortunately been homeless at points, she has a clear understanding of the students’ perspectives on this issue. From feeling socially stigmatized to not having access to extracurricular activities and technological resources, our homeless students operate in a state of constant anxiety that makes getting educated a steep mountain to climb. That’s why it’s key to provide an equitable education to every student. Every student deserves to get whatever resources they need to be successful in the classroom.
In the case of serving our homeless students, we definitely ought to continue to work to strengthen the OCPS McKinney-Vento Program as well as our partnerships with outside organizations that are working on this issue. We also need to analyze the existing resources and policies through a critical lens, looking for potential opportunities for growth that could benefit our students and communities in the long term. For instance, how are the sites for new schools decided? How does the construction of a school could make a neighborhood less affordable? Are we thinking about gentrification and its potential effects?
Johanna is also a proponent of expanding our mental health resources to ensure that they reach every student and also of training teachers and staff members to identify potential cases of homelessness amongst our students so that they can receive the support they need.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
Johanna is a firm believer that every school, every student, and every community deserves attention. To improve community involvement at our schools, Johanna will listen to parents, teachers, staff members, and students. She will hold monthly town hall meetings at district 2's different schools, where every member of the community will be able to express their concerns about our school system. She will also host roundtable discussions and individual meetings to target our schools’ specific needs. Both of these strategies will allow Johanna to remain transparent and accountable as an elected official.