There’s a lot of great events happening in the Monroe County schools

Dr. Sue Woltanski, Chair of the Monroe County School Board, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s happening in the district.

The Key West High School marching conchs celebrated New Year’s Day in London this year and what a momentous occasion that trip was for the students.

Woltanski said, “It was broadcast on the local PBS station and the coverage was just fantastic. The person who chooses these bands had come to the Keys and had lots of great information about the Keys. But yeah, they sounded great. They played I think Eleanor Rigby and a Blondie song. They took a group and they were able to stay for a few days. They traveled out to Oxford, and what a fantastic experience for those kids. But also I just want to commend the entire community. It cost almost $400,000 is what I understand to go and these kids worked really hard and they raised that and this is a community that supports its schools and supports the arts and the kids wouldn’t have been able to have that experience without the support of the community. So I want to thank everybody who participated in helping to get them there.”

The literacy seminar was held recently in Key West.

Woltanski said, “Key West has for decades had this Key West literary seminar, which brings artists or authors from around the world. This year, the topic was Florida, The State We’re In. The Key West High School, again, was honored to have Carl Hiaasen speak at an assembly. His new book is called Wrecker, and it’s set in Key West. It’s a young adult book. He writes some very adult books, but he also writes books for younger people. He was so generous of his time. He spoke for maybe 45 minutes or an hour, and then he stayed answering questions for kids for more than an hour. Then he had brought over 100 copies of his book, which he sat on stage, and personally signed them to the kids who were there. It was really amazing. He’s super generous of his time, and the kids asked incredible questions. I mean, there were clearly authors, young authors in that audience, and they were asking questions about the process. How do you come up with good dialogue? How do you decide how to end your stories? It was incredible. The arts are essential to kids, and they are alive in our schools and to be able to have this experience was amazing. Teachers also can apply for scholarships to that and there were Monroe County teachers there as well coming to the event for the four days. I think Key West was surprised. They asked for the stars when they said that they wanted Carl Hiaasen to come. They got their first wish. It was so great for him to come.”

Literacy week is also coming up and volunteers are needed.

Woltanski explained, “This is a statewide effort and it’s January 22 to 26th. This year, the theme is Believe in your Shelf, like bookshelf, supposed to be building resiliency through reading, I think it’s a little bit like The Little Engine That Could, but Celebrate Literacy Week is designed to raise awareness about the importance of reading and to inspire students and families to make reading part of their daily routine. There will be events at every one of the schools. Most elementary school levels are looking for guest readers. If that’s something that’s interesting to you, you should contact your local school and see if they have a place for you because kids love being read to and they like the attention of adults coming into their classrooms.”

With the legislative week in Tallahassee beginning last week, Monroe County School Board directors will be headed to the capital.

Woltanski said, “This is Florida School Board Associations day in the legislature. It’s this week and I’ll be heading up. Andy Griffiths is coming as well. This is the second week of the legislature. They are hearing bills, and it’s a great time to talk to key lawmakers and to explain how the proposals look in a unique place like Monroe. Some of the big issues right now are, well, there’s two that I think are kind of interesting. They’re both big issues for the legislature, but they to me are in conflict with each other. One is the problem of chronic absenteeism, which has hit the whole entire nation, it was bad before COVID. It’s worse now. There’s multiple reasons for it, but a lot of kids are just not coming to school. Chronic absenteeism is missing two days, the equivalent of two days a month, across the year, 18 days of school would be considered a child chronically absent. The other one is the rolling back of child labor laws for kids who are 16 and 17, allowing them to work a full workload during school weeks. One of the problems we have with our high school students is that they work late into the night and they sleep in class during the day. That, too, contributes to sort of the absenteeism. They may be there, or they may just sleep through the start of school. So those two things, I think are at odds with each other. So I’m interested to hearing the lawmakers reasoning of how both can be priorities.”

A new finance director has joined the Monroe County School District.

Woltanski said, “We are super lucky to have Dr. Charlene White join us. She used to be in the finance department of the College of the Florida Keys, in between jobs at a community college in Tennessee, and she went back to Tennessee and we were able to steal her away and she really has great experience in public finance. She’s going to learn the ropes of K12 Florida, which is a little bit different. We’re super excited to have her on board. The most important thing for us is we want the kids to be educated well, and the only way to do that is to make sure the money is well spent for the kids.”

Today is a good day to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Woltanski said, “I think the people should reflect on the King legacy. I think for me, the thing that strikes now is that you can’t drive out hate with hate. You can only drive it out with love. So go out there and love your community and love your neighbor.”