Editor’s note: This article has been edited to state that most of Garick’s financial contributions came from individuals. One $1,000 donation came from the Seminole Public Education political committee and one $1,000 donation came from the political committee Ruth List Florida.
Dana Fernandez is a Longwood resident and candidate for School Board Member District 5. Fernandez is originally from Queens, New York and has degrees in education, international business and international relations. Fernandez was a public school teacher in New York City and is the mother of 8 children.
In Fernandez’s campaign, her focuses are working with the Sheriff’s office to make student safety a top priority, protecting parents’ rights to petition their school board and have access to curriculum, expanding technical vocational training choices for students, removing Critical Race Theory, mask mandates and lockdowns from schools. Fernandez raised $8,989 in campaign contributions, most of which are from individual donations in Florida. Her total campaign expenditures are $5,781. Learn more.
Autumn Garick is a 56-year-old Sanford resident and candidate for School Board Member District 5. Garick serves on the board of the Midway Coalition in Sanford and helped secure funds from Seminole County to update stormwater infrastructure and build local parks. Garick has served as president of Storytellers of Central Florida and in 2017 she received congressional recognition for organizing resources for Central Florida women and marginalized communities.
In Garick’s campaign, her focuses are increasing educator and staff pay, prioritizing mental health and de-escalation training for staff, and revamping the SCPS Parent Academy and promoting parents to be active partners in education. Garick has raised $43,656 in campaign contributions, most of which come from individual Florida residents. Her campaign expenditure total is $23,691. Learn more.
The questions below were either directly submitted by voters or were created by OCN based on what the voters told us were their priorities.
Q: How do you plan to improve communication with your constituents so more residents can get involved in the local decision making process?
Dana Fernandez: Communication and transparency is key. Many people in the community would love to be more involved, they simply don’t know how. I would revise the online information to make it more user friendly and engaging. I would also be involved in the local outreach to make sure the community stays informed.
Autumn Garick: I’d like the Seminole County School Board to host town hall events with in-person and virtual options to discuss successes and challenges facing our students and schools.
Q: What do you offer to the position you’re vying for that you believe others do not?
Dana Fernandez: I bring principles, integrity and an ability to be able to sit down with all sides. We do not all agree, nor do we have to, but we have to respect one another’s perspectives and be able to come to a meeting of the minds in love, not hate.
Autumn Garick: 21 years of SCPS experience and community leadership. My husband of 34 years, our three daughters and I moved here from Orange County for the excellent schools two decades ago. I have worked in nearly all of our local schools. My opponent moved here from New York 10 months ago.
Q: Explain your participation in local government. For example, have you ever volunteered for a local municipal board? Do you regularly attend Seminole County School Board meetings? For incumbents, did you regularly attend Seminole County School Board meetings before you were elected?
Dana Fernandez: This is my first time participating in local government. I have attended many school board and other local meetings in the past, if not in person, I watched the live stream to keep updated on the issues.
Autumn Garick: Yes, I do my homework. I attend open budget workshops, committee meetings and policy discussions at the county level. I have met with voters, students, teachers, staff and district personnel to learn the specific challenges facing our district at this time. I am an active school dividend (volunteer).
Q: Have you signed the Moms4Liberty pledge? Why or why not?
Dana Fernandez: I signed the MFL and Governor DeSantis’ pledge as it represents my commitment to protect parents’ rights. It is of the utmost importance to me to make sure public schools work together with parents knowing that the ultimate decision maker is not the government but the parents.
Autumn Garick: No. It would be unethical to sign a pledge to any single interest group regardless of political, social or religious views. When I take my oath on Nov. 22, I pledge to uphold the SCPS mission, “to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be productive citizens.”
Q: How, if at all, do you plan on altering the school curriculums and teacher training sessions?
Dana Fernandez: This is a difficult question to answer without knowing the specifics of what is currently in place. As a general rule, I strongly feel that all politics need to be taken out of the teacher training sessions and curriculum. The main focus should be to bring back strong academics.
Autumn Garick: Curriculum and testing is largely determined by the state. I would love to provide more autonomy to our proven teachers. This past summer’s professional learning event, B.E.S.T. Standards and Instructional Frameworks, seemed to be successful for new and experienced teachers. Let’s build on that success moving forward.
Q: What will candidates do to help ensure that Seminole County schools are the top in the nation?
Dana Fernandez: To be the best requires having an honest conversation and the courage to change things. Student success is measured in more than just test scores. Create an environment where teachers are flooding the district instead of leaving it. Give parents confidence in what is being taught so they re-enroll in public schools.
Autumn Garick: For decades our schools have been a beacon of academic excellence. We need to partner with parents and the community to re-establish a climate of respect, providing college, career and technical opportunities. Our only agenda must be student success – every student, every school.
Q: What will you do to quell public safety concerns at a time like this?
Dana Fernandez: The first step is to communicate any issue immediately to the public. Full transparency is key. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it is. We must be honest with what is happening before we can ever hope to truly find the best solutions in addressing the problems.
Autumn Garick: Scared kids can’t learn. I will commit to creating safe learning environments for students and staff. We must continue to invest in comprehensive safety/mental health initiatives led by Sheriff Lemma, local police and community organizations and provide full funding for school resource officers and mental health counselors at every school.
Q: What will candidates do to ensure public safety from gun violence at schools?
Dana Fernandez: A strong continued relationship with the Sheriff’s department is very important. There are many initiatives behind the scenes that are all working toward increasing school safety. We must communicate these effectively to the parents and the community. Students and staff should also be able to access mental health resources.
Autumn Garick: Our sheriff’s safety protocols — partnering with individual city police departments, social service agencies, monitoring social media etc. — are a model in our state and nationwide. I will continue to lean on our professionals for recommendations and commit to fully funding safety measures as proven technology and techniques evolve.
Q: As we see growing evidence of climate change, what are your specific plans for sustainability in our communities and county as it relates to curriculum, activities within schools and school facilities operations?
Dana Fernandez: Students should be taught how to be responsible citizens within the community through hands-on lessons and volunteer work. However, like most well intentioned things, it has gone too far and we need to provide a balanced approach to teaching the subject matter without it having unintended damaging effects on our children.
Autumn Garick: I learned from Marc Clinch, chief facilities director of Osceola Schools, that Osceola County is building and retrofitting buildings using high performance, ultra-low energy-use standards to save money and better the environment. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy recently offered grants for electric buses. We too need to explore greener options.
Q: How will educational funding be part of your platform?
Dana Fernandez: We need to build and maintain strong relationships within the community to be able to obtain funding for education from various sources aside from the federal and state government. We need to efficiently and wisely spend money to reduce the dependence on institutions that want to push unwanted agendas.
Autumn Garick: We must treat educators as the professionals they are and pay them as such. Even with recent money devoted to teacher salaries, Florida teacher pay has decreased by 7.4% in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2011. I will partner with neighboring school districts to lobby Tallahassee to boost pay for veteran teachers and staff.
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