Who said local politics is boring? In a surprise move Monday afternoon, Dr. Diane Kelley announced she would run to retain her seat on the Okaloosa County School Board. Dr. Kelley represents Eglin Air Force Base, Niceville, and Valparaiso on the board.
In tandem, one of the current candidates, Joe Fagundes, announced he would take his name out of the running from the board. He said, “Our school district is not broken; there will always be improvements needed. I am concerned how a small financed Political Pact is acting, distorting, and quite frankly misrepresenting the progress our district has made.”
“I’ve had a change of heart,” Dr. Diane Kelley wrote in a June 6th post, “After hundreds of citizens all across this great school district have reached out to me, I’m getting back in the race to retain my seat on our school board. I’ve loved serving you, and I hope I’ve earned your support.”
Kelley served in the Okaloosa County School District for almost 40 years as a teacher, principal and administrator. Her bio from the Okaloosa School District website says she is a lifelong resident of Okaloosa County. She earned her Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral Degrees from the University of West Florida.
Despite feeling under the weather – Dr. Kelley was gracious enough to grant a quick interview about her announcement to campaign another term on the school board.
Here are the questions we asked – and her responses.
Christopher Saul: What made you decide to get back in [the race]?
Dr. Diane Kelley: “For many weeks now, actually months, I’ve had people all across the district asking me to please reconsider [running for school board]. These are people that I respect and look up to. These are former students who are now business owners and respected leaders in our community themselves. And after much consideration and listening to all of them, I just decided, why not? Let me in it.”
Christopher Saul: Niceville businessman Joe Fagundes is out [of the race]. It looks like your opponent is going to be Cara Marion. Her big [issue] when she talked to me this past week was about going after the ‘educational establishment’ because she feels they have not done enough. What would you say [to that]?
Dr. Diane Kelley: “My response is that that is very vague. And it’s kind of like my grandmother used to say, ‘if you take a feather pillow, and shake it out in the wind, how will you ever collect those feathers up again?…’ To say that the establishment isn’t working, which is essentially what she is saying, means in my mind, that [she] thinks being [first], [second] or [third] in the state since [The Florida Department of Education] start[ed] grading school districts isn’t good enough? Do[es] [she] think that being responsive to the needs of our community is not enough? If we have a collective group of parents who say that ‘we need more input into the sales tax,’ we form a sales tax oversight committee. If [people] say, ‘we need more input into ESE’, (exceptional student education) we formed a ESE parent committee. So what exactly about the establishment is she saying needs to be addressed?”
Christopher Saul: What’s the biggest accomplishment you feel you’ve had in the last four years. What are you most proud of?
Diane Kelley: “I’m extremely proud of the passage of the half cent sales tax and the progress we are already seeing. I’m very proud of the fact that we have hardened our schools for the safety and security of our students. Our Superintendent (Marcus Chambers) has made that the number one priority, the safety of our students, staff members and teachers. I’m proud that we’ve been able to give a raise to our people who’ve worked so hard [as well as] bonuses. My goodness, I am so proud of the work that we have done.
“One of my personal initiatives has been to consolidate services to the central site [in Niceville, on Partin Drive],” Kelley said. During her time as an administrative employee of the Okaloosa County School District, Kelley said that the time lost from having to drive between Crestview, Fort Walton Beach and Niceville meant lost efficiencies for the district’s taxpayers. “It was always kind of mind-blowing that you had to drive 30 miles each direction to get to meet with your colleagues. Now we can put everybody under one roof and be able to simply walk down the halls and meet with your colleagues and ask questions.”
“Certainly, you know, I am very proud of having instituted the Hope Squad at all of our secondary schools. And the next year, Mr. Chambers has vowed that we will be in all the elementary schools in our district.. There are many things that you can say that I’m proud to have accomplished in the last four years.”
Christopher Saul: What will be the biggest tasks you endeavor to complete should you win reelection for the next four years?
Diane Kelley: “We’re continuing to stay on point with our sales tax initiatives, and getting those brought to completion within the timelines. [We are] making sure that our public knows we’re keeping our promises. I think that we stay on point, continuing to be as transparent as we can be. [We will continue] being as responsive as we can be, to all of our community members and all of our student subgroups.
People who know me know that I’m in for the kids. I love students. I’ve spent, you know, 40 years working for their benefit. And so, you know, I’ll be looking at what’s on the horizon? What are the newest things coming out from the state that we can tap into? And then Mr. Chambers does that [and his staff] does that. There are sometimes things that board members can do to support those initiatives. I know that we have lots of good things coming down with CTE (Career and Technical Education), and maybe even dual enrollment and all of those things that can provide kids with a whole array of opportunities. Because, you know, my little grandson might not be a duplicate of his mom. My daughter wasn’t a duplicate of me. They all need different things. So we need to know we need to make sure we have something available to make every student feel supported.”
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