Editor’s Note: The Apopka Voice is running a series highlighting several key 2020 election categories and candidates running in the August 18, 2020 primary, and November 3, 2020 election. While not every category of office will be covered, we will be spotlighting candidates running in the following races in Orange County: Sheriff, Property Appraiser, and School Board Member District 7.
For the Orange County School Board Member, District 7 race, there are three candidates who qualified to run: the incumbent, Board Member Melissa M. Byrd, and candidates Ericka Bell and Jeannetta Maxena. Here is a brief snapshot of these candidates’ campaign finances as of August 12, 2020:
Meet the candidates for Orange County School Board Member, District 7
Melissa M. Byrd: Total contributions received: $24,395.00; Total spent: $13,530.90; Cash on hand: $10,864.10
Ericka Bell: Total contributions received: $3,700.00; Total spent: $2,668.66; Cash on hand: $1,031.34
Jeannetta Maxena: Total contributions received: $1,750.00; Total spent: $1,719.57; Cash on hand: $30.43
We reached out to all of the candidates and requested responses to six interview questions. The incumbent Melissa M. Byrd and candidate Jeannetta Maxena sent in their responses. The order of publishing the candidate profiles was determined by random drawing, with Maxena (1st) and Byrd (2nd).
Who is Jeannetta Maxena?
In order to get to know Jeannetta Maxena, or at least begin, read a few of her opening words of a blog she wrote at the end of July, Change Does Not Come Easy:
“My mother graduated from Phyllis Wheatley in South Apopka back in 1969 before schools were integrated. She used secondhand textbooks to get an education and never got the chance to have an equitable educational experience. Nevertheless, she persisted, and she trained as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She lived in Zellwood and took the Greyhound bus to Orlando to get to work every day as this was before the public bus system.
My father has a completely different story. There were no schools in the Gonaives locale that he could attend. He lived in Haiti, the poorest country on the western hemisphere, and he lived every day in fear of the Tonton Macoute Regime that would “disappear” people who spoke one word of disdain for the Papa Doc Duvalier family. My father came to America in the 1970’s with one bag and one dream; his daughter would go on to become the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.”
With this kind of heart and determination, Maxena’s parents raised her with the same values in Plymouth, just minutes outside of Apopka, where they still live today; a hard-working family making their way toward a better life.
Maxena attended and graduated from Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) with an unwavering and growing desire to help those who were struggling, and to give back to her community. She credits this insistent call to public service to the years watching her mom care for others as a nurse, as well as the inspiration of then Senator Barack Obama that hope and change were possible, even for her. Or maybe possible because of her.
Maxena took this burning desire to be a change agent straight into action, graduating from the University of Central Florida (UCF) with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and onward to the pursuit of her Masters in Public Administration from UCF as well. She became an educator for the same institution she had graduated high school from, OCPS, working first as a tutor at Eccleston Elementary, and then as a Reading Teacher at Wekiva High. From there, she became a World History Teacher at Leesburg High School in Lake County, and began at the same time to expand her leadership and influence to affect wider change.
Believing every child deserves the best education no matter what neighborhood or city they live in, Maxena became even more determined that through her leadership, administration and inspiration, she would help make that happen, particularly for those students and schools that struggle most.
It is why, when as a teacher at Leesburg High, Maxena started a chapter of Girl Up Club, a student-based club aligned with the United Nations, where she mentored and prepared her students to help girls in developing countries like Malawi, Guatemala, and India. It is why she serves on the Board of Directors for the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration, helping advance the art, science, teaching and practice of public and nonprofit administration. And it is why Maxena has chosen to run for School Board Member, District 7.
While Maxena’s outstanding teaching efforts were recognized in 2018 when she was awarded Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Award, she also has extensive knowledge of public budgeting, strategic planning, and policymaking. And she wants to utilize all of this – her knowledge, experience and skills – to enrich her community, advocating for, and ensuring that every child has the best education possible. She is passionate about making certain there are fair and sound policies for teachers, including competitive salaries, and providing integral resources that serve all residents, improve low performing schools, and support children, parents and teachers in the most effective way possible.
Maxena has a mission to make a difference in her community, and if elected, she plans to do so by advocating for and acting upon these four priorities:
COVID-19 – The safety and health of students are of utmost importance and Maxena believes “we are not in a safe environment right now for our students to start the 2020-2021 school year in overcrowded schools.” She plans to build a network with nonprofits, for-profit businesses like Spectrum, and local governments, to ensure students have internet access and are completing their schoolwork.
Advocate for Teachers – All teachers should be treated like professionals and be provided with exemplary support. Incentivizing teachers, offering opportunities for growth at every level, and establishing plans for recruiting and retaining effective teachers.
Literacy and Student Achievement – Many students are bright but reading at an under-grade level due to the lack of resources in their schools. School reading programs and intensive reading summer camps will be created that engage our students and make reading exciting for our youth again.
Public School Funding – “With me, your tax dollars will not be wasted on efforts to privatize our traditional public schools.” Holding charter schools accountable and prioritizing funding for public schools are top of her list.
Interview questions and Maxena’s responses
If elected to this position, and if COVID-19 is still going strong, what would you do to make sure your vision for and effectiveness as a leader for and with the community stays on track and makes a difference?
“When I am the Orange County School Board Member for District 7, I will listen to the parents and teachers in my community. I will ensure that parents and teachers have a choice in deciding what is best for their families. My budget priorities will ensure OCPS personnel, teachers, and students all have the personal protective equipment like face masks needed to stay safe during COVID-19.
As a leader, I know that the digital divide is real for a lot of families and I will work hard to ensure every member of our community has access to technology resources like computers and the internet. Some families may share one computer for the entire family, so it limits the time students need to complete assignments. I will work with our community partners including businesses, non-profits, and local municipalities so that every child in every neighborhood will have a computer and access to the internet.”
What have you been doing that is unique to let voters know who you are and what you are about since campaigning during COVID-19 (mid-March to present)?
“My campaign is almost entirely digital. I have a website (www.MaxenaForSchoolBoard.com) where anyone can go and find out about me and my campaign or fill out a form that asks me questions. I can be reached by email at CampaignTeam@MaxenaForSchoolBoard.com and I am also on Facebook @MaxenaForSchoolBoard and I will answer your questions or comments promptly.
My team and I will host a Coffee with the Candidate Series starting August 1st at 10am. It will be a virtual meeting between me, Jeannetta Maxena, and the public. The first Coffee with the Candidate will discuss district reopening plans and how we can improve low performing schools in the district. The second Coffee with a Candidate will be held on August 8th at 10am and we will meet virtually to discuss teacher pay and school opening times. I look forward to speaking with everyone at our virtual Coffee with the Candidate Series.” Editor’s Note: Maxena’s responses were given to us prior to the dates listed here.
What has been a highlight during your experience running for this position?
“The highlight during my campaign experience is listening and speaking with the members of my community. They are excited to see a change in the make up of the school board. They want their voices heard and I am stepping up to be that voice. I am so proud of District 7 and together we will ensure every child has the best education no matter the neighborhood they live in.”
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing this office / position?
“The budget for the school board is not enough. I will do whatever it takes to secure funding for our schools even if it means reallocating funds or cutting ineffective programs. With me as the School Board Member for District 7, teacher salaries will increase, teachers and students will have the proper personal protective equipment, and we will improve school performance with literacy programs that will ignite student achievement.”
What is your #1 hope for Orange County that you would love to make a reality if elected?
“I want Orange County Public Schools to be an institution that ensures equitable educational opportunities for all children and actively works to close the gaps associated with race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. All children deserve the best education and my priority will be to improve school performance and academic achievement.”
What would you like to say to voters who have not decided who they will vote for yet?
“I am the only candidate in District 7 with recent teaching experience and I am the best fit for the position. I worked for Orange County Public Schools and Lake County Schools. I am an Orange County Florida native and I graduated from Apopka High School. My mission is to make a difference in my community, serve all residents, improve low performing schools, and I will always be an advocate for teachers.”
Run for Something 2020
About the process: The Apopka Voice emailed the same six questions to all candidates running in the offices and positions outlined above, if their email address was listed. In cases where no email was provided, we left a voicemail requesting their email, and /or sent a message on Facebook requesting it if no phone number was provided. There were a few candidates that provided no contact information at all, or their voice mailbox was full. The response deadline was given equally to all candidates. Biographical information was pulled from the candidates campaign websites and / or Facebook page.