Matthew Fitzpatrick is passionate about education. His experience as a teacher and administrator made him that way. Fitzpatrick is running for the Orange County Public School Board District 7 seat against incumbent Christine Moore, and challengers Isadora Dean and Laura Rounds. The district covers all of Apopka, and if Fitzpatrick is elected, he wants to bring that passion to the teachers and students of the district.
“I started teaching to help students… then I went into administration to help teachers help their students,” he said. “Where I’m at right now if I am elected to the school board I can help schools, which is helping even more teachers help more students.”
Fitzpatrick sees over-testing as the primary fault with education. He describes it in dire terms, and even has his own term for it.
“I’ve been in education for 23 years and I’ve come to a place where I see so many things going on that are destructive to teachers – testing, teacher evaluations and the loss of Career Technical Education (CTE),” he said. “You have an education system that’s built around a test. It's test-centric. It’s not that I’m against testing, but when you focus on a test so much, you have to give up so much around it, and what you give up is destructive.”
Fitzpatrick believes resources are being shifted to improve test scores by taking away programs he thinks enhance a student’s overall educational experiences.
“In order to get results you have to take away things, like CTE programs. One of the saddest days of my career was at Apopka High School when they dropped the Auto Tech and Culinary programs. To lose programs that were so good for so many kids – it’s damaging them.”
He also sees teacher evaluations as potentially damaging to the profession, and detrimental to the classrooms; specifically the Marzano Evaluation System.
“Right now we’re running teachers off. We have an evaluation system that micro-manages them. It’s a perfection-oriented system. The Marzano System has 86 elements that a teacher can be scored on. I’ve never seen something so destructive in terms of damaging a teacher’s morale. It’s driving great teachers off. Orange County is experiencing teacher shortages because of it. It’s driving great teachers into early retirement. Many new teachers just walk off the job because of what teaching has become… it’s not what they signed up for. New, young teachers are going back to grad school to find a career where they feel properly respected, appreciated, and compensated. We are losing a generation of teachers, right now, and I believe it is because of the Marzano system. The best thing a student can have is a great teacher. That’s what makes the difference. That’s what parents want too and if something is causing us to lose great teachers, then we have to re-think what we’re doing.”
Fitzpatrick would prefer to focus on a student’s passions than institutional testing.
“There is a movement called “genius hour” to give students time during the week to let them work on what they’re interested in. A teacher can work with them and help them in their areas of passion. And how much more does that make a kid want to go to school? There’s something very positive about a passion-driven education and allowing students to do something that they like doing.”
“Every teacher needs to write their own book and call it “what works”,” he said. “In this book the teacher would write down what is working for them. They would write down how they start the class, how they motivate students, how they get their attention, and how they get their students to think, for example. Administrators can use these books to better evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.”
Fitzpatrick wants to help those teachers and administrators and he believes he has a blend of educational experience that will suit him well on the school board.
“My career has prepared me for many of the challenges that schools face. I have experience working in a private school, middle school, high schools, at the district office over athletics, and now in career technical education at Orange Technical College. When I worked at the district office, I worked with every floor... from the 1st floor to the 9th floor. I am very familiar with how the district works behind the scenes. I’ve also worked at three different high schools in our district—Apopka, Boone, and Ocoee. I’ve worked with affluent schools, and Title-1 schools.”
Fitzpatrick is a first-time candidate running in a crowded field against a well-funded two-term incumbent, but he remains undaunted in his attempt to win the District 7 seat.
“I’ve got a new appreciation for politics and politicians, but I’m running on ideas. I put up a lot of writing on Facebook because I want people to know what I think. And I get politics, but we’re talking about 200,000 kids. We need the best people; it can't be all about political dealings. I’m looking at people I feel are being oppressed – teachers. And I look at students who desperately need help in the future. And I look at all the things I bring to the table and I thought who better to do this?”
Fitzpatrick speaks with a sense of urgency about Orange County schools, but there is also optimism mixed in.
"We have completely upended the way we teach everything. We’ve turned education upside down to meet a need. And I don’t think that’s what we should have done. At some point we have to turn things around. I believe I'm the person who can make those turns."
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