NCFL Election Preview: Alachua County School Board District 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Mildred Russell and Diyonne McGraw are running for the District 2 seat.
Russell was appointed by Governor Ron Desantis in August after McGraw was removed for not living within her district.
Mildred Russell has lived in Alachua County for 40 years, she said she has been able to express her passion for serving children as a current board member.
“Our first job, our mission should be to provide a world class education for our students and we should be improving student outcomes. That means taking care of every issue that stands in the way of that happening” said Russell.
Before being appointed Russell describes the state of the board as toxic, mostly because of the superintendent at the time, Carlee Simon, who she said her opponent helped hire.
“Dionne McGraw was a part of that toxic atmosphere on the board, some of which still remains. I think we need to keep it new and different moving forward. We do not need to go back to any old issues that were there during that time” said Russell.
Russell said when she took on the role, the board was able to help reorganize the leadership through a new chairman.
She then played a part in firing the superintendent.
Diyonne McGraw was elected by the voters in 2020, and she said she was removed because the school board had not set new district maps since 2001.
After the maps were redrawn, McGraw now lives in District 2.
She said she has a renewed passion to continue the work she began to serve the voters, children and families in Alachua County.
“Another thing that is extremely important for me is it’s about our democracy. 30,000 plus people voted for me and to take away someones right to vote or their vote that they made that was serious. I knew that I had to continue on this journey” said McGraw.
McGraw has a history of working with local students, volunteering and mentoring within ACPS since 1992.
She then went on to send her children through the school system.
She said it will take bold leadership to make change in the county.
“In all of the political environment that has happened in the community, it’s going to take bold leadership and people who have the mind of working together. I think I have shown that I am authentically Diyonne. I have the stamina no matter what continues to happen and what people want to throw at you” said McGraw.
McGraw says she believes Russell’s appointment by the governor last August was a political move.
If elected she wants to continue the work she started in those 7 and a half months serving.
This includes integrating more career and technical education programs earlier in the curriculum, during middle school
“So when they enter high school in 9th grade. Your succession plan and your exit plan should be working hand and hand. So that way by the time kids get to 11th and 12th grade they are meeting all of the standards that are required to graduate along with ‘I am ready to go to college or I am ready to go to work’” said McGraw.
She also hopes to adjust how school leaders are tackling the achievement gap problem.
“To turn that achievement gap around it’s not just going to be Monday through Friday. We are going to have to think outside the box again and think Monday through Sunday. Because we are behind and looking at that ESSER funds that we have available we had 61 million when I was on the board coming in. Especially with social work and mental health, really supporting our children” said McGraw.
McGraw wants to continue building strong relationships with students, parents and the many county departments.
One of mildred Russell’s goals is to integrate voluntary pre-k classes into every elementary school.
“If a child can’t read in those early years in K, 1 and 2 then the rest of their school experience is lost because if you can’t read you can’t learn other things. It’s basic, it’s foundational. My heart is that every parent will catch this vision” said Russell.
10 elementary schools in the county currently have VPK classes and 3 more are being added to that list this coming school year.
Another priority for Russell is improving behavior.
There is a behavior rehabilitation program in A Quinn Jones Center that works with children to help them overcome their challenges.
Russell wants this type of support in all schools.
“It doesn’t matter the gender. It does not matter the skin color. It is not fair to a student to not address the behavior problems, what’s causing the bad behavior and then to offer solutions to help them overcome that. If we’re committed to the success of every student which is our district motto, then we will want to help the misbehaving students” said Russell.
She will also focus on improving transportation and being financially accountable to the community.
Election day is on August 23rd with early voting running from August 13th till the 20th.
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