The Flagler County School Board election is just days away, and District 1 incumbent Jill Woolbright is facing a challenge from newcomer Sally Hunt.
The race is scheduled for Aug. 23.
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Sally Hunt, 44, has been a Palm Coast resident for seven years and works as a consultant for Hunt Ventures, LLC, which she owns.
Originally from Illinois, Hunt has a 10-year-old daughter and is a foster parent to two high school-aged girls, one in a therapeutic foster care program.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in business degree from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She later earned two additional degrees, a Bachelor of Science in business education and a Master of Science in education from Wayne College and taught across multiple subjects and age groups in both general and exceptional student education.
“I’m running for our community and for our schools,” Hunt said in a phone interview. “When I learned that I lived in (District 1) and that it didn’t have anybody challenging the incumbent, I made the decision to run.”
She said her decision is also “in large part because I do have such a great background for the role.”
Hunt criticized how “political and partisan” the school board has become and how much time it has spent focusing on controversial topics and not on other areas.
“We hear a lot about the dysfunction of the school board,” she said. “They are prioritizing these hot-button political issues over things like third-grade and eighth-grade reading scores and just basic literacy. What we don’t hear as much about is the good stuff that’s going on, the culture within the schools, the different events, the different programs that are available from college prep to workforce development.”
She added: “I have no doubt that with a high-functioning school board, and when everything else is there, we can take the district to an ‘A’ grade.”
Hunt said that, if elected, she will focus on “objectives” and “metrics.”
“Because that’s something we can measure every single month – how we are doing with those very specific goals that the school board puts together,” she said. “That’s where you start, but that’s just what gives us direction.”
Another priority for Hunt will be “engagement” with students and school staff, especially during a time when the community is gradually readjusting to a sense of normalcy after the pandemic’s challenges.
“The students, the teachers, families, they miss ‘normal,’” Hunt said. “They haven’t had ‘normal’ for a long time due to the pandemic and everything going on with the school board. I think we need different engagement campaigns, and we need to do better with communication.”
The Parental Rights in Education bill (referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), signed into law a few months ago by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, drew national attention and controversy.
The bill restricts school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Hunt said that at the heart of the discussion surrounding this issue is “diversity” and “inclusion.” She also said that “to my knowledge, there is not a school standard or lesson plan that is educating (K-3 grade) children on what is sexual orientation.”
Hunt said that whenever textbooks or story books make a reference to a “mom and a mom,” or a “dad and a dad,” they are not “necessarily teaching (children) about sexual orientation.”
“I personally don’t see it that way. I don’t think we are teaching it; I think we are being inclusive,” Hunt said. “I believe in diversity and inclusion in content. I believe everybody in the school district should feel embraced and welcome and supported.”
In November 2021, board member Jill Woolbright filed a police report because she said a book in school libraries violated obscenity laws.
Flagler Schools book ban controversy: Sheriff investigating possible criminal charges
The book, "All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto," chronicles the experiences of author George M. Johnson, who uses they/them pronouns, growing up Black and queer in America. Parts of the book include descriptions of masturbation, oral and anal sex, and sexual assault.
After the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office found that no crime had been committed by the placement of the book in some school libraries, the district introduced an “opt-out” program in the spring that allows parents to determine which books their children can check out from school libraries.
Hunt said that Woolbright’s decision to call attention to the book was appropriate, as the subject matter was “worthy of a conversation,” but criticized her hastiness in bringing the issue to the sheriff’s office.
She said she hopes the district is not going in a direction where “one group of parents thinks that a particular book is harmful to kids and therefore it’s being removed from all students.”
“I think the new program is lovely,” Hunt said. “It allows for one family to make decisions for their children, knowing that not all families are the same. Again speaking to parental rights, another family may want their child to be able to read whatever book interests them.”
Jill Woolbright, 64, has been a Flagler County resident since 1989, where she worked as an elementary teacher from 1991 until her retirement in 2019.
Woolbright has been on the school board since 2020, when she won a special election to fill the then-vacant District 1 seat.
She has a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from The University of Central Florida, where she graduated summa cum laude.
Woolbright refused a phone interview. She provided her answers by email.
She wrote that for her whole career, she was a “highly qualified high impact teacher known for my large student growth numbers.”
“In 2016, I (sic) my students outperformed all other sixth grade Math classes in the state of Florida,” Woolbright wrote. “I clearly know how to get the highest potential and learning gains from my students as I understand the strategies, materials, resources, and supports they need to reach their maximum potential. No other candidate understands student learning and how to foster successful students in the classroom. I have been a lifelong advocate for students and families and believe that is my life assignment.”
Woolbright praised the district’s graduation rates (91,1% in the last year) and technical college programs.
“Students can leave our schools college ready or enroll into a trade school program through our technical college which equips them for the job market,” she wrote. “Many students graduate high school and receive their (associate in arts) degree at the same time through dual enrollment with a participating college.”
She added that even though test scores were above the state average last year, “we have not returned to the levels we had obtained pre-Covid.”
Woolbright mentioned how students in the district’s ESE (Exceptional Students in Education) program have struggled in particular.
The program serves students with special learning needs. It includes students serviced under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and those who are gifted.
“The most concerning score was in our exceptional student education subgroup,” she wrote. “There was a significant learning gap between our learning disabled students and their general education peers, and this gap widened during the last few years of the pandemic. We must make gains in closing that learning gap.”
Woolbright also wrote she believes in putting “students, parental rights and curriculum transparency” first.
“We need to maximize parental involvement working with our families to enable our students to be successful academically,” she wrote. “Working with our parents as partners in their child’s education will also improve the mental health of our students.”
On the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, Woolbright said she is “100% in favor” of the new law.
“There is absolutely no reason for any child PreK-3 grade to have any kind of sexual education or gender identity lessons at that young age,” Woolbright wrote. “With the third grade reading scores across our nation as low as they are, we need to focus on teaching reading, writing, math, science and civics.”
She added that the district shouldn’t “burden our children with topics that are not appropriate for their developmental stage in life.”
“State standards on reproduction and sex education begins at grade 4 and progresses in a scope and sequence through 12 grade,” she wrote. “There aren’t any state standards for grades PreK-3 because it is not developmentally appropriate.”
She added: “We must be transparent in all things with our parents reinforcing the sanctity of the family unit and respecting the moral teachings and values of the family unit.”
On the “All Boys Aren’t Blue” book situation, Woolbright did not say whether she sees the “opt-out” program as a satisfactory outcome.
She wrote that the new program “ensures parental input regarding the other books that their student may checkout, as we learn how to implement the new requirements regarding instructional and media materials.”
“The state will be training and setting guidelines for media specialists on policy for selecting age-appropriate books,” she added. “Books will be more carefully vetted and selected.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Sally Hunt challenges incumbent Jill Woolbright in Flagler Schools race