ORLANDO, Fla. – From new education laws to enhancing school safety, it’s been a busy summer for districts across Central Florida as they prepare for the upcoming school year.
There are a number of changes teachers and students will see this year, and for Orange County that includes a new superintendent.
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Dr. Maria Vazquez, who will serve as the district’s first Hispanic superintendent, was unanimously selected by the Orange County School Board to succeed Dr. Barbara Jenkins.
Vazquez sat down with anchor Justin Warmoth on “The Weekly” to explain what the country’s ninth-largest school district will look like under her leadership.
“We’re looking forward to seeing more pathways, more choices for our children to be able to look at their strengths and their talents, and provide those opportunities for them,” Vazquez said. “I’m very hopeful that we’re going to find opportunities to collaborate and listen to our employees as to how we’ll be able to serve our students and our parents.”
Following the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, there’s a renewed emphasis on school safety across the country. Vazquez said she’s confident in the school resource officers and law enforcement agencies in Orange County to protect the district’s more-than 200,000 students.
“I know that our local law enforcement agencies have been trained... to take out the shooter,” Vazquez said. “That gives me great confidence that something like that -- where police did not respond in a timely manner -- would never happen here.”
Orange County, like many school districts across the country, is dealing with a shortage of teachers ahead of the new school year. Vazquez said the district is looking to fill 100 classroom teacher vacancies.
“What our principals have done in preparation for the start of the school year is that they have planned for any of their resource teachers or interventionists that are needed are going to be placed in those classrooms until we’re able to hire a certified teacher,” Vazquez said. “It is a problem we’ve been dealing with. The pandemic certainly has made it more difficult with all they’ve endured and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to bring back some of those teachers who left the profession.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis in July signed the Parental Rights in Education bill -- dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill -- into law.
The law bans the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, but districts are still navigating how the vaguely-written legislation will be enforced.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be successful in the implementation of the new legislation,” Vazquez said. “With the proper support, I also believe our staff will be able to be more at ease because right now there’s a lot of angst as to what they can share, what repercussions might come to them as a result of what they’re sharing, and the guidance they’re going to be receiving from our legal department will be able to ease many of those fears.”
Leading up to the new school year, News 6 has asked our teachers, “Why do you teach?” It’s a question Warmoth asked Vazquez during the interview. See her answer in the video player directly below.
Vazquez also discussed Florida’s new assessment test, which replaces FSA, and her main objective during his first year as superintendent.
Watch the full interview in the video player above.