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Himmel, Balfour debate school success

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By Mike Wright

LECANTO — Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel and Republican challenger Sandy Balfour spent much of their forum debating the meaning of success. Here are some highlights:

* Balfour said the district may have a polished look, but trouble lies within.

“There’s a lot going on behind the closed doors,” she said.

Balfour said that, while Citrus has been an “A”-rated district for seven straight years, the state is 46th in the nation.

“We need to aim higher,” she said.

* Himmel said the state’s ranking is much higher and recently dropped from fifth in the nation to 11th.

“I don’t know where 46th came from,” she said.

Himmel praised teachers, administrators, parents and students for the district’s success.

“I’m very proud of our accomplishments,” she said.

* Himmel said the district’s graduation rate has increased 14 percent since she took office eight years ago. All three high schools have graduation rates above 90 percent, she said.

* Both candidates debated the significance of standardized testing and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

“The problem with focusing on FCAT is it compares one district to another,” Balfour said.

Himmel said standardized testing and the grades that come with them are what districts deal with.

“As long as there’s a grading system I’m very proud to keep an ‘A’. ” she said.

* Candidates were asked how the superintendent should assist teachers whose classes struggle with standardized testing.

“The key is training,” said Balfour, who teaches English at the Academy of Environmental Sciences. “The key is support.”

Himmel said the district provides training and support to teachers whose students struggle.

“I’ll defend what our teachers do,” she said.

* Both candidates said they support the quarter-mill tax proposal on the November ballot, which would maintain the local allocation, not result in a .25 mill reduction.

* In her closing statement, Himmel said Balfour has limited knowledge of the school district.

“Citrus County is in my blood, my mind and my heart,” Himmel said.

* Balfour said Himmel’s hiring policy for principals is based on personal relationships.

She promised that all hirings will occur only after candidates are screened by a committee.

“It will no longer be who you know,” she said, “but what you know.”