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District 4: Irene Torroella-Garcia

District 4

https://irene4district4.com/

President and certified real estate appraiser for Stellar Appraisals; President and real estate broker of Sirius Real Estate Solutions, LLC

This post is part of our voter guide for the Aug. 28 local and primary elections. Head to the main landing page for a guide to the key races and decisions being made this election.

District 4 includes the northwest corner of Miami-Dade County, including Hialeah Gardens and Miami Lakes. Torroella-Garcia’s opponent is Perla Hantman.

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for school board because I want to ensure the health and safety of children and teachers in public schools. In recent years Florida’s legislators have passed quite a few bills that have been detrimental to traditional public schools. Even though I was a robust voice against bills like HB7069 and HB7055 and I rallied and spoke before the Senate Rules Committee in Tallahassee against the portion of HB7026 that allows  teachers to be armed, after the resulting passing votes, I felt helpless. It was as if my efforts didn’t even make a dent in the legislators decisions. I’m tired of sitting idly by. I want to be a conduit to affect change in my district and my community. I feel that once on the board I can help address the challenges that affect our students, educators, and the parents.

What education experience do have? Have you worked in a classroom?

My experience in the classroom between 2007 and 2009 when I was a substitute teacher in Hialeah, primarily substituting in Meadowlane Elementary, was short but very insightful. That firsthand experience of the daily struggles for both our educators and students was profound and lasting.  

Where do you stand on school choice, aka giving students a choice between mainstream public schools and other specialty schools, most often charter schools?

I primarily support traditional mainstream public schools, and choice in general. I believe our children benefit more from traditional public schools which offer more programs that can benefit a wider variety of students across the community like gifted programs, general education services, special education services, nursing orders, and programs for students with disabilities.

How do you plan to recruit and retain high-quality teachers?

Recruiting and retaining high quality teachers goes hand-in-hand with salary and compensation. Our teachers are currently not getting the pay or incentives to stay on the job in our community. Many of our teachers in Miami-Dade County cannot afford to buy a home with what they are making, so they move on to other professions or other counties and states that better compensate them. We need to give our teachers the retro-raises they deserve so we retain good teachers and allow them to grow their homes and families just like any other profession in our county. Recruitment starts within our own community by partnering with local colleges along with establishing mentoring programs for teachers which enhance skill sets.

Where do you stand on arming teachers and other “hardening” initiatives like metal detectors and armed security officers?

I rallied in Tallahassee and spoke before the Senate Rules Committee against the portion of HB7026 that arms teachers. I witnessed firsthand the lack of empathy in our legislators to do what is right and this bill is one of the primary reasons I am running, because I want to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and our educators.

Even though the school board does not have an immediate role in legislature, as a member of the school board I would have a responsibility to be a leader in my district and my community. If this entails me traveling to Tallahassee to influence and support beneficial legislation or combat legislation that will adversely affect our schools, I will be the voice to adequately represent our district and our community.

I whole heartedly support having more SROs (school resource officers) and possibly introducing the concept of them teaching a relevant curriculum in school safety. Metal detectors may not be very effective in school settings and may give the appearance of correctional institutions. Undoubtedly we must review and enhance school protocols on how emergencies are handled.   

Where do the candidates stand on expanded mental health assistance for students?

I overwhelmingly support expanded mental health assistance to the point where I adamantly would require new and improved protocols to effectively address mental health issues. For example, by increasing psychological and social workers per school and provide additional training to teachers and administrators that can directly identify and address possible mental health concerns. It is important to remember that we need to hold our administrators accountable for continuously monitoring and improving these protocols which affect our community.  

What is your track record on trying to bring equal education opportunities to all students, regardless of zip code, income level, or race? What is your plan for achieving that?

Having just been introduced into this arena my only track record is, as stated above, my voice against house bills and when I rallied in Tallahassee, which were my calls to run for the School Board. However, my vision for equitable education would include items like reviewing the school board budget, adequately identifying the needs of schools across the county, identifying efficiencies and implementing better programs, if necessary, for all students regardless of zip code, income level, and race.

Subsets of this vision may include implementing a task force to make sure lower performing schools, or schools that need additional support, have the adequate support available, then monitoring those schools to confirm the support plan is working and being implemented effectively and, ultimately, holding everyone accountable.

If you had additional money for education, where would you invest it?

If the board has additional monies for education, I would strongly support facility hardening (i.e. creating safe rooms, bullet proof doors, impact windows, etc.), mental awareness programs, and teacher compensation. Other areas of interest would include increased technological resources, additional tutoring for students, and enhancing early-age developmental programs.