Insisting she was a schools policy advocate before she became the growth control advocate that led her to become Orange County’s most powerful elected leader, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs filed paperwork Wednesday to run for the school board.

“I realize there are probably a lot of people who are going to say, ‘I didn’t expect that. School board chair. I wonder why,” Jacobs said.

“I knew that this group of friends would understand why,” she said of supporters gathered with her at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office Wednesday, including a principal of own four now-grown children. “Because they know me the best, and they’ve known me the longest and they understand how incredibly passionate I am about our children, about the potential of our young people, and about how passionate I am about public education.”

On Wednesday, Jacobs filed for the Orange County School Board chair’s position, the county-wide post created a decade ago with the expectation that it would give more power and focus to the school district leadership. In doing so she enters a race that includes current School Board Member Nancy Robbinson who’s been amassing support including that of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Jacobs lauded Orange County public schools’ progress over the past couple of decades, from a district that once had a 50 percent graduation rate to one that now boasts a 93.8 percent rate. She said the district has improved both in high achievement and in closing education gaps, which she called an extremely difficult combination. And she praised Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins as “a great superintendent.”

“But I don’t think, when something like education is so important, that there ever is a time to rest on your laurels, at least not until every single child in every single classroom has the ability to reach their full potential,” she said.

“And I also recognize this world is a very, very different place than the one we grew up in,” she said, citing both the global economy and the threats of school violence.

Jacobs has served two terms as Orange County mayor and is leaving at the end of this year due to term limits. Prior to that, she had served two terms as a county commissioner.

She’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for a number of higher offices, including congressional seats and state-wide offices. In many ways school board chair is a lower office. As mayor she is both chief executive officer of a county with a $3 billion budget and 7,500 employees and chair of the legislative body. If she were to win election, she would be only chair of the school’s legislative body, with Jenkins serving as chief executive.

“Please give me four more years to see what I can do to make Orange County the best school district in the state” she said.

Jacobs described herself as someone who always was highly engaged with the schools her children attended, and with the school district, and who was herself inspired by teachers in her own public schools.

“Most people don’t know that before I knew any of the county commissioners I knew every single one of the school board members,” she said. “Most people don’t know I was appointed by the  superintendent to various committees to serve on his behalf. So this idea that schools and public education is new or foreign to me is far from the truth.”

Jacobs conceded she has few other credentials regarding education, except for interactions between county government and the school district. She dismissed her lack of formal education leadership background, saying that outgoing School Board Bill Sublette succeeded without such background.

“Here’s what I bring to the office… I’ve been able to convene different groups, the school board is a great example: working with the school board, with FDLE, with health care providers, to tackle the opioid addition. And we’ve moved the significantly on that,” she said.

“We’ve been leading in so many regards here in Orange County, and we do that because we collaborate,” she said.

Jacobs pledged to be a high-profile school board chair, publicly promoting and fighting for more support for public education from the Florida Legislature.

“I expect to raise the profile of Orange County public schools. That’s the one other thing I bring,” she said.

After criticizing the Florida Legislature for “providing peanuts” to support school hardening and other mandates, she said “I think we need a strong, loud voice in a leadership role.”

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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