When Ron Martin announced his retirement, Sue Woltanski, a Tavernier resident, threw her hat in the ring. She ran unopposed and was essentially elected to office when the qualifying period ended on June 22. Consequently, few Keys residents know her story.
It’s a good one.
She is a public school advocate, retired pediatrician and mother of two public school children in the Florida Keys. She has served as a charter school board member and on multiple committees in the Monroe County School District. She is the founder of the grass roots effort Minimize Testing Maximize Learning. After writing hundreds of letters to legislators and editors, she created a blog — accountabaloney.com — she co-authors with another advocate.
Woltanski received her undergraduate degree from University of California-Santa Barbara, a master’s in exercise physiology from UC-Davis and her medical degree from the University of Michigan. And so while she doesn’t have a specific degree in education, she certainly has lots of it. And she comes from a family of educators and advocates stretching back for generations. Her father was the assistant superintendent of schools back in California, her maternal grandfather was a college professor, her paternal grandfather served on a school board and her paternal grandmother was a schoolteacher. Oh, and Woltanski’s husband — an emergency room doctor in Homestead — was raised by educators as well.
Keep reading …
Full name? Sue Woltanski.
You were raised by educators; what was the dinner table conversation like? Oh, sports. I’m one of four kids. We were all swimmers and my dad was a coach — hence the degrees in physiology. Both pharmacology and physiology is the study of the human body in action.
How did you come to the Keys? My father-in-law was sick from a lung infection in the 1940s. When they had exhausted all of the modern medicine available, they left Detroit for warmer weather. It was one of those winters when even Miami was cold, so they kept driving south to the Keys. They spent years vacationing here, and eventually they built a home. We have lived here full-time since 2008.
How did you come to love the Keys? [Laughing] Oh, I grew up envying the people on “Flipper” as probably everyone did in the ’60s. I remember telling someone I wanted to live in Florida when I was about 10 years old. In fact, when we moved to the Keys I wanted to install an old crank horn in the living room so I could tell guests that’s how I call my dolphin.
Do you have children? Yes, Allie, 15, is at Coral Shores High School and Zach, 12, is at Treasure Village Montessori.
Why run for office? I started attending school board meetings. After one presentation in 2015, I got a call from retired school board member Ron Martin. He and his wife, Brenda, planted the seed that I should seek office. I see a real threat to public education because of some very bad legislation. There’s a way to protect the Keys, but only if the school board and school district recognize the threat.
Are you against charter schools? Absolutely not; my son attends one. Charter schools are born out of a real community need or parents who prefer a certain style of education. What I’m against is the privatization of schools. What I’m against is a bill that went into affect on July 1, 2017, which allows out-of-state corporations to open charter schools in direct competition with low-scoring public schools, which mostly means poor schools. It’s really an out-of-state real estate business that we don’t own.
What are your thoughts on testing? The problem is that we use test scores in inappropriate ways — to decide whether a kid goes on to fourth grade, or to evaluate teachers. It has corrupted our whole system because the stakes are so high. Our school grades are based on test scores and we have all these hoops the district and teachers must jump through. But at the end of the day, all we’ve done is teach kids to jump through hoops. For students with special needs … they don’t benefit from that instruction. And for very bright kids who could have passed that test with no instruction, they are also being neglected.
What difference can the leaders and community make at a local level? We need more programs like the Keys’ “Project 127” which studies the drop out level and takes steps to address it. And we need to listen to the needs and desires of the community with free after-school programs and internships. Then we need to reward the schools that have met our goals which will include school grades — but that doesn’t have to be 90 percent of the measure, it can be more like 25 percent.
What is the most frivolous line item in the Monroe County School District budget? I don’t know if it qualifies as “frivolous” but it really bothers me that we spend money on tablets and computer programs for preschoolers and kindergartners. Young children do NOT need MORE screen time and learn best from human interaction.
Name the current, and last two, books you’ve read? I’m currently reading Jodi Picoult’s “Small Great Things.” Before that I read several travel books related to African safaris (hoping to go next summer) and “Girl on a Train.”
What is your nerdiest passion? I’m afraid all of my passions are nerdy. I love natural history museums.
If you could sit down to lunch with any person, dead or alive, who would you choose and why? Abraham Lincoln; maybe he could give me hope regarding our divided nation.
Which TV or movie character do you identify with? Linda Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.”
Are you related to Mike Wozowski? No, but my niece is a dead ringer for Boo.
Finish these sentences …
My autobiography would be titled … “The Education of a Warrior.”
The Keys are like … a theme park where the attractions are real.
I live by the motto … if you change nothing, then nothing will change.