ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Florida Education Association’s (FEA) new president Fedrick Ingram hosted an education summit Saturday, May 18 at the Hilton Orlando located at 6001 Destination Parkway, just a few yards away from the Orange County Convention Center. The education summit, dubbed “Bringing Voices Together,” delivered on its title to the letter. Upwards of a thousand people from all over the state were in attendance. “It’s the longest table you can think of,” Ingram told FNN News in recent phone interview.
Ingram’s vision for revolutionizing the school system employs what he calls the three-legged stool of family, faith and education. As such, the Bringing Voices Together Education Summit offered a platform in which active and former educators, business leaders, retirees, civic and community organizations, school board members, pastors, and even students shared the same room and safe space in which to share, glean, and create ideas on how to revitalize and revolutionize Florida’s current public education system.
For Ingram, it’s Personal
The Miami native and public school product was the first in his family to go to college. He earned his degree in music education and was a professional musician before becoming a music band director for ten years.
His two outlets were basketball and marching band at Miami Jackson High School, which he recalled gave him “a safe haven and sense of belonging.”
Ingram’s children are also enrolled in public schools, and he wants to restore the fun and impactful experience he remembers from his student days. “From my school days, I can remember a couple of good friends, but I didn’t remember the test I took,” Ingram told FNN News in a recent phone interview. “These kids only know the test. They spend all twelve years talking about it. You can’t teach them to know how to fill in a circle and then expect them to think outside the box.”
The Staggering State of Florida Schools
Ingram shared some staggering statistics:
- Florida currently has 4,000 classrooms without certified teachers this year, a number projected to increase to 10,000
- Public college attendance is down 30%, with HBCU attendance down 60%
- Florida is 46th in the nation in teacher pay
Ingram is passionate and steadfast about creating solutions for the prevalent issues facing schools now, including shootings and the prospect of teachers carrying guns in schools. “Arming teachers is the worst decision I’ve ever seen in my professional career,” Ingram said, naming three reasons why:
- the potential for wrongful harm or death by the gun falling into the wrong hands
- the potential for teachers to wrongfully harm or target students of color under the pretext of “feeling threatened”
- the potential for students to now feel emboldened to bring guns to school since the teachers will now have them
“We should be talking about mental health, the tests and the lack of conversation teachers can have about it,” Ingram added. “Nothing good can come of [that].”
Ingram’s words of warning ring and ultimately sting with prescience given the incidents that took place the week following the summit. In Apopka, students vandalized Wekiva High School, causing $5,000 in damages. A few hours later, two students were arrested at Oak Ridge High School for vandalism resulting in $3,000 in damages. Then, at Westridge Middle School, two Orange County students sent text messages threatening to “shoot up” the school, resulting in law enforcement evacuating the school and entering with guns drawn. The two students were arrested on felony charges of written threats to kill.
Ingram also had choice words for Governor DeSantis’s School Choice program, which allows parents to choose schools outside of their school zone, which opens parents to more charter school options in addition to traditional public schools. “This is very intentional,” Ingram told Florida National News. “The governor is saying your community is not good enough.”
Ingram’s solution: instead of prodding people to abandon the underfunded and disadvantaged schools in their communities, simply provide the schools what they need to improve and succeed. “Simply fix the school in the neighborhood!”
There is Still Hope
Despite these challenges, Ingram is eternally optimistic. For him, the Bringing Voices Together Education Summit was all about reconnecting the voices of people who matter. “We’ve had bad laws before,” he shared. “But people always win.”
In addition to his three-prong approach of integrating family, faith and education; and his approach of focusing on fixing the struggling schools in the community instead of sending parents out of the community to charter schools that don’t have the same accountability as county public schools, Ingram proposes that prioritizing teachers are the key to flipping the current fate of public schools. “Make teachers not 46th but 4th. If we change public schools, we’ll be changing the nation. [Teachers] make magic every day. Literally.”
Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org