What was shaping up to be the tightest race for a Leon County School Board seat this year is getting more crowded.
Patty Ball Thomas brings nearly three decades of experience as an educator to the table as she has filed to run for school board District 1, where she has lived for just as long. Thomas will be up against incumbent Alva Striplin and a current district administrator Ricky Bell, both former teachers who filed to run last year.
Thomas got her start working in the public school system, in Duval County, Okeechobee County and Leon County as a teacher and reading coach. In Leon, she worked at Oak Ridge Elementary and taught adult education classes at night at Nims. Following that she oversaw early intervention and school readiness for the Department of Education, where she helped implement Florida’s First Start program.
“We worked with parents of young children creating learning environments in the home, and also opening up parental centers in our public schools,” Thomas said.
Thomas has kept early childhood learning as one of her passions, and currently is an assistant professor at Florida A&M University’s College of Education in its early childhood department. She sees a potential move to the school board as a means of getting policy to work the way it should – to serve the students.
"I see the school board as a conduit for ensuring that Florida school laws are implemented correctly in our schools,” Thomas said.
For that, Thomas draws on her experience at the state level.
“The legislation affects the day to day policy at the school level, so I see school board members ensuring that the services that are designated through legislation is actually implemented in the schools,” Thomas said.
Right now, two issues are at the center of Thomas’ candidacy: School safety and expanding Florida’s pre-K programs. As Florida has the eyes of the nation with its talks about the possibility of arming teachers, Thomas makes her stance clear.
“The policy that governs whether or not teachers are going to be armed. I really don’t think educators, I’m against that, first of all, let me make that clear,” Thomas said. “I think that teachers are there to teach.”
Thomas said she does, however, support school resource officer programs like the one Leon County has in place.
“I do agree with a resource person being in the school to ensure safety. I think there are other mechanisms we can put in place, other than having people armed in the schools,” Thomas said.
Her other issue of focus will be to try to secure early childhood funding at the federal level through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program.
“We have an opportunity for additional funds to come to Leon County Schools if we consider embracing head start and becoming the funding agent for head start,” Thomas said. “Which means that would extend and it would enhance our VPK program.”
Though the elected seat is non-partisan, Thomas is very active locally with the Democratic Party. She is serving as president of the Capital City Women’s Democratic club and volunteers with a number of other organizations.