O-Town Interview: Karen Castor Dentel

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Last fall, Downtown residents elected a new school-board member for District 6: Karen Castor Dentel. She replaces Nancy Robbinson, who ran for school board president. Castor Dentel taught school in both Orange and Alachua Counties, according to the Orange County Public School (OCPS) website. She also served in the Florida Legislature where she pushed for full funding of public education.

Following her tenure in the legislature, Dr. Castor Dentel became the director of community school development for the Children’s Home Society of Florida. Her two children attended Dommerich Elementary and Maitland Middle School; one currently attends Winter Park High School, and the other is at Florida Virtual School.

What are your goals for OCPS, as the representative for Orlando’s downtown neighborhoods?

Thanks to the citizens of Orange County, we had the funding to invest in new school buildings for Hillcrest Elementary and Lake Como K-8. My goal is to support the schools’ unique programs and elevate their reputations throughout the county.

Students who attend Hillcrest Elementary Foreign Language Academy begin learning either Spanish or French starting in kindergarten. Students at Howard Middle School Academy of Arts are exposed to a plethora of performing and visual arts during class and at afterschool clubs. And Lake Como K-8 School not only allows students to stay with their elementary friends through middle school in a more intimate setting, but students can take aerospace/engineering technology in addition to Spanish and the performing arts.

How do you plan to improve walkability for children to our downtown schools?

Although Hillcrest Elementary and Howard Middle Schools are magnet schools, which draw students from across Orange County, the students who live in the schools’ former attendance zones receive a “preference” with a portion of the seats set aside. While not a guarantee that a child living in the neighborhood will get to enroll, the chances of students from the surrounding streets increase.

Students who live near the schools will soon benefit from Orlando’s plan to reduce Robinson Street from four lanes to two, which will slow traffic in front of Howard Middle and make it more walkable for everyone.

Do you support busing of students from around the county to the magnet schools (Howard and Hillcrest) as a way to help alleviate traffic?

Downtown traffic will be a concern during arrival and dismissal times for these schools, and, while busing could help to alleviate many of the cars, it is an impractical and costly solution for schools with a countywide zone. School start times are likely to change in the near future, and the traffic flow will need to be reexamined at that time as well.

How do you see your experience in the State Legislature helping OCPS?

As a state representative, I worked on broader policy issues, such as graduation requirements, the over-reliance of standardized testing and the never-ending funding tug-of-war. When I combine that with my 15 years of teaching, I tend to approach the spending and allocation of limited resources with a more watchful eye. The Florida Legislature consistently underfunds our traditional-neighborhood public schools by diverting funds to unaccountable charters and private-school vouchers, which makes our fiscal responsibility at the local level even more critical.

What else would you like the residents and businesses of Downtown to know about your plans as our school-board representative?

One of my priorities is to better support our teachers so we can both attract and retain great faculty. In an effort to help solve the perennial teacher shortage, OCPS recently implemented the Future Teacher Magnet at Edgewater High School where students engage with course material from a totally different perspective of how to help others to learn. These students will enter college with a head start and a firm grasp of the art and science of teaching, and I encourage more students to apply and come back to work in OCPS.

The seven school-board representatives serve for terms of four years. District 6 represents all of Downtown Orlando, College Park, Eatonville, Maitland, the western park of Winter Park, Lake Fairview and Rosemont.

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