Q&A: Brevard Public Schools Board Member Matt Susin Talks About Remote Learning, Student Meals
By Space Coast Daily // April 25, 2020
Susin has been a BPS Board member since 2016, is a former teacher
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Space Coast Daily sat down with District 4 Brevard Public Schools Board Member Matt Susin to discuss the BPS COVID-19 response and the challenges of remote learning and distributing free student meals.
The district is among the top 10-largest in the state and serves more than 75,000 students.
Susin has been a BPS Board member since 2016, is a former teacher, and currently works as a businessman who coordinates with public service groups.
He is also a member of the Economic Development Council and a board member of the Space Coast Tech Council.
Susin is a graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science dual major degree in political science and history.
He has been honored as a Central Florida Humanitarian of the Year, Public Servant of the Year by the Space Coast Economic Development Council and was School Board Member of the Year in 2018.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: In your view, what is the state of the union of the Brevard Public Schools at this juncture and do you feel confident about getting our students the learning they need during this Corona Virus crisis. How is that being done, what gaps are there if any and what is currently being done to improve.
■ MATT SUSIN: There is no substitute for BPS students attending our schools. We stand out in the state for the quality of instruction and incredible environments being provided to our students, and that is very difficult to achieve under a “crisis schooling” model. Like always, our teachers, administrators, and support staff have stepped up to the challenge and are providing the very best that we can offer under the circumstances. We are feeding over 200,000 meals a week, we have distributed 15,000 computers, and 2,500 hot spots to our most economically vulnerable students, we have found a way to not furlough and keep our workers paid during this process. Our district leaders have done a great job of creating programs and guidelines to follow under these unprecedented times, and continue to make adjustments as the needs arise. I feel confident that we are providing the best model for the conditions our families are facing.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: You have served on the board for a number of years and have been involved and influential in forming a great amount of policy for BPS. What are the accomplishments that you are must proud of during your service and why?
■ MATT SUSIN: I have honorably served Brevard public schools by wearing many different hats for over 13 years. As a School Board member for the past 3 years I have been lucky to be a part of creating the largest jobs program in the United States, added a Welding program at Astronaut High, a Construction program at Cocoa High (District now has 5 total), an Aviation Program at Eau Gallie High, and a Manufacturing Center at Bayside High.
My greatest accomplishment involved the safety and welfare of our students by creating a partnership with Who We Play For and BPS to screen our athletes for heart conditions. We have screened over 8,000 athletes and 18 lives were saved in the first year the mandatory screening has been implemented. It brings me great peace to know that I played even a tiny role in keeping one less parent from experiencing the loss of a child in this county.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What are the most challenging aspects of serving on the BPS school board during this crisis?
■ MATT SUSIN: The safety and mental health of all who make up our BPS family and the challenges those aspects present are what our district is facing regularly during this crisis.
Payroll and insurance to our employees, distribution food sites for our students, and an education system where our students gain and do not slide academically are our biggest challenges that we are successfully navigating. If it wasn’t for our amazing team and their dedication we would be at a different venture at this point.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: When our students return to their actual schools, how safe will our schools be and what major changes will be made after the virus and school shooting in south Florida to make our schools safer.
■ MATT SUSIN: First and foremost, our school district under the direction of Facilities deputy superintendent Sue Hann have done an amazing job disinfecting and closing up the schools, in preparation for a fast return. In regard to security, we had committed to having a SRO in every school, single-point entry, and an increase in social workers prior to the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Since then we have added up to thirty-five security specialists, increased the number of cameras, and put in many social-emotional programs bolstering our already fortified system. Although we always have room for improvement through the direction of our Superintendent Mark Mullins and Sheriff Wayne Ivey, we feel confident that what we offer our students is the best that is offered in the state.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What did you personally learn during the BPS/teacher negotiation process? What would you do differently when and if that situation arises in the future?
■ MATT SUSIN: I am a numbers guy, and I am elected by the people to serve; no offense to the district employees who work tirelessly in their roles to provide guidance to our schools, but I feel that it is my job to dissect and challenge information placed in front of me, even when it is uncomfortable.
I learned to be relentless in the search for funding to pay our people, and I will continue to keep this approach while the people place their trust in me to do so. I would try to get both side to work collaboratively prior to each side calling in the lawyers.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: Do you have concerns about the capital facilities of Brevard Pubic Schools? What are the priorities In terms of facilities for our students?
■ MATT SUSIN: Many of our schools were built during the expansion of our space program over a half-century ago. We are critically in need of facility infrastructure improvements to take 1950’s building styles and codes up to the 21st century.
Security initiatives, computer/IT upgrades, and increased environmental regulation, create challenges to an older existing infrastructure are just some of the challenges whose costs are greater because of the age of the facility.
To ensure we don’t cut corners in regard to the safety of our children we have to cut funding to athletic facilities and non-essential areas. The safety of our children and the environment that they learn in will always be my first priorities in regard to our capital facilities at BPS.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your goals for specific projects or initiatives in 2020-21 for BPS?
■ MATT SUSIN: I would like to see a stronger collaborative bond between our school system and the business community in regards to activities, and the job pipeline. For example ensuring that all the Aviation Companies sit on the Industry Board of our Eau Gallie Aviation Program giving our students internships, jobs, and first-hand accounts of the field they are being trained in.
Same goes for our Construction, manufacturing, coding, and many other programs in our school system. This same model can also enhance our drama programs, speech and debate teams, and many other activities in our schools. We have created strong trades/activity programs and now we need to collaborate with the business community to enhance the overall resources and opportunities available to our students.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What would people find surprising about serving on the BPS board?
■ MATT SUSIN: The BPS budget is a billion dollars- that is a lot of responsibility. Yet, the school board members do not have offices, and share one administrative assistant who reports to the superintendent.
Also, the garbage cans at the school board building are colored differently so you know where you are- the building is a maze, and even board members get lost from time to time.
■ SPACE COAST DAILY: You are widely recognized as a man who creates ideas and gets things done for BPS. What motivates you to serve on the BPS board and what are your plans for the future?
■ MATT SUSIN: I started my journey with BPS as a classroom teacher, and my heart for students remained, even when I ventured into the private sector. Who we are as a society is both created by, and shown through the education we provide for our future citizens.
Classroom teachers have the same tenacity to recognize an issue, see a solution, and persevere to see it to completion. I’m just honored enough to get to do it on a district level. I take my role as a public servant very seriously and feel that my constituents are best served by my service to the school district. Not to mention, I’m personally vested in BPS, as I’ll soon have five of my own children who are, or will be BPS students.
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