Two former teachers joined the Broward County School Board Tuesday.
Debbi Hixon and Sarah Leonardi were sworn in as the newest members of the board, with one issue, the Covid-19 pandemic, sure to take up most of their time in the coming months.
“100% I think, obviously keeping our employees and our students safe, the families of the employees safe and also trying to remediate and address any kind of academic slide that’s gonna happen,” said Leonardi, who most recently was teaching English at Coconut Creek High School.
Leonardi said her experiences as a teacher convinced her to become an agent of change.
“You know, walking into portables that were infested with mold, watching students wait months for mental health services and watching teachers feel pretty demoralized about their work, so those are some perspectives that I want to bring,” Leonardi said.
Hixon is a 32-year veteran teacher and counselor in Broward County Public Schools. She left her job as magnet coordinator at South Broward High School to run for the school board seat she won.
Hixon joins Lori Alhadeff as the second victim of the Parkland massacre to sit on the board. Her husband Chris Hixon, who was the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, died rushing into the building to confront the shooter.
“I refused to let that tragedy define me, instead I used it to empower me, to make changes to make our community safer,” Hixon said.
Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the rampage.
“She’ll have an extreme impact on the school board and I know school safety will be a priority like mine is,” Alhadeff said, expecting a sharp focus on security issues.
Hixon was near tears as she reflected on her journey over the past two years.
“We’re broken, but you have to learn to move forward, past that, to make positive changes so that other people don’t get broken like you are,” Hixon said.
Asked about the district’s commitment to safety and security at schools, superintendent Robert Runcie said its investments in making campuses as safe as possible are second to none.
“Over the last two years we’ve added over 1,200 additional security staff across the district, put single point of entry in, we’ve put in new camera systems, we’ve created new strategic agreements with law enforcement,” Runcie said.
He also pointed out what he called the significant improvements in delivering mental health services to students.
That’s a priority for Hixon and Alhadeff, who believe reaching troubled students early, before they commit violent acts, is a way to prevent school shootings.