Jessica Vaughn, a Tampa Palms resident who grew up attending Hillsborough County schools and now teaches in them, filed to run for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County School Board currently held by April Griffin.
The 39-year-old Tampa native says she thought about entering the District 7 countywide primary last summer, but realized it was too late in the process to make an impact. Her declaration for ’18 comes a full year and a half before Hillsborough voters will go the polls.
“I’m a certified teacher, and I’ve actually been subbing for the last couple of years because my son is in pre-school, so I’ve experienced what it’s like to being in the classroom as a certified teacher,” she says. “And as a substitute teacher I’ve seen all the types of special classes, and I hear a lot of conversations from the break room from frustrated teachers.”
Vaughn does have electoral experience, having won a spot on the Tampa Palms Community Development District last November, where she says she’s learned to work with others while managing a million dollar budget.
A graduate of Gaither High School in Tampa, she earned her degree in Elementary Education from USF in 2010 and began teaching in Hillsborough County schools immediately afterwards, mostly in Title 1 and Renaissance schools. After taking time off in 2013 for her pregnancy, she’s returned to teaching as a substitute.
Vaughn says that having attended a lot of school board meetings, she feels there’s a “disconnect” between the public concerns and the board’s agenda.
Regarding the board’s budget crisis, she says from afar it’s difficult to understand where that began, noting the criticisms of a lack of transparency on the part of former superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
“This is not an attack on anyone, but when there are classrooms that don’t have air conditioning, and there are school bus routes being cut and parents are being inconvenienced by having to take their kids to school, it just seems to me that an almost half a million dollar renovation on the school board offices might have been something that may be looked at again to see if that’s a priority, ” she says, also questioning the hiring of of Gibson Consulting Group, which is being paid $818,000 to help get the board’s finances under control.
“It just seems to me, that money could have been managed a little bit better,” she says.
Vaughn is politically active, having attended last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate for Bernie Sanders. Like the Vermont independent senator, she she says she wants to run a grassroots campaign and get in touch with as many people as possible.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to meet and talk witih people, and really listen to what their concerns are, not only just listen but hopefully be able to elicit some solutions as well,” she says.”I feel like a lot of people are really disconnected and they really don’t understand what a school board does and how it affects their children’s education.”
Vaughn is the third candidate to file for the District 6 seat, following William Person and Randy Toler, who have both been unsuccessful in previous bids for the board.
And then there is Griffin, perhaps the best known member of the board, now in her third term in office.
Griffin was one of the four members of the board who voted to oust Elia in 2015, a move that offended much of the Tampa/Hillsborough political and business establishment. Yet despite the warnings that the Elia affair would hurt those board members, two of the four board members who voted to oust Elia – Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes – won reelection in 2016
“I told Jessica it was my intention to run,” Griffin told SPB on Wednesday night. “She had decided to run against an incumbent.”
Vaughn acknowledges that running countywide won’t be easy.
“I have full confidence that we would run a really good campaign, but even if we just help shape the narrative and the discussion of what should be imporrant when we’re talking about eduction and somehow shift it away from the drama that seems to follow political campaigns, and stay focused on what people want…I’ll feel successful,” she says.