August 2, 2019
By: Staff Writer
Davenport - This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Debra Fernandez-Martinez, Ed.S from Horizons Elementary School and this is what she shared with us:
NEPG : What's your position at the school?
Debra : I am the Dean of students at Horizons Elementary School, in Davenport, Fl.
NEPG : What are your main responsibilities?
Debra : I am responsible for processing referrals, expulsions and supervising buses. I have also implemented a Restorative Practices program at the school. This initiative encourages kids to take responsibility for their actions. Restorative discipline empowers students by helping them to learn from their mistakes in a school environment that is caring and responsive. Restorative discipline focuses on relationships and community, rather than on punishment (often isolation) for breaking rules. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm, and restore relationships. Conflict resolution provides students with problem-solving and self-control skills. My goal is to teach young people how to manage potential conflict, diffuse situations, assuage hurt feelings and reduce any inclination to retaliate after a conflict.
NEPG : How do you manage the different personalities among your students to make an impact on their lives?
Debra : To manage the different personalities, I encourage teachers and school staff to mentor students. These students oftentimes can make a personal connection with the mentor that assists in ensuring the success of that student.
NEPG : Tell me a story about a time in which your leadership approach made an impact on a kid's life.
Debra : I began mentoring multiple siblings that came to our school after losing both of their parents. They came to us with behavior problems. The youngest was a runner, he would run out of his classroom, lunchroom etc. The middle and oldest were ready to curse out and fight anyone including adults in authority. I realized that conventional discipline was not going to work with these students, such as time-out or detention. Instead, we began to meet with them individually, paired them up with a mentor and, in some cases, more than one. I encouraged several teachers to assist me in trying to ‘reach’ these boys. Make them care about their education. I modified their schedules, allowing them to spend time in another classroom helping younger students. During their lunch, I would meet with them. I allowed them to have lunch with me and assist me with other students. When they did break the rules, I held them accountable for their actions and we discussed the infraction and the reason it occurred, then we came up with a solution or consequence that fit the infraction. This way, they took responsibility for their actions. Two of the three boys are doing very well in school. One of them has moved on to middle school. The two boys have become model students and now have very good grades.
NEPG : Tell me a little bit about your family and how you manage your professional and personal lives without allowing one to affect the other?
Debra : I began teaching in 1998 in New York City. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Special Studies (with a major in English Education). I later moved with my family to Broward County, FL. I continued teaching elementary school then middle school. I earned my master’s from Nova Southeastern University in ESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) in 2006. I later earned a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in 2016. I am married and a mother to a 17-year-old female High School Athlete. I have always balanced career and motherhood simultaneously.
NEPG : What are your plans for the next school year as a leader in your school/community?
Debra : Next school year, I plan to continue working closely with students and their mentors. I am currently working on formalizing a mentoring program at Horizons Elementary. I also plan to expand the program to include inviting parents and community members to take part in workshops throughout the school year that will enrich the experience for our students.
NEPG : What message would you like to share with your students to help them achieve their goals?
Debra : I would like for my students to have confidence and believe that a setback can be a set up for a comeback. My goal is for students to become successful not just in school but in society and make positive contributions to the community in which they live.