Another face familiar to school district administration has thrown her hat into the ring in the 2020 race for Santa Rosa County school superintendent.
Dr. Karen Barber made her intentions official Jan. 6 by prefiling with the Supervisor of Elections office. Barber currently serves as director of federal programs for the district, and she is the third person to file for the job.
Barber said she is well-suited for the position.
“I feel very prepared to lead the district, and I’ve been getting some great feedback from around the county,” she said. “I want to be able to provide quality services to our kids, our families and our teachers.”
Barber has been working in education for 33 years and has worked in Santa Rosa for 23 years, holding a variety of positions from classroom teacher to principal. Prior to her current position, Barber served as principal at Chumuckla Elementary School. She has been an assistant principal for Holley-Navarre Middle School, East Milton Elementary School and Gulf Breeze Middle School.
She also served as administrator for the district’s Head Start prekindergarten program, and she has taught at Navarre High School as an adjunct professor for the University of West Florida.
Barber received her bachelor’s degree in special education from Indiana State University and her master’s degree in educational administration from Eastern Illinois University. She earned her doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in educational management from the University of West Florida in 2001.
Barber came to Santa Rosa County in 1997 after husband Michael was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base. The couple have four adult children and a grandchild, Joey, who lives in Navarre.
Barber said if elected, she plans to tackle several issues facing the district including the continued struggle of student population growth with schools across the district at or nearing capacity.
She said teacher recruitment and retention also must be top priorities. Barber said part of that solution is partnering with the local university to increase the number of students majoring in education and getting those young aspiring teachers into real classroom training situations to better prepare them for the profession.
“We need to be taking care of teachers and support personnel. They are our most important asset,” she said.
She said that also includes compensating that personnel fairly.
When it comes to accomplishing those goals, Barber said she has clearly demonstrated her ability to get things done for the district. In her current position she assisted with the launch of STEAM Innovate, a classroom curriculum initiative that has since been modeled across the world.
Barber also leveraged state funding to create the One Family, One Year, One Home program, a tenant-based financial assistance program to help students experiencing homelessness. The first of its kind in Florida, the program works to put families in a financially stable position within a year by providing housing assistance and resources.
Barber is also a founder of Santa Rosa Bridges Out of Poverty, a nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk and struggling families find pathways to financial stability and sustainability.
Already the 2020 election has provided a crowded field of candidates for many races.
Longtime Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick announced during his 2016 inaugural address that he would be retiring at the end of his four-year term.
Wyrosdick, who has worked in the Santa Rosa school district for decades, has held the superintendent position since 2008. With his planned departure in 2020, the district is left in need of a new leader for the public school system’s highest position.
Barber will be facing off against two other administrators with the district. David A. Gunter, who currently serves as compliance and labor relations director, filed back in August 2018. More recently, the district’s inservice and instructional technology director, Michael Alan Thorpe, filed in March 2019.
Unlike school board seats, superintendent is considered a partisan position, meaning the race will appear on the Aug. 18 primary ballot.