Leanetta McNealy has seen firsthand the lack of equity in Alachua County Public Schools, from her years teaching and as a principal to her two terms on the county School Board.
She has been a strong, consistent voice in calling for measures to close a racial achievement gap that is the largest in the state. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing and the disrupted learning it has caused, the district will need to double down on those measures to prevent that gap from widening further.
McNealy is running in the Aug. 18 election for another term in the School Board's District 4 seat. She faces Sande Calkins, a former director of the Alachua County Education Association teachers’ union who served as a Gainesville city commissioner from 1996 to 1999.
The election comes as the pandemic has delayed the reopening of schools until Aug. 24 and led the district to offer two online learning options along with in-person classes. McNealy has pushed the district to do more to protect the safety of students and teachers, and was the board’s lone member to vote against the reopening plan.
She has long been a dissenting voice on the board as other members seem too content with the status quo. That changed when Tina Certain was elected to the board in 2018, with both working to hold district officials responsible for ensuring all students have the opportunity for success no matter their race or where they live in the district.
That dynamic was on display during the board’s May 5 decision to spend $3.68 million from a voter-approved initiative to buy land for a new school in west Gainesville, despite concerns over the cost, oversight process and timing. McNealy and Certain rightly called for tabling the decision based on those concerns, but were unfortunately overruled by the board’s other three members.
McNealy should be returned to the board to keep providing such oversight. The Sun endorses her reelection bid, so she can continue such work as well as hold district officials responsible for following through on commitments made in an equity plan passed in 2018.
McNealy has worked with The Sun-sponsored Gainesville For All initiative, which pushed for an equity plan before the board passed it. The plan rightly launched new efforts to address shameful disparities in the district such as a more than 40-point gap in the reading test scores of Black and white third graders.
As other board members have made excuses and acted like enough is being done, McNealy has rightly pushed for a greater sense of urgency in making changes. She demanded action at a joint meeting with the Gainesville City Commission that should have been the start of a collaboration in addressing these problems, but has been derailed by a debate over funding school resource officers.
McNealy needs community support to make these issues a higher priority and bring other local institutions on board to help address disparities in the district. Voters can start by supporting her in the upcoming election.