With most of Polk County’s election results in hand, it appeared late Tuesday that veteran Polk School Board Member Hazel Sellers would retain her District 3 seat on the School Board. Sellers had bested opponent Randy Wilkinson by some 7,000 votes with all but nine precincts reporting. Sellers garnered 56 percent of the vote against Wilkinson’s 43 percent.
“I am so excited to be able to continue to do the work of the School Board,” Sellers said. “It’s what I love doing and am ready to work hard again.”
Sellers ran on her long-standing record and will be entering her fourth term in office in November when those elected will be officially seated.
Wilkinson ran on a “change and more accountability” platform, earned some 22,772 votes in 159 of Polk’s 167 precincts while Sellers tally was 29.375.
Wilkinson said late Tuesday he extended Sellers “my best congratulations and hope she’ll work as hard as she campaigned. I have kids in the schools and I want them to get the best we can give them.”
The former school board member and county commissioner also said he “is relieved” the election is over, maintaining “I don’t have the stamina I once had and am tired.” Wilkinson also said this could be his political swan song. “I don’t think I have the drive anymore,” he added. He also extended his thanks to his supporters and to “all the great people in Polk County I’ve met in the last few months.
Sellers has held the slot on the school board for District 3 for more than a dozen years, but that experience hadn’t jaded her approach to helping secure the best education possible for the county’s children. “We need to see that every child can learn at his or her own rate and that we provide them all the tools they need to succeed in the future whether they go to college or right into the work force,” she says.
Throughout her campaign, Sellers has been supportive of the Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy, who has promised to lead the county to higher school grades, but this past year’s marks were not what the board had hoped for.
“We saw some schools improve and some not, but the state keeps changing the rules,” she said. “But, we are seeing students more engaged in the learning process and what strides are being made are meaningful.”
Sellers said she intends to keep the board focused on its spending, and continuing to support changes that are cost-neutral. “None of the changes made under Superintendent Kathryn Leroy have cost the taxpayer any more.”
Campaigning on her record and more community involvement, especially in the district’s career academies, Sellers says she wants the district curricula to be “rigorous so our children are competitive when they graduate and go into the work force or on to college. But we have to know by what standards we and they are to be judged and we’re not getting a clear picture. We hope the new standards being developed now will give us that picture. Then, we’ll really know how our kids and teachers are really progressing.”
Sellers also readily discussed the board’s fiscal issues.
“We have to be fiscally responsible and I’m certainly trying to be. We won’t wildly spend money and we’re aware that Polk County is not a wealthy district. We have to let people know that we are transparent and show them the facts and figures that give them a clear picture of why we are where we are.
“People need to know what we’re doing for their children, and realize that we’re all working for them.
“I work hard and I do what I say I’m going to do. I’m honest, I have integrity and I’m always reachable. I represent the people of Polk County and I want us to have the best school system in the state that can be a model for others.”
Sellers started her education career shortly after she graduated from Florida State University in 1972 as a reading and elementary education teacher, followed that by several other posts which led her to the district office where she served as reading coach. She also has a double master’s degree from the University of South Florida in both reading instruction and educational leadership.
Sellers, 62, was widowed four years ago, and when not at her school board office, she is active in the Bartow Rotary Club, the Zonta Club; is an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, sits on the board of the Guardian Ad Litem program, works with the anti-drug Interact Alliance and is a trustee of the Florida Educator’s Trust Fund.
She also has three children and 10 grandchildren.