A lifetime advocate
The daughter of Irish immigrants, Colleen grew up bouncing from New York to Florida and even spent time in the civil unrest of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the ’70s. An advocate was born in those early days as she saw first hand how her catholic family members were denied basic opportunities in relation to decent housing, education, and jobs, not to mention the human rights atrocities witnessed.
Colleen was not the most successful student in school. She had a constant curiosity and desire to learn but challenged with an undiagnosed learning disability. Her learning disability and constant moving between New York and Florida made it almost impossible to keep up. If it were not for the dedication of a few inspiring teachers who went above and beyond to help her see and recognize her potential, she is sure she would never have continued her education. She thrived in college, fully engaged on campus, founding a campus chapter of Amnesty International. She was active in theater, Covenant House of NYC/homelessness advocacy, and was named one of the top 10 Women on the Move. Upon graduation, she was selected among 200 plus applicants to participate in the Lyndon B. Johnson Congressional Internship program and headed off to DC. This was the summer after the Tiananmen Square uprising in China. She was appointed to the Education, Council on Human Rights and International Affairs committees. After graduation, she was offered a job as a Congressional Aid in DC and a 1st-grade teacher in the South Bronx on the same day. She recalled the numerous people making policy decisions in DC who never had “real life” experience but were creating policies for them to live by. She thought, ‘I gotta teach’ and off to the South Bronx she went. DC would have to wait for another day. She hoped to save the world or at least a little slice of the South Bronx and Washington Heights. She taught for almost a decade and was named a finalist for Teacher of the Year.
During her time in Washington Heights and the South Bronx, her advocacy continued. She fell madly in love with her students and families and vowed to fight on their behalf, demanding equal opportunities for her students. She dared to speak out against the union and publicly demanded that they fight on behalf of her kids. Being outspoken, she was asked to participate on a committee charged with addressing the issue of teacher retention. Working two jobs, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Educational and Administration Supervision from City College in Harlem and had dreams of being NYC youngest principal. Sidetracked by life, she moved back home to Florida to be close to her aging parents (like right next door close). Her in-laws would move in on the other side eight years later. She is a living example of the sandwich generation! Yearning for the classroom, she went back to teach in her old elementary school (Bunnell Elementary), and poverty took on a new face. She was disappointed by conditions, curriculum, opportunities, and salaries and decided to run for school board just after having her second son. With a toddler in backpack and infant in a stroller, she won a seat on the Flagler County School Board and every reelection since 2000. Diagnosed as an adult with two significant learning disabilities, she was determined to obtain her doctoral degree. After eight years of hard work, she finished and earned an Education Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Brain-based Learning.
Colleen has transitioned from teaching in a k-12 environment to aspiring new teachers at Daytona State College, leading their Educator Prep Institute. She spent time as the Chief Operations Officer for a statewide nonprofit introducing students to future career possibilities and tapping into their full potential. She is currently a member of the leadership team at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where she is the Executive Director of the Gaetz Aerospace Institute (GAI), a Dual Enrollment/Outreach program introducing students to a wide variety of careers within the aviation and aerospace industry.
Colleen knows what it is like in the trenches. She has executive-level leadership experience leading statewide and national education programs with cumulative budgets totaling well over $20 million and reaching over 35,000 students.
Colleen has not hidden her passion for exceptional students, accessible mental health services, increasing graduation rates, connecting to the workforce industry, and ensuring safe school environments. She truly believes, by working together, we can realize our District’s vision of becoming the nation’s premier learning organization. She recognizes that it will require courageous and innovative leaders. Colleen understands that working together will ensure that ALL students graduate as socially responsible citizens with the skills necessary to reach their maximum potential.
She is proud of the District’s “A” rating and recognizes the hard work and dedication of the educators, students, parents, and staff who made it happen. She is honored to serve the Flagler County community for the last 20 years. If you know her, you know she is an independent thinker, known to upset the apple cart at times. She approaches each decision with the same question in mind – Is it good for kids?
She has been married to her high school crush, Chris, for the last 23 years and loves spending time being a surf mom and traveling with her sons, Patrick and Ryan.