Wakulla native, teacher at Wakulla High School, seeks change

Matt Payne is running for Superintendent of Schools.

The Wakulla Sun offers candidates the opportunity to announce their candidacy, and tell voters the issues that are important to them.


I am Matt Payne, candidate for Superintendent of Wakulla County Schools. As a Wakulla native and graduate, our school system holds a special place in my heart. I grew up roaming the hallowed halls of our schools and district office. Now as a teacher, I see areas of potential improvement for our school system. I was raised that you have two options when you see the opportunity for change. Option 1: Do nothing and accept the status quo. Option 2: Fight for and be the change you seek.
My educational journey began at Shadeville & Crawfordville Elementary Schools, followed by Wakulla Middle and Wakulla High, where I graduated in 2016. Pursuing higher education, I attended Florida State University, earning my bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Hospitality & Management in 2020, and later completing my Master of Public Administration in 2022.
Since 2021, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at my alma mater, Wakulla High.
Education runs deep in my family – my grandmother, affectionately known as Meme or Mrs. Crum, dedicated 41 years to the school system, serving as a teacher at Shadeville Elementary for 22 years and 13 years as the Assistant Principal, before returning post-retirement to be a school bus driver for 6 years. Her husband, affectionately known as Paw, contributed many years in the maintenance department, even volunteering his time after retirement to work on lawn mowers, build playground equipment, and assist with a multitude of other school initiatives. I was his shadow, spending my formative years learning invaluable lessons by his side and spending many summer days helping improve our schools.
Additionally, my mom played a vital role in supporting education, working various jobs at the district office and COAST Charter school while I was growing up. When I say I grew up at the schools, it’s not just a phrase – it’s my reality. My aspirations to continue making Wakulla County the best place to call home and raise a family has been molded by the unwavering dedication of my family to the field of education. This deep-rooted connection fuels my passion to ensure that every student in our district receives the support, guidance, and opportunities they need to be successful.
Prior to becoming an educator, I worked for the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature, and various other side jobs. My dad, a skilled tile setter, instilled in me the essence of hard work and taught me many trades. I bring a wealth of experience to the table, and while I don’t claim to have all the answers, I refuse to stop learning and growing, as a person and educator. As your Superintendent of Schools, I promise to bring unwavering dedication, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to overcoming obstacles, guaranteeing a brighter future for our district.
Amid recent questions about my age and administrative experience, I provide a transparent and honest answer. I started teaching at 22 and have since gained valuable experience managing diverse classrooms, overseeing tasks, and fostering student engagement while upholding educational standards. This hands-on experience directly applies to the role of Superintendent, where I will prioritize strong leadership and accountability. I am committed to upholding the utmost standards, refusing to settle for mediocrity and always striving for excellence.
As an educator, I’ve come to learn that continuously seeking knowledge is essential.
When we stop learning, we close ourselves off to fresh perspectives and become set in our ways. My decision to bypass the administrative route stems from a desire to confront a system in dire need of repair. My hope is to examine a system that is deeply broken, identify every flaw, and work tirelessly to fix them. Our current system is trapped in routine, keeping us stuck in a cycle of repetition with the belief that “this is the way it’s always been done.” Upon taking the oath of office, I am steadfast in my commitment to delivering the crucial change this county rightfully deserves.
After listening to parents, students, and community members, we can all agree that many of our issues are traced back to the employee shortage. My plan to address this involves cutting wasteful spending and redirecting those funds towards increasing salaries and benefits. Teachers, bus drivers, and paraprofessionals are leaving our district because their wages, after insurance costs are factored in, are inadequate, leading to a shortage of supervision. Consequently, we see an increase in discipline issues among these students, coupled with an increasing number of instances where students are found unsupervised.
The teacher shortage is a national issue with local solutions. The obvious and most direct approach is to raise teachers’ salaries to the state mandated $47,500 while simultaneously lowering their health insurance costs. From my own experience, I’ve witnessed teachers leaving due to one or both of these factors. Another practical solution, already successfully applied elsewhere, involves growing our own teachers. I will pilot a program to promote our paraprofessionals into certified classroom teaching roles. It’s important that we create an atmosphere of growth for all – teachers, staff, and students alike.
Another chief complaint voiced by our community relates to transparency and communication – or rather, the lack thereof – from the school district. I am committed to promoting clear and effective communication in every aspect. Maintaining open communication with our community is essential, as it’s paramount that, as yourSuperintendent, I accurately represent the community’s vision of a successful education system. If I fail in this regard, I’m not fulfilling my duty and it’s imperative that I am promptly informed of any such lapses. Likewise, it is imperative to our success that the Superintendent maintain an open and effective relationship with the School Board. I am committed to setting aside all personal biases, and I will ensure that school board members do the same, thereby ensuring that our actions are always in the best interest of our children.
I believe in making the right decisions for the right reasons. This includes encouraging public discussions and promoting community forums where we can collaboratively brainstorm the most effective path forward. This is not my school district, it is ours. I will never refuse to hear someone’s idea nor will I ever reject someone’s idea because they are not my own. We have to work together to be successful. Excluding public input or inquiries regarding our intentions and justifications means we’re neglecting the people who entrusted us with their votes. I promise to make decisions and provide rationales in the sunshine, the way public servants are supposed to.
Financial transparency will always be a priority. You deserve to know what is being bought with your tax dollars. I pledge to craft and deliver a well-rounded budget to the board, aiming to curtail unnecessary expenses while ensuring the community receives clear, accessible financial records detailing every expenditure and saving. Irresponsible spending thrives in the absence of accountability and I commit to full financial transparency.
It is our goal to ensure our students graduate high schools and become productive members of society. That’s why I am committed to promoting a variety of pathways, including trades schools, college, the workforce, and military avenues to equip them with the diverse skills and opportunities needed to thrive in their chosen paths. By offering a range of personalized pathways tailored to individual strengths and aspirations, we can empower each student to pursue their passions and make impactfulcontributions to their communities and beyond.
As a teacher, I’ve come to understand the importance of actively listening to my students to ensure my effectiveness as an educator. As your superintendent, I’ll apply the same principle, always addressing your concerns and ensuring that you are heard. While I cannot guarantee to always say what you want to hear, I do promise to always give an honest answer.
In closing, I want to express my deep commitment to the students, parents, teachers, and community members of Wakulla County. As a native son of this district, education isn’t just a profession for me – it’s a calling deeply ingrained in my roots and upbringing.
I’ve walked the same hallways, sat in the very classroom I teach in, and learned from the same dedicated educators who shaped my life. Now, as a teacher and candidate for Superintendent of Wakulla County Schools, I stand ready to lead with integrity, passion, and a relentless drive for positive change.
But I can’t do this alone. I need your support, your trust, and your vote in the upcoming primary election on August 20th. Together, we will fight for a brighter future for Wakulla County Schools – one where every student can thrive, where every teacher is valued, and where our community comes together to shape the leaders of tomorrow.
God Bless, Matt.