L-R, District 3 candidates Dr. Nicole Carr and Carl Zimmermann
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – As we draw nearer to the Aug. 28 Primary Elections, the NAACP St. Petersburg Branch and the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area teamed up to conduct a Pinellas County School Board candidate forum July 12 at Pinellas Technical College.
Questions were developed from the concerns of south St. Pete residents, and candidates were allowed one minute to reply and only a “yes” or “no” response was allowed in the lightning rounds.
Each candidate was allowed two wildcard answers, which was a chance to answer another district’s question. If no candidate wins majority 51 percent, the two candidates receiving the most votes will be in a runoff in the Nov. election.
In this week’s article, candidates from at-large Districts 2 and 3, responses are given. Peggy O’Shea, the incumbent in District 3, was absent.
L-R, District 2 candidates Lisa Cane, Terry Krassner and Jeff Larsen
District 2 Question
Given the state’s emphasis on high stakes testing, what specific action would you take to ensure all students in all schools have access to performing and visual arts courses?
Lisa Cane – Wants voters to know performing arts and arts in general are her specialty being a musical theater teacher. She believes the arts are vital to education and need to be part of the curriculum, not an extracurricular activity. She wants to see the turnaround arts program looked at by the county to be sure all schools are getting more arts into their education.
“Arts are proven to improve brain function in children, particularly at an elementary age. We need to not only up our curriculum standards in our arts programs that we currently have, but also introduce more arts programs.”
Terry Krassner – Wants voters to know Pinellas County has a referendum that supports the arts and that current music and arts programs are very strong in elementary. The incumbent feels everyone in the community wants a well-rounded, strong program for students.
“There’s always one particular area that a student is going to achieve higher and it might be in music or arts, so you want to make sure that it’s something we continue to keep around in programs in our schools.”
Jeff Larsen — Thinks too much focus is on high stakes testing and wants to switch the concentration of resources to support learning in all areas, not just reading and math. He feels state-mandated tests are necessary, but there are additional layers of testing that could be reduced or eliminated altogether.
“We want to make sure that some of the students in remedial reading classes have the opportunity to get classes in the arts, so they are enjoying their educational experience.”
District 3 Question
How will you ensure minority students a fair opportunity to enroll in advanced placement, international baccalaureate programs, science, technology, engineering and mathematic programs and dual enrollment courses?
Carl Zimmermann — Believes all students should have the same opportunity to enter advanced academic programs as long as they meet the qualifications of the program. He feels if a student has a strong interest in taking advanced placement courses, they should be able to try it.
“We sometimes keep people suppressed in a class that’s more of a basic class when they could thrive in more advanced classes.”
Dr. Nicole Carr — Wants to have interventions in place in primary and middle school so that students are ready for those advanced classes, and to be transparent in how students are selected using multiple criteria, not just teacher recommendations and or test scores alone.
District 2 Question
Do you believe that student violence is underreported by administrators since it could negatively affect their school’s grade? And if so, what would you do to address it?
Larsen – Believes many schools underreport violence and misbehavior and cites new teachers being encouraged to not document referrals as one of the reasons. He believes schools then boast behavior has improved because the number of referrals has gone down.
“In order to rectify this, there needs to be a shift in culture coming from the district level, to the administrators, to the teachers making it clear that it’s not only OK but expected that the teacher write a referral when there is some type of behavior.”
Krassner – Wants all misbehaviors addressed and recorded and thinks staff training in restorative practice is the answer so negative situations are worked out in the classroom before escalating to the next level.
Feels preventative measures such as mandating more social workers and mental health counselors in schools will lower behavior issues.
Wants students committing serious acts to be addressed with referrals and a follow through so that all students will be sent the right message that improper behavior on an advanced level will not be tolerated.
“If someone is being referred quite a bit, we can go to the next level and see what help we can get for that child.”
Cane — Believes violence is underreported and linked to a school’s grade as schools with low behavior issues attract highly involved families. Wants the restorative practice program now going into effect to be utilized fully.
“It is not 100 percent implemented in the schools, but it should be, as it gives other options for teachers and staff to address behavior problems in students.”
Do you support proposals allowing school staff to carry weapons on campus?
All said “No.”
District 3 Question
How would you address low student literacy rates?
Carr — Wants low literacy rates addressed by retaining high-quality teachers in schools. Believes a high number of brand new teachers are working with students struggling the most in reading, preventing them from providing the best education because they are still developing their toolbox to have good classroom management and to know their content.
“We have a high turnover of teachers and a lack of stability in the schools. We need to retain and have in place high-quality teachers at the earliest level and utilize specific programs that have evidence of working.”
Zimmermann – Wants teacher/pupil ratio lowered, especially for kids who are struggling in reading. Wants one-on-one and small group classes from elementary grades to graduation. A retired teacher of 33 years he believes large remedial classes are a joke.
“In the reading classes, they’re jam-packed. Nobody is learning to read, they are hanging out.”
Cane (wildcard) — Discussed how turnaround arts music programs are being used nationwide to increase literacy in failing schools, citing a 12.6 percent increase in reading proficiency as well as a 22 percent increase in math efficiency after adding arts programs.
“The arts help students be inspired to learn. It gives them a reason to know why they are learning every other subject matter and helps with literacy because it touches on social studies and the humanities and all the ways in which their scholastics connect to their real life every day.”
Larsen (wildcard) – Agrees with lowering teacher/student ratio in literacy classes and in doing everything possible to reduce the trend of teacher turnover. He also feels the district has a high rate of program turnovers that cost the district money, confuses teachers and makes it difficult to improve literacy rates.
“Far too often the district will jump into a program, spend a lot of money on the program, training teachers on the program and then they’ll move onto another one and spend a lot of money on that program too.”
District 2 Question
What actions should be taken when teachers, staff or administrators have been found to have violated the rules set forth in the student code of conduct?
Krassner – As a former principal, she doesn’t remember a teacher in her school violating a rule in the student code of conduct, but expects that it would be addressed immediately if it occurs.
She acknowledges different schools have different experiences and so much depends on leadership. She believes if something is not being handled properly, it needs to go to the school advisory council and address it at the school level.
“What’s good for our students is good for our staff.”
Cane — Wants any issues addressed immediately. Feels when the teacher violates the student code of conduct, it has a direct impact on their students, and that incidences need to be addressed by the administrators and the hiring staff.
“With the position of a teacher, you are the leader of the classroom and the first level of authority that students are looking at to show an example of a role model.”
Larsen – Wants each situation handled individually but believes teachers and other adults on campus need to act like the professionals that they are. He expressed that teachers are not subject to the same code of conduct.
He gave as an example that there could be a time when a teacher has an incident in the hallway and has to break up a fight, and they end up being late to their own class. The teacher would then be violating the student code of conduct.
“Well, teachers and students are not subject to the same code of conduct. Certainly, however, teachers and all staff members need to behave in a professional way.”
District 3 Question
This past March, Gov. Scott signed the Marjory Stone Public High School Public Safety Act, giving districts specific funding to provide every student access to mental health counseling. How would you implement this program?
Zimmermann — Doesn’t think there was enough money provided.
“I feel everyone in the legislature should have to pass a math test because they clearly can’t add.”
Instead, he would apply the money to providing more trained counselors on every campus, primarily to work with the students. When a situation warrants, he proposes borrowing counselors from other schools to go into that school to help with the situation.
“We can advert virtually every single shooting if we identify that student first and get them the help they need before they become explosive.”
Carr – As a former middle and high school counselor, she believes one of the most significant obstacles facing the schools is that school counselors are inodiated with testing responsibilities. She remembers a time when individual, small group and classroom guidance was provided in schools for students in need.
With new testing requirements and implementing the response to intervention program in which school counselors are heavily involved in staffing students in exceptional education classes, she points out there is very little time for school counselors to provide counseling even though there is one in every elementary and multiple at middle and high schools.
“Oftentimes, there is not a lot of time to provide the necessary counseling skills to the students.”
Krassner (wildcard) – Notices the number of Baker Acts have gone up and likes the idea that more mental health counselors will be available for all schools and that following up on students is expected to occur. Is glad the schools in need have been identified, and the district is moving ahead with implementing a program.
“If a student gets Baker acted, they are out in two or three days, and you want to make sure that you have a mental health counselor to follow up or a social worker to make sure those needs are being met.”
Are schools currently providing enough culturally relevant lessons to students?
All said “No.”
District 2 Question
Pinellas County Schools have been working to reduce the achievement gap between minority and white students. What action would you take to accelerate the results?
Larsen — Believes teacher retention is a critical issue. Has seen struggling schools and classrooms go through multiple teachers in a given school year. He wants to revamp the mentoring program so that when a teacher leaves and is replaced by a new teacher with zero teaching experience, that new teacher has the proper training and hand-holding needed to be successful.
“Otherwise, it’s a vicious cycle that will continue. There is no way to bridge the achievement gap when there’s that kind of teacher turnover rate.”
Krassner – Discussed current programs where teachers who have just graduated are paid to go for several weeks of training. Then after the weeks of training, the newbie teachers are placed with a seasoned teacher and paid to stay on with the Summer Bridge Program.
“By the time the school is starting, they have a lot more confidence under their belt, and they have a mentor.”
Cane – Approached subject as a parent, stating there is single-mindedness in the education system, specifically with the emphasis on standardized testing. Wants students who are talented in other areas to be identified, and not for school to be based on reading and math alone.
“That culture of single-mindedness towards college education and math and reading scores is creating a culture of failure in our schools.”
Carr (wildcard) – Feels there is a level of inequity that is taking place within the district. She feels “separate is not equal,” and data has barely moved as far as proficiency.
She blames an influx of brand new teachers working in schools and a lot of high needs students packed into the same locations.
Zimmermann (wildcard) – Believes restorative practice is the answer, explaining it’s not just for discipline. He believes the gap can be bridged if students feel they are cared about.
“It’s a positive approach.”
District 3 Question
Pinellas County Schools is currently using the Marzano framework to evaluate teacher effectiveness. What type of revisions if any, do you support in using Marzano as an evaluation tool?
Zimmermann – Doesn’t believe in the Marzano evaluation system. He feels the once 24-page assessment is primarily based on what is hanging on a teacher’s wall in their classroom, rubrics and learning goals that he states are a waste of time for students and hold no meaningful learning value for students.
“Marzano has never taught in his life. I resent that we are being judged by this method.”
He would replace Marzano with a simple pretest/posttest, which he feels is a true measurement of a teacher’s impact on students.
Carr – Wants the iObservation, a tool administrators use to quickly evaluate teachers, to be abolished. She calls it a watered-down version of Marzano that costs money. She doesn’t think pre/posttests are relevant as an evaluation tool.
“There are just too many variables with that. We tried it with the value-added model.”
Wants teachers evaluated on a growth model judging them on their professional skills, knowledge content and that they can demonstrate good teaching skills in the classroom.
Krassner (wildcard) – Explained district evaluation tool has to be approved by the state, and that little control is given locally on how to assess teachers. Believes the evaluation system is intimidating to teachers but hails the attempt to streamline it.
“I don’t believe in an evaluation being used as a gotcha. If somebody is in trouble, you want to get a success plan to help that teacher.”
District 2 Question
How will you work to address bullying in schools?
Cane – Acknowledges bullying is becoming a severe problem to deal with as students are becoming more familiar with social media. Discussed current mandates dealing with bullying that are being used in schools, such as peer mediation where students become part of the solution.
Want to warn students about social media and the impact it has on students.
Krassner – Wants adults to model proper behavior to show that they genuinely care about others and want to connect with others daily. She feels it’s important to have conversations with students so that they know who to confide in if somebody is bullying them.
She wants students, parents and teachers to use the district reporting tool in serious bullying situations.
“We do have people go out and investigate if it is a serious bullying that is going on. They put in safety plans, and they do everything in their power to stop it.”
Larsen – Believes bullying must be addressed. He doesn’t think new teachers feel empowered to handle discipline situations dealing with bullying.
He wants restorative justice to be used, so students don’t get suspended and to get to the root of the problem. Feels the restorative justice program needs to be implemented with fidelity.
“It really has to be something that we really take ownership of as a district.”
Are you aware that teachers improperly use grading tools as a way to bully students or retaliate against students and or their parents?
All said “Yes.”
District 3 Question
What specifically will you do to retain high-quality teachers in Pinellas County Schools?
Carr — Wants climate surveys to be brought back to ascertain the needs and feelings of the teachers and staff. Wants teacher input and exit interviews so concerns and problems can be addressed and better interventions can be put in place.
“If we can’t properly identify our problems then we can’t work toward solutions.”
Zimmermann – Agrees there are issues in the school system and wants to address what is wrong. Calls the current evaluation system a way to get at teachers. Feels principals are told that they shouldn’t have too many high-quality teachers and that they are supposed to suppress this data.
“We currently have the worst climate I have ever seen in 33 years in Pinellas County Schools,” he said.
He noted that there are only 15-20 percent of teachers that exceeded expectations.
“You can’t expect them to continue on when they are not getting the support they need and when the environment is sour.”
District 2 Question
How will you ensure that teachers, staff and administrators demonstrate respect for students and have their best interest at heart?
Krassner – Wants administrators to show leadership and be visible in the school and make their presence known. Wants an excellent learning environment for all and everyone to act like a family.
“You want happy students and happy educators, and you build that sense of team.”
Cane – Believes teachers, in general, become a teacher because they want to nurture and care for their students. Feels what prevents them from being able to do this is too many responsibilities and too many mandates on their heads.
Teachers have told her that their time is so constrained in the classroom that they are unable to nurture their students.
“They are unable to teach what they are there to teach.”
Larsen – Feels it’s imperative that students feel respected and safe while they are at school. Wants to make sure the adults on campus are enjoying their work and developing positive and warm relationships with their students.
He thinks it is critical for students be able to enjoy their educational experience and a big part of that is that teachers and other adults on campus also feel respected and can enjoy their work experience.
Zimmermann (wildcard) – Wants respect to come from the top and feels it will then trickle down. Feels disrespect is evident in the daily workplace. Wants positive interactions between all involved in the school system.
“It flows right down to the principals, the assistant principals, and gets dumped on the teachers and guess where it goes after that? If we want respect from students, and we do, we have to show respect.”
District 3 Question
Since you have let us know that you are aware of the retaliation of teachers against students and parents when it comes to the grading tool, what will you do to support parents and students when it comes to the actions when they are brought to your attention? When you’ve exhausted your resources of going to teachers and administrators?
Zimmermann — Wants the teacher to be dealt with if they are not honest and that disciplinary actions should be taken. He feels an appeal system should be in place.
“We need to get rid of that teacher so that we don’t have more teachers like that.”
Carr – Is aware that instances sometimes occur and says the Office of Professional Standards investigates situations.
“We need to ensure that policy is in place to support families. Currently, there is not an explicit policy to address these situations of bullying in that way.”
Krassner – District 2 Pinellas County School Board two-term incumbent
Zimmermann – Just retired as a teacher of 33 years
Carr – Former teacher, school counselor and a school-based administrator in St. Pete
Larsen – A teacher of 14 years, former city commissioner and vice mayor in Tarpon Springs
Cane – A musical theater director in the community
Voter registration for the Aug. 28 Primary Election will close July 30. Residents may vote early from any of the three Supervisor of Elections offices from Aug. 18-26.